x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The middle man

Ronald de Boer raised many eyebrows when he decided to leave Rangers for Al Rayyan in 2004. Six years later he is championing Qatar's World Cup bid.

Ronald de Boer left Scotland for Qatar in 2004.
Ronald de Boer left Scotland for Qatar in 2004.

Ronald de Boer raised many eyebrows when he decided to leave Rangers for Al Rayyan in 2004. Images of war and terrorism in the Middle East flashed in the minds of family and friends when the Dutchman was approached to play for the Qatari club. But De Boer was not someone to make a decision based on hearsay and conjecture. He and his twin brother Frank underwent their own scouting mission before deciding to finish their careers that had seen them play for leading sides such as Ajax and Barcelona.

Ronald had an offer to join a year earlier and he said: "We had a look and saw what it was like first and there was no fear. So when they came back for us, we didn't hesitate. "Something I feel strongly about is that there is a lot of misconception of what it is like in Qatar, the Emirates or other countries in this region. Of course people asked me why I went there. What are you doing in that sand hole. I said, 'come over and see', and they loved it.

"People think about war and that it's not safe. But Qatar is one of the safest countries in the world. I tell people that I never lock my car, never close my door. Where can you do that? "People say it's a Muslim country and you have to be covered up all the time and it's not free. But that's totally untrue. You have to respect the culture, but it's like other countries. People talk about a crisis and terrorism, but these places are less vulnerable and they are hospitable. Once you visit, you go back with a different mentality. Frank and I always wanted to be the best, but we also wanted to help the game develop in Qatar too."

Six years later, Ronald is still there, and now trying to help others understand and appreciate the football passion in the Gulf to bring the World Cup to the region for the first time. Qatar are bidding to host the 2022 tournament and De Boer, one of their ambassadors, said: "The whole Middle East will benefit. They are crazy about football in this region. It will make history if it goes to the Middle East and the Qatar plans are special. What it will also do is help football grow even more in this region. "There is talent, but they can get better with the proper education from the start and what it means to be a professional. I thought I knew everything at 18 and was quite stubborn, but you don't know everything."

As for this year's World Cup, De Boer has high hopes for Holland, despite not having triumphed in a major competition since 1988 when they won the European Championship. "For me, Spain are the favourites to win it, but Holland have a chance," said De Boer. "People say they played against weaker teams in qualifying. True, but the way we beat them gave me a lot of confidence. It was bit like the Barcelona style. They were good on the ball, the midfield was amazing, and now they have to do it when it matters."

@Email:akhan@thenational.ae