Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Qatar’s Emir and football association president
Saving the world’s oldest football club has an emotionally satisfying ring to it. Like bringing back the Elgin Marbles And what grander experiment then taking it from League 2 all the way to the Premier League. But why would anyone want to do it?
Who really owns Notts County is a bit unclear. The new bosses are Munto Finance Limited, a company registered in the BVI, and a subsidiary of a Swiss based consortium called Qadbak Investments Ltd which operates the “Trustees of the Investment Fund”.
Qadbak was again in the news recently for buying out Sauber, BMW’s Formula I racing team. The League is still trying to establish who is behind Qadbak without which the fit and proper person test cannot be administered. The statement “a Swiss-based foundation which represents the interests of certain Middle East and European based families” does not give many clues. Abdullah bin Saeed al Thani of Dubai and the mover behind the $1.8 billion Golf City boondoggle has denied that he is behind the Notts takeover. But the Qatari Royal family, also the Al Thanis, are known to have a considerable stake in Qadbak. In fact, Qadbak is probably the acronym for Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, and Kuwait
Qatar’s Al Thanis stand out in their single minded pursuit in putting Qatar on the sports map. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani is the president of the Qatar Football Federation. The effort to put Qatar on the top has had seen many strange twists and turns.
Al Thani wanted to revive the moribund Qatari league and sent their best young talent to Europe to train but the experiment did not pay off. He then lured like the J-League, top European players like Steffan Effenberg to play in the domestic league at considerable expense hoping that this would give the league a boost. It failed too as the Europeans were more interested in the money and not the development part. He even offered millions of pounds to foreign players like Brazil’s Ailton and Dede playing in the Bundesliga to change nationalities which FIFA found contravened the rules.
Their latest move has been to adopt Josep Colomer’s concept of holding an American Idol type of competition to discover the best talent. Colomer was the assistant coach of the World Cup winning 2002 Brazilian squad and responsible for discovering Leo Messi. For the project he organized more than 800 camps with 6000 volunteers to weed out more than 500,000 children and come up with his 25 top players. Qatar’s “Football Dreams” competition is organized on the same lines. This is the biggest talent contest in the history of football and it lasts four weeks ultimately bringing the final three chosen amongst hundreds of thousands of boys to Doha. The contestants are from nine countries in Africa, Paraguay, and Vietnam who go through elimination matches.
The Qataris believe that this is the answer to filling their league and national team with talent so that they can contend for the World Cup. Aspire, the name of their youth academy is being developed as a future La Masia which will fill the footballing world with the next generation of Cesc Fabregas, Iniesta’s, and Messi’s. Sporting infrastructure like stadiums are being built at frenetic pace. Within this grand scheme lies Qatar’s supremely ambitious bid for the 2022 World Cup.
This is where I think Notts County comes in. As a financial investment it serves very little purpose but as a way of embellishing Qatar’s resume for 2022 it is a great resume builder. The world’s oldest team has a certain emotive appeal and if Notts County were to progress to Premier League status, then FIFA will certainly sit up and take notice. Much of these votes are based on quid pro quo. Subterfuge might be convenient right now but when the time comes the Qataris would like to be paid for their good deeds.