Qatar, this former El Dorado for French players and coaches


Al-Wakrah player Frank Leboeuf with Sheikh Jassem Ben Thamer Al Thani in Doha on September 17, 2004.

This is the Qatar “before”. The small emirate then arouses fewer fantasies, controversies and investigations. At the beginning of the millennium, the country is this sunny destination of the moment for football stars at the end of their course. In 2004, Marcel Desailly, for example, left London for Doha and the Al-Gharafa club. “I go there to get rid of strong emotions”, warns the 1998 world champion. A nice circumlocution to evoke his early retirement in a championship without an audience but where the salaries are generous and fall on time.

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In the early 2000s, French footballers and coaches were popular in Qatar, despite the failures of the 2002 World Cup and the Euro two years later. Other heroes of 1998, Frank Leboeuf and Christophe Dugarry are stretching their careers a bit on the shores of the Persian Gulf. Guest of “Télématin” on France 2 in September 2021, Frank Lebœuf summarizes his daily life in « to wakeboard [un sport nautique] the day and go to train in the evening” with the teams of Al-Sadd then Al-Wakrah, between 2003 and 2005. “I did my part of the job. Now it would be a lie to say that I went there for the football project”continues the one who says he first sought “to fill the coffers”.

At that time, the links between France and the emirate were much less auscultated. It was before the famous Elysée luncheon (in the presence of Michel Platini and Crown Prince Tamim Al Thani, who became emir in 2013), organized by Nicolas Sarkozy on November 23, 2010, and supposedly decisive in the controversial attribution of the current World Cup. When Pierre Lechantre became coach in 2001 – having just won an Olympic title in Sydney with Cameroon – Qatar was not there yet. “But the country was starting to want to make itself known through sport and went looking for the most renowned people, including French people”extends the technician.

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Behind him, other compatriots take positions of responsibility within the technical direction with Patrick and Hervé Revelli, Alex Dupont or Alain Laurier. The blue wave is also breaking on the benches of clubs with – non-exhaustive list – Luis Fernandez, Ladislas Lozano, Bertrand Marchand, René Exbrayat or Henri Michel. “Aimé Jacquet had been contacted by the federation for a mission on training, but he had declined because he did not speak English”reveals Pierre Lechantre.

“Pretty naive”

Even former FC Lorient coach Christian Gourcuff agrees to leave Brittany after a painful experience in Rennes to lead Al-Gharafa between 2002 and 2003. Lucid, he perceives the fashion effect behind his arrival. “The Qataris are quite naive. France is world champion, they take Frenchhe recalls, twenty years later. Before, there were the Brazilians, they had a Dutch era and, for a few years, it has been the Spaniards. »

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