In the past two decades, football has been getting more and more popular in Qatar, with teams getting stronger and stronger. Undoubtedly, hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup boosted the expectations for the Middle East state, with the Aspire Academy, a state-of-the-art institution, tasked to unearth gems, playing a key role in improving the sport in Qatar.
With several high-profile transfers over the last decades, like Pep Guardiola, Stefan Effenberg, Raul Gonzalez, Santi Cazorla, Samuel Eto’o or Xavi Hernandez, Qatari football has been getting more and more knowhow, with the latter spending four years as a player and two years as a coach for powerhouse Al-Sadd.
It was there where Xavi met Hassan Al-Haydos, the poster boy of Qatari football, a right winger that can play everywhere behind the striker, and has surely earned the iconic no.10 shirt for the national team, one that every player is honoured to wear in international matches.
A short, skinny boy, Al-Haydos started playing football at the age of eight years old, in Al-Sadd’s academy. Soon, his talent was overwhelming and was already seen as a breakout star for Qatari football, making his debut for the senior team of Al-Sadd at the age of 17.
Four years later, at only 21 years old, he was crucial in Al-Sadd’s challenge to win the AFC Champions League, converting a penalty in the do-or-die final against South Korean side Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, earning rave reviews for his composure in the most difficult of moments.
Soon, his star started to shine even brighter. After being one of the youngest-ever players to make his debut for Qatar’s national team, at only 17 years old, Al-Hoydos became the captain of the team.
Excellent years followed, with the 1.74m pocket dynamo becoming the best Qatari football player in 2014 and 2015 and slowly transitioning in the poster boy of Middle Eastern football, with his image standing strong at the Aspire Academy headquarters, close to Manuel Neuer, the legendary German goalkeeper.
“Al Haydos is an example. I told him many times that he is an excellent role model. He has leadership qualities. Gabi may wear the captain’s armband at Al-Sadd but Al Haydos is a true leader. He is one of the best players in the Middle East, and not just Qatar,” said Xavi, Al-Sadd’ about the Qatari star.
Indeed, Al-Haydos is one of the few players in modern football that has been a one-man club, featuring for the same team, Al-Sadd, from the start of his career, never switching allegiances.
He has already scored 124 goals in 441 games for his club team, with no other player coming even closer to his record, with the second player in the standings, fellow Qatari Abdulla Koni, playing 342 games for Al-Sadd.
Qatar 2022 came exactly in his prime for Al-Haydos, who is one of the most capped players in the history of football. Only 13 players in history, including stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez or Gianluigi Buffon have played more games than the Qatari captain, who has featured 171 times for his national team.
While Qatar might not have delivered the results they probably wanted, losing games against Ecuador and Senegal, Al-Haydos was still hugely proud to have the tournament on home soil, accomplishing a life-long dream, to feature in a major competition with the Qatar national team.
Wearing the captain’s armband and the no.10 shirt are just a bonus for a player that has dedicated his life to football.
“It goes without saying I am very proud to lead the squad in the World Cup,” said the Al Sadd forward prior to the tournament.
“It is the edition of the World Cup of all Arabs, we bear the responsibility of all Arabs to play well with our performance and the team spirit. We have to represent all Arabs well,” concluded the 31-year-old Qatari star.