In what he is calling a “dream come true,” a 19-year-old forward has become the first Qatari to join the Spanish football league La Liga.
Akram Afif’s current team’s parent club Al Sadd confirmed the move to Villarreal over the weekend:
OFFICIAL: #AlSadd & @VillarrealCF have agreed on the transfer of Akram Afif to the Spanish club pic.twitter.com/wklC5gWgbM
— 🏆 #77 Al Sadd SC | نادي السد (@AlsaddSC) May 7, 2016
The Doha-born athlete is a product of Aspire Academy, which trains young people to become professional football players. He has already spent time training with youth teams in Spain.
Since last year, Afif has played for KAS Eupen, a Qatari-owned team in the Belgian second division.
He first represented the national team during a 2018 World Cup qualifying match against Bhutan, which Qatar won 15-0.
Road to 2022
In an interview with the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SCDL), Afif said he hoped Qatar would qualify for 2018.
“I dream of playing for Qatar in the World Cup in 2022. I think we will have a good team for Qatar 2022, our youth team is readying for the Asian Cup in October and they have a good team, we also won the last Asian Cup in Myanmar. We have a good young generation developing.”
When asked about which players inspire him, he told the SCDL that he has found a mentor in former FC Barcelona captain Xavi Hernandez, who now plays for Al Sadd.
“Everyone knows that Xavi is one of the best players in the world. I am inspired by a lot of players from the Spanish league, Messi, Cristiano, Neymar, Iniesta, I like Denis Suarez at Villarreal, and they also have some of the best defenders in the world like Sergio Ramos.”
Playing in Europe
According to AFP, Afif is not the first Qatari to play in a European football league. The newswire gave the example of Hussein Yasser, who played for the Premier League club Manchester City in 2005-2006.
However, such athletes are few and far between.
Afif said he hopes that will change in the coming years.
He concluded the SCDL interview by saying he plans to gain valuable experience in Europe to take back with him to Qatar in time for 2022.
“I also hope more Qatari players can play in Europe to improve, to fight, to keep working hard and to learn a lot of things for the World Cup. The World Cup is in our country and it is a big chance for Qatari players,” he said.