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Road to 2022: An Interview with Vijay Bharadwaj

The 2022 World Cup has already seen plenty of media coverage. We speak to Bayern Munich and Bengaluru FC fan, Vijay Bharadwaj who won a competition to @VisitQatar. We thank Vijay for taking the time out to share his experience.

Hi Vijay. Firstly give us a bit of background on your recent trip to Qatar please.

So, Sportskeeda had held this contest which was only for a small period of 3 days wherein we had to explain in 3 lines as to why we are loyal to FC Bayern Munich. My brother helped conceptualize the creative for it wherein I had to show that I was a patient in a mental asylum in for a mental disorder of Bayern addiction. And fate would have it that I would be the winner of the contest. I was in utter disbelief that I would actually get the opportunity to see my favourite club’s stars up close and personal. But to my surprise that isn’t the only thing that was planned for me and the other Super Bayern fans from Germany and Asia. We were taken across Doha to have an actual experience of their rich heritage, even spend time with the German Ambassador to Qatar and his fellow delegates, even visit the world famous ASPIRE Academy. The biggest surprise though, in my opinion was getting to visit the headquarters of the developers and organizers of the World Cup – Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy. They showed us their promotional video which would be out imminently and along with that their plans for the 2022 World Cup, both in terms of the football and fan facilities.

Road to 2022

Anything of note from Guardiola’s tactical training sessions? Something that fans would find interesting?

Well, to be honest, it was my first ever time that I got to witness a live training session of any team in person, but it was a refreshing experience. One thing that I did notice though is that Pep Guardiola is immensely involved in his sessions and even his assistant trainers too. They know exactly what they want from the players during the training session, and if that doesn’t happen, they come there and demonstrate it themselves. There was this one instance when Pep literally halted a round of possession training because he wasn’t happy with how the ball was being held and he spent a good 30 odd seconds showing how the retention needs to be done and I was flabbergasted to see that much involvement from a head coach, because from what I’ve seen in videos online it’s that Head coach makes observations, takes notes and consults his fellow assistant coaches, and I have no shame in admitting that I might sound less observant or knowledgeable when I say that.

What are your thoughts on the ASPIRE academy?

I had no idea about what the ASPIRE academy was all about until I did some ground work when I received the itinerary of the 4 day dream trip. From what I had come across, I knew that it was a state of the art multi-sport training facility. It looked really impressive from the pictures online but when I actually got to see in person during the tour conducted by Bora Milutinovic (One of the only 2 men who’ve taken 5 different nations to the final tournament of the FIFA World Cup), only then did I actually realize what a marvel that facility truly is.

It has had some of the biggest sports teams and personalities in the world pay visit to either share a talk with the budding talent or just use the facilities for training and rejuvenation, such as Sir Alex Ferguson, Antonio Conte, Ronaldinho, Magnus Carlsen and even Emile Heskey! And some of the most well known teams in the world have used their facilities such as FC Bayern Munich, FC Schalke 04, Paris Saint-Germain and FC Zenit St Petersburg, to name a few.

In terms of football, they have an Indoor Stadium in the facility which can seat about 8000 people. In addition, there are 3 training pitches located adjacent to the Grand Heritage Hotel and Spa (which forms part of ASPIRE city where the academy is located) which is used by the football clubs during their training camps. For me, it is the best sports facility in the GCC territory and probably Asia from what I’ve read up and seen.

Does the ASPIRE academy have the potential to compete with the academies of European/South American football?

Well, it isn’t a pure football academy, It is a multi-sport facility where the Qatar Sports federations harness and develop talents in various sports ranging from Athletics, Gymnastics, Table Tennis, Track and Field, Football, Basketball, Swimming and even Karate. ASPIRE is basically the rebranded house of the 2006 Asian Games but they’ve maintained it incredibly well and to very high standards too. So much so that one of the Long Jump world champions was a graduate from that very academy.

In terms of facilities, they definitely have the means to compete. But the problem, for me, is that they only allow the local Qatari youth to use the facilities and not any expatriate youth. That is a bit of alienation in my opinion. And the fact that their talent pool is limited makes it both easy and hard for the talent scouts and coaches.

Is there World Cup fever already in Qatar?

Not yet, I guess the thought is yet to sink in. But there are many football crazy people over there. I remember catching the highlight show one night where Al Sadd SC played the Qatari Super League leaders Al Rayyan, which is one of the biggest fixtures in their league, and it was a sell out game. Very pleasing to see for me. Also I had the pleasure of being given a ticket to the opening fixture of the AFC U-23 Tournament which is basically the qualifiers for the 2020 Olympics in Rio De Janeiro for the continent, between Qatar and China at Lekhwiya Sports Club. For a weekday game, and a 20000 capacity stadium, the game drew approximately 6800 people, which included the locally based support for the away team too.

They have embraced football openly and they are a fast developing country so I can definitely see big things happening over time for them.

How are the preparations for the World Cup going on?

Depends on what sort of preparations you are looking at, whether on-field or off-field. On field, it’s already under way as some of the stadiums have already undergone refurbishment. And they mean serious business at that. When I had the opportunity to visit the HQ of the 2022 World Cup, I got a first hand view of their follow up procedures and how they survey everything. Even to the most minute of details, they can remotely survey anything and everything that happens from their office. The level of technology involved is amazing.

Even off-field there are already quite a few developments taking place. They have made an amazing plan to make the World Cup the most closely knit world cup ever. By that, I mean that the travelling time between stadiums wouldn’t take more than an hour, at most and that, if a fan has planned well enough, he can watch 3 full matches in one single day. To make travel this possible, they started the construction for a metro rail which is specifically for this purpose.

And they have made specific plans to cater to people travelling from all across the world to make the whole experience as pocket friendly as possible.

What information did the Assistant General Secretary of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy give?

The Assistant General of the Qatar Football Association (QFA) didn’t give as much information as any of the lucky few of us would have liked. But being a man of great stature, he is a very humble and amicable person whom I had the great pleasure of interacting with. He did mention 2 things that really stuck with me.

He had identified 2 target markets in the continent, which he expects will draw huge numbers during the World Cup month in late 2022. The first is China considering the massive influx of funds in various clubs and ability to attract players from both European Leagues and South American leagues. The 2nd is India, which isn’t really much of a surprise if you ask me. But I did inquire about the rationale behind the choice and he mentioned the most obvious answer of all, the Indian Super League, the commercially successful tournament in India having drawn huge numbers and bringing people to the stadium making it the fourth most attended league in the world (if you can even call it a league). Upon concluding the explanation, he mentioned that he had even received a special invite from IMG to one of the games, I think it was the one which Pele was invited to. Nevertheless, I immediately told him that ISL can get him the numbers, but if he wants real quality fans which can create amazing atmospheres in their numbers, irrespective of the size, he should also have a look at the I-League clubs because everyone in India can vouch for the amazing atmospheres created by the fans of Mohun Bagan AC, East Bengal FC and Bengaluru FC. Based on how that conversation went, I think the thought has struck him and I guess he may make a trip to see a game or 2.

Another thing is that after the tournament ends, they plan to donate a sizable number of the bucket seats to be installed in each of the host stadiums, to other sports facilities, stadiums in Asia which can’t afford the same. I found this extremely commendable and immediately made my appreciation towards the gesture and so did the rest of the lucky fans.

Any last thoughts about the whole experience?

I got the opportunity to see my favourite players live and meet a couple of them too. And to be able to get a peek at the plans for the 2022 World Cup is something that I’m sure I’ll tell my kids.

On Qatar being a host nation, I was initially wary about the alleged bribing and off-field related controversies that have plagued the tournament and the fact that it is going to be the first ever winter World Cup in history, something they have received quite a bit of flak for. But, after this whole trip, I can say that, I think giving Qatar a chance would definitely be a good choice.

My @RoadTo2022 has taken a temporary halt but that’s all that’s happened. I’ll certainly be booking my tickets to the 2022 World Cup.

Follow Vijay Bharadwaj on Twitter

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