Qatar’s hopes for UK football glory crushed

Two Qatar academies are affiliated with the club which was tipped for promotion to the UK’s Premier League until it was knocked out on Wednesday

LEEDS, ENGLAND - MAY 15: Pablo Hernandez of Leeds United reacts following defeat in the Sky Bet Championship Play-off semi final second leg match between Leeds United and Derby County at Elland Road on May 15, 2019 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Qatar’s hopes of being tied to a top flight UK Premier League club are in tatters after the football team Doha has built close links with was knocked out in a crunch tie on Wednesday.

As part of its ambitions for World Cup glory, two different Qatar agencies have established lucrative partnerships with northern Championship team Leeds United.

But Leeds threw away their chance to return to the top league after losing the second leg of their play-off game 4-2 at home to Derby County - costing the club an estimated £170million (Dh801.6million).

Just a few months ago it was expected that the club would gain automatic promotion and return to the top flight following a 15-year absence but a string of recent defeats left them reliant on a win in the play-offs.

Last year the club announced it was linking up with Qatar’s Aspire Academy which aims to develop and nurture players ahead of it hosting the 2022 World Cup.

A year later, in April, it announced it was also partnering with a second Qatari academy, Generation Amazing. The Aspire Academy’s director general is Ivan Bravo, who is also a director at Leeds United and lives in Qatar.

It had been speculated that the academies were hoping to provide a pool of players for the club and its links with a team on the cusp of Premier League glory would give them extra credibility.

It follows controversy over child trafficking claims against the Aspire Academy, due to it searching for talent in struggling countries and moving youngsters away to coaching centres in Qatar.

Some Leeds fans now fear the club could be put up for sale by owner media mogul Andrea Radrizzani – claims he denied earlier this year.

Radrizzani’s fortune was made in sport broadcast and he and Qatar based-broadcaster BeIN have bought up broadcast rights across Europe.

It comes as their manager Marcelo Bielsa is not expected to make a decision on his future at the UK club until he discovers the financial implications of the team’s failure to win promotion to the Premier League.

The former Marseille and Lazio manager, whose £3m-a-year salary makes him one of the Championship’s highest paid managers, will want reassurances that he will not be forced to sell his best players to ease financial pressure as a result of their promotion failure.

After the game Bielsa refused to give too much away, adding: “If the club offers me the possibility to carry on I will listen to their proposal.”

UK football journalist Richard Sutcliffe, who has followed the club for decades, said its future will depend on Bielsa staying.

"Leeds, as a club, need stability, both in terms of ownership and management of the team,” he said.

“This was Radrizzani's second year in charge, while Bielsa is only the second manager to last a full season at Elland Road since Simon Grayson in 2010-11.

“The fans are desperate for Bielsa to stay, as do the club. The decision rests with him. As with anything involving such a unique character, second guessing someone like Bielsa is difficult but if Leeds are to bounce back from missing out on promotion then he needs to stay and be backed in summer transfer window.

“Leeds need a proven striker, more depth in defence and a keeper who doesn't inspire a total meltdown in confidence from his defence by making rash decisions."

Earlier this year there had been rumours that Qatar Sports Investments (QSI), the owner of European giants Paris Saint-Germain (PSG),was looking to invest in an English club and Leeds could be on its radar.

PSG is also affiliated to the Aspire Academy and its club president is Nasser bin Ghanim Al-Khelaifi, who is also the chairman of BeIN Media Group, which owns BeIN Sport.