La Liga's first Qatari: Afif set for Spanish move

La Liga's first Qatari: Afif set for Spanish move
Breaking football transfer tradition, 19-year-old striker Akram Afif is set to move to Spain after signing with Villarreal, making him the first Qatari to play in La Liga.
2 min read
10 May, 2016
Afif's transfer was confirmed on Sunday by Qatari club Al Sadd [Getty]
From Spanish star Xavi Hernandez, to Valencia defender Ricardo Costa, the customary nearing-end-of-football-career story has begun to set a pattern: agree on a number, add a zero to the end, pack your bags and move to tax-free Qatar.

But it seems Akram Afif has broken this football cult - in fact, sending the usual timeline into reverse - becoming the first Qatari ever to sign with a Spanish club.

The 19-year-old striker was signed by Spanish club Villarreal on Sunday, which means he will be the first from his country to play in La Liga and even, potentially, the Champions League.

Afif's transfer was confirmed at the weekend by Qatari club Al Sadd, where former Barcelona midfielder Xavi also plays.

"I hope I can be one of the best players in La Liga for Villarreal... playing in the Champions League is an objective for me," Afif told Qatar's World Cup organising body in an interview.

Born in Doha, Afif is no stranger to Spanish football, having played for Villarreal and Sevilla's youth teams.

"I also hope more Qatari players can play in Europe. The World Cup is in our country and it is a big chance for Qatari players," the youngster added.

The news may come as a blessing for the Gulf state currently in preparation to host the World Cup 2022, following intense scrutiny for its abuse of migrant workers building the Khalifa International Stadium in Doha.

The country is trying to build its name in the sporting world, spending millions of dollars nurturing Qatari footballers, such as Afif, as well as naturalised foreign talent.

In May last year, 36-year-old Barcelona superstar Xavi called time on his career in Europe and announced a summer move to Qatar's Al Sadd, signing a three-year deal.

But he wasn't the first European talent to be tempted with a big-money, end-of-career move to Qatar.

Other names have included the likes of Argentinian legend Gabriel Batistuta, signing an $8 million deal with Al Arabi, as well as Dutch veteran Ronald de Boer, who signed for Al Rayyan in 2004 and then spent three seasons at Al Shamal from 2005.