Aspire Academy inspires Qatari football

Qatar – 50 years after making their official debut in international football against Bahrain in March 1970 – have emerged as a continental football superpower, winning three Persian Gulf Cups and in 2019 also their first Asian Cup title.

The West Asian country also reached the 2021 Gold Cup semi-finals, narrowly losing (1-0) to the United States. Earlier, a relentless 2-1 loss to Argentina led by Lionel Messi in the 2019 Copa America had also bolstered the Maroons’ reputation.

The country and the national team are now preparing to host the FIFA World Cup next year and make their debut in the quadrennial extravagance.

Former Australia international Tim Cahill credits Qatar’s rise as a footballing nation to the Aspire Academy, established in 2004.

“70% of the team that won the Asian Cup was trained at Aspire Academy. Everyone on the Under-19 team, which won the 2014 AFC Under-19 Championship, is from here, ”said Cahill, now the academy’s athletic director.

Right in the center of the posh foyer of Aspire Academy, there is an installation – “Reaching for Gold” – with many hands trying to grab a medal. The structures convey the philosophy of the ultramodern facility – “developing champions of sport and life”. – Dey de Santadeep

At Aspire Academy – located in the heart of the sporting city of Doha, next to the iconic Khalifa International Stadium – visitors are greeted by the imposing eight-ton monument – “Rise Through Education” – by famous Italian sculptor Lorenzo Quinn. It shows a pair of hands placing the planet on a child’s palms, the arms forming a circle above an open book. Just beyond the entrance and right in the center of the luxurious foyer is another installation – “Reaching for Gold” – with many hands trying to grab a medal. The structures convey the philosophy of the facility at the cutting edge of technology – “developing champions of sport and life”.

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“It’s one of the best institutions in the world. We’ve had all the coaches in the world, come here. We have Messi, [Diego] Maradona. 80 football clubs are part of our World Summit. We have had [Mauricio] Pochettino, [Jose] Mourinho, [Carlo] Ancelotti … the list is crazy. I call it the University of Football, ”Cahill says, as we walk past a wall of signed shirts.

Student-athletes are selected through a national talent identification program and Cahill, who has played in the Indian Super League, believes such a program could be difficult to replicate in a country the size of India. “We can be a little more specific here due to the smaller population. We have the possibility of asking ourselves: ‘do they really want to play football? “Some of them may like high jump or volleyball,” he says.

An indoor football pitch at Aspire Academy. The Academy also has a Footbonaut, designed to improve a player’s reaction time. The futuristic passmaster can only be found at Bundesliga clubs Borussia Dortmund and Hoffenheim – Dey de Santadeep

Academic lessons are part of the daily life of the 300 boys, aged 12 to 18. Seniors are allowed to board five days a week, while the youngest can only stay two days. Besides football, he also focuses on other Olympic sports: track and field, fencing, squash, table tennis, swimming, golf, shooting and archery. “My vision for the future is foundational skills in school curricula. I focus heavily on the grassroots, ”adds Cahill.

A Footbonaut in the Sports Science Center gives you insight into Aspire’s aspirations. Designed to improve a player’s reaction time, the futuristic sleight of hand can only be found at Bundesliga clubs Borussia Dortmund and Hoffenheim.

Speaking of the often-drawn comparison to Barcelona’s famous La Masia, Cahill says: “La Masia’s talent pool is what is different from here. They can get players from any part of the world. They have a philosophy and an infrastructure that helps the kind of players they have. I’m not saying that Barcelona’s philosophy and identity can’t be put here, but we also have to adapt to the quality of the player and his skills.

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Cahill is optimistic about the fate of the Qatar national team at the World Cup and beyond. “The Aspire Academy is the national team. It’s the same body. We have the QSL [Qatar Stars League], AQF [Qatar Football Association], Aspire Academy, all under one umbrella. And an infrastructure in place for many years to come, to make sure we can continue to create and nurture talent. Hopefully we can find Qatari players playing abroad in the future – in Europe or in some of the other bigger competitions, ”he said.

Cahill thinks a lot of countries can learn from the Peninsular nation. The forward, who played for Jamshedpur FC in 2018-19, said: “[India needs to have a] Structure. An identity. I think they are already trying to implement something like this. The bottom line is just knowing where you are going and how you are going to get there. Sometimes institutions like this can take 5-10 years. So, you also have to have a lot of patience. “

[The writer was in Qatar at the invitation of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy]

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