Argentina and Brazil played a friendly match in Qatar in November 2010. Lionel Messi, then 23, was already a global soccer superstar and Ballon d’Or winner, while Neymar, then an 18-year-old global star, was on the pitch at Khalifa International Stadium in Doha. More than a decade later and a year before the biggest sporting event ever held in Qatar, the two will now play together for a club owned by Qatar.
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Messi’s move to Paris Saint-Germain following his departure from Football Club Barcelona appears to be the final piece of the puzzle for the Qatari flagship club on their way to winning the coveted Champions League. But that’s not all. In November 2022, Qatar will host the FIFA World Cup 2022. Throughout his time at Football Club Barcelona, Messi played and won titles in a jersey inscribed with Qatar Foundation and Qatar Airways, but this is much bigger.
Messi playing for a club owned by Qatar and winning a trophy was the biggest promotion the small oil-rich nation could have hoped for. When Messi played for their country in 2010, the Qataris probably wouldn’t have even thought of it just weeks before they won the bid to host the Football World Cup. Qatar starts funding Football Club Barcelona through the Qatar Foundation, becoming the first-named sponsor in the club’s history to seem on the front of a player’s jersey.
The Messi deal is not just about Messi. Professor Simon Chadwick, director of the Eurasian Sports Centre at Emlyon Business School in France, said minutes after PSG confirmed Messi’s signing that it was about Qatar and 2022. It is a very important year for Qatar because of the Football World Cup, and if PSG wins the Champions League Football in May, it would be an important milestone in Qatar’s development as a country.
As the Champions League for PSG, the Football World Cup is difficult for Messi to achieve. Messi will be 35 years old by the Football World Cup 2022 in Qatar, and this could be his last chance to win it. However, there is no need to worry about his age. Age has not slowed him down. In July this year, Messi lifted his first trophy for Argentina after a long season with Football Club Barcelona when he led his team to the Copa America title.
Messi’s quest to win the Football World Cup and become immortal in the sport is a story that fits perfectly with Qatar, which like every other tournament organizer before it, is trying to capture the hearts and minds of the world. His arrival comes some eight months after the resumption of diplomatic relations between the rest of the Middle East and Qatar. But signing the Argentine ahead of Manchester City, who is in Abu Dhabi, was a clear commitment to PSG’s ownership, and City was the only club that could afford him.
Diplomatic affairs have been restored, but Qatar and the UAE are still not that friendly, and getting Messi ahead of Manchester City is a sign of great things to come; a trump card ahead of the Football World Cup. Messi’s two-year contract with PSG expires six months after the Football World Cup in Qatar. But Dorsey said Qatar would reap the rewards by then.
Looking ahead to after the Football World Cup, there is no doubt that soccer makes a lot of sense as soft power. There are few major events, but there are many opportunities for soft power in Europe, such as winning the UEFA Champions League. Qatar will try to build on that, and the next step, of course, will be to try to host the Olympics.
Chadwick believes it was inevitable that Messi would sign with PSG. This goes back to 2010 friendly and the start of Barca’s sponsorship by Qatar after winning the Football World Cup. Since then, Barca’s revolutionary coach Pep Guardiola has been Qatar’s ambassador for 2022, while Barcelona midfielder Javi Hernandez decided to finish his career in Qatar and also became a Football World Cup ambassador and coach at Qatari club Al Sadd. Neymar and Lionel Messi are now reunited in Paris.
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