As Qatar prepares to host the World Cup for the first time ever, in 2022, the country’s football federation is working hard behind the scenes to heighten the standards of the game locally, while at the same time, there has been a heightened influx of Kenyan players to the country.
One very famous Kenyan who made a name playing in Qatar is Dennis Oliech, who turned out for Al Arabi. He is still adored by fans to this date, years after launching a career that would see him play at the topmost league in France.
Playing in Qatar between 2003 and 2005, Oliech somewhat opened the doors for other Kenyans who would follow suit and with lots of focus shifting to the oil – rich nation ahead of the 2022 World Cup, we shine a light at the growing interest by Kenyan players.
Peter Opiyo turned out for second-tier outfit Al Markhiya for one season in 2016-17 while Rama Salim had an unsuccessful trial at the same club. Mady Al Hassan has also been a mainstay in goal for Al Shamal Sports Club in the second tier.
Sofiane Rersa who has played in the league since its inception for Lusail City FC and Al Ittihad Al Asdika has been on trials with Doha Pearl FC who recently won promotion to the second division.
Though already playing in a higher division, they will still be taking part in the QAL Cup which predominantly involves third tier teams.
Sofiane, a former Kenya U20 winger seeks to impress at the club coached by Irishman, Ciaran Kelly. The winger also featured for Ligi Ndogo and Real Kisumu, spending most of his playing career in Kenya at the former. He was last called up to the national team by Adel Amrouche for an AFCON qualifier against Lesotho in 2014, but he did not make the final squad.
Al Ruwais factor
Newly created outfit Al Ruwais FC from the northern coastal area of Qatar has attracted interest from a good number of Kenyans.
Sofiane’s brother Karim Rersa who has also featured previously for
Ligi Ndogo and Real Kisumu has been on trials with Al Ruwais as he looks to get back to the pitch after sitting out for two years as he nursed a knee injury.
Karim previously played for Al Ittihad Al Asdika and Lusail City FC. Like his brother, Karim holds dual Algerian and Kenyan citizenship.
Another player trying out is Maxwell Ojijo, he too has had previous experience in the league as he spent three seasons at Al Bidda who won promotion to the second tier in 2018.
The towering center back turned out for Jericho AllStars in Kenya, alongside Hillary Omondi who is also trying out at Al Ruwais. Omondi, a former Gor Mahia U-19 center back looks to join his compatriots and fill out the defensive slots in the team.
Dickson Wachira seems to have impressed French/Algerian coach Samir Belhadj during his Al Ruwais trials. He used to play as a goalkeeper for Mumbi Nationale then in the Kenyan second tier.
Others seeking to make an impact at the Al Ruwais tryouts are former Moyas and Kenya U-20 forward Salim Makame while Madi Hassan formerly of Malindi United is also trying out with the team.
After many years of having only two professional leagues running, the federation created a third division for the 2013-14 season.
The rules concerning the foreign players quota differed from those in the first and second divisions where each team is only allowed a maximum of five foreigners who are usually big money signings from around the world such as Nigel De Jong, Gabriel Batistuta, Wesley Sneijder, Raul Gonzalez, Xavi Hernandez amongst other famous names.
However, certain players can qualify as a ‘Muqeem’ meaning they can play as local players, though they don’t really get citizenship.
To acquire the ‘Muqeem’ status, a player must have lived in Qatar for a specific number of years and must be below a certain age.
The third division had only one regulation: for a player to be signed by a team he must have lived in Qatar for at least one year. This saw a very competitive first season featuring young, hungry talented players from across Africa, South America, Asia and Eastern Europe. The past few seasons have however seen the federation trying to align the leagues, making promotion easier.
Thus the last two seasons have seen each team having at least five Qataris in the field of play at all times.
QAL Cup openings
The 2018-19 QAL Cup will kick off on the 25th of March, the games will be live on Al Kass TV, and newly created teams will be allowed to compete and VAR will be tested for the first time in Qatar as they look to start implementing it.
This competition might further see a huge influx of Kenyan players.