Qatar is looking to English soccer manager and former professional player Sam Allardyce and Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Friedel to boost the performance of the Gulf state’s national team, according to News of the World. Allardyce’s agent is in Qatar to negotiate a contract to replace French coach Bruno Metsu who was fired earlier this month because the Gulf state failed to reach last month’s Asian Cup semi-finals despite displaying its best performance ever in an international tournament, the newspaper reported. Allardyce was dismissed in December as manager of English Premier League team Blackburn Rovers. In addition to Allardyce, the News of the World reports that Qatar has approached Aston Villa’s 39-year old goalkeeper with an offer to end his career in the Gulf. The approaches are part of a multi-pronged Qatari effort to establish the Gulf state as a global sports hub, a player in world soccer and a soccer-playing nation to be reckoned with. Since winning its bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup, Qatar has concluded a $200 million sponsorship agreement with FC Barcelona and is reported to be negotiating the acquisition of storied English Club Manchester United. Contrary to most Middle Eastern soccer-playing nations, Qatar has also developed a long-term strategy by seeking to groom a next generation of stars with its sponsorship of the annual Aspire Football Dreams tournament, the largest talent hunt in soccer history. Mohamed Bin Hammam, the Qatari head of the Confederation of Asian Football, has hinted that he may challenge Sepp Blatter in elections for the FIFA presidency scheduled for June 1 in Paris. The approaches to Allardyce and Friedel come amid growing debate in the Middle East as well as in Europe about whether oil-based Arab financial muscle is sufficient to achieve sustainable performance. Legendary former Manchester United goal scorer and board member Sir Robert ‘Bobby’ Charlton appeared to express earlier this week opposition to the possible sale of his former club, suggesting that it would not help the Gulf state raise its soccer standards. Charlton contrasted Arab efforts to fast track success on the back of their energy-backed financial muscle with Manchester United manger Sir Alexander Chapman "Alex" Ferguson’s strategy of nurturing players from a young age. “You get a bit of an affiliation with a football club when this sort of thing is taking place, and not just piling loads and loads of money in.” Charlton said. Arab critics of Middle Eastern failure to perform in last month’s Asian Cup in Qatar have focused on the failure of the region’s authoritarian regimes to develop soccer talent at a young age. The current wave of anti-government protests sweeping the Arab world that has already toppled two authoritarian leaders, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Tunisian President Zine Abedine Ben Ali, could well benefit soccer development in the region as governments scramble to seek to project themselves as more responsive to public opinion. For many of region’s predominantly authoritarian regimes, political control of soccer is key because it, alongside Islam, traditionally is often the only force capable of creating alternative public space for pent-up frustration and anger.
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