Stars still shining
Qatar’s top flight keeps on attracting big names
Published: Oct 07, 2021 04:43 PM
James Rodriguez kicks a ball in Doha, Qatar on September 23. Photo: VCG

James Rodriguez kicks a ball in Doha, Qatar on September 23. Photo: VCG

Former Real Madrid and Everton midfielder James Rodriguez is the latest big name to find himself signing for a club in Qatar's QNB Stars League - and he is not likely to be the last.

Rodriguez, who was the golden boot while starring for Colombia at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil with six goals, signed for Al Rayyan after leaving English Premier League side Everton.

The Colombian had found himself surplus to requirements at Goodison Park after Rafa Benitez took over from Carlo Ancelotti.

"Delighted to be in Qatar, aim is to win titles with Al Rayyan," Rodriguez said after signing for the club.

"Excited to be at a Qatar 2022 stadium that will be home of Al Rayyan. Hopefully, I can play here with Colombia in the World Cup next year," he added.

Rodriguez is keen to get stuck in, as he told The Peninsula, Qatar's daily newspaper.

"It has been a great experience in Qatar since I arrived here. I really like this country and I hope things will go off well for me. I think this is going to be a great experience for all. I want to be very happy here," the Colombian said.

"I'm a player who likes to win and I always set my expectations very high in order to always reach as high as possible, at a personal level as well," he added.

"It's indeed a strong league," he said of the QNB Stars League. "Everyone is in great shape. I'll do my best and hope everything goes off well. At the end of the day, I'm a person who wants to win as many titles as possible, now for Al Rayyan club and its fans.

"I'm aware that Al Rayyan is a historic club and I'm glad that I'm representing a prestigious club. I'm here to give off my best and make our passionate fans happy. We should make it happen. I've played for many big clubs in Europe and I want to bring in all that experience here, so Al Rayyan benefit from it as much as possible and feel proud of it. My duty is to help my team achieve its goals."

Rodriguez again looked forward to the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup.

"Everybody knows how Qatar is moving forward towards hosting the World Cup, not only in terms of venue readiness but also introducing and implementing new technologies related to the tournament. I believe the Qatar edition is going to be the most amazing of all World Cups ever staged. With all the infrastructure and facilities, it has the potential to be such a successful tournament."

While the biggest stars in the world will be in Qatar next year when FIFA stages the World Cup in the country, some of the biggest stars of the past have called the Qatar Stars League home.

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola played for Al Ahli Doha before he hung up his boots and went on to change football with as coach of his former club Barcelona, while former Argentina international striker Gabriel Batistuta was among the other marquee signings with Guardiola when the Qatar Stars League started to splash the cash in 2003, where he signed for Al Arabi.

Real Madrid ace Raul Gonzalez followed suit and joined Al Sadd in 2012, with Frank de Boer playing for both Al Rayyan and Al Shamal. Brazil's Juninho played for Al Gharafa, as did former Dutch star Wesley Sneijder and French World Cup winner Marcel Desailly. Samuel Eto'o - who played under Guardiola at Barcelona - signed for Qatar SC, while big names Mario Mandzukic and Nigel de Jong have followed since.

Nowadays the Colombian joins several other familiar faces in the Stars League.

Rodriguez has signed for Al Rayyan, where he will play under French manager Laurent Blanc. The Al Rayyan-based side are going head to head for the QNB Stars League with reigning champions Al Sadd, who are coached by former Barcelona stalwart Xavi Hernandez, who played there for four years.

The teams already met in the first Qatar Clasico of the new season last month which Xavi's side won 4-2.

One of the goalscorers that day was Andre Ayew, the Ghana international who has played for Marseille, Swansea City and West Ham United in a career that has also seen him rack up almost 100 international appearances for the Black Stars, whom he now captains.

The 31-year-old moved to Al Sadd earlier this year ­- some 39 years after his father Abedi Pele signed for them in 1983 - and has shone brightly so far.

Before the international break Ayew had hit four goals in five games for "The Boss," as the club are known, ahead of joining up with Ghana as they looked to continue their Qatar 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign against Zimbabwe.

Another name known to English Premier League fans missed out on the first Qatar Clasico of the campaign, former Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla.

The Spain schemer joined Al Sadd last summer, reuniting with former teammate Xavi and going on to win the title.

Another former Spain international is Javi Martinez at Qatar SC, the club he joined after nine years at Bayern Munich. Martinez played in the Spain sides that won the 2010 FIFA World Cup and the 2012 UEFA European Championship, while he won nine Bundesliga titles and two UEFA Champions Leagues with the Bavarian giants after moving from Athletic Bilbao.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez has joined former Sevilla stopper Steven Nzonzi at Al Rayyan. The former France international also played in the English Premier League with Stoke City and Blackburn Rovers.

He is perhaps more famous for being part of the France side that won the FIFA World Cup in Russia in 2018 - matching the feat of his Al Rayyan boss Blanc who was part of the Les Bleus team to win the 1998 tournament on home soil.

Nzonzi joined Blanc's side after Rodriguez, with the 32-year-old arriving from Italian Serie A side Roma.

Another former English Premier League favorite Toby Alderweireld is at Al Duhail. The Belgian defender also arrived in Qatar this summer after leaving Tottenham Hotspur, where he finished runner-up in the 2018 UEFA Champions League final, ensuring that the Stars League continues to live up to its name.

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