Akram Afif: I want to inspire the next generation of Qataris to play in Spain
Qatar's skilful, fast-paced forward Akram Afif walks into an interview with the same confidence which has seen him become the first Qatari player to represent a team in Spain's top flight, when he made his debut for Sporting Gijón against Athletic Bilbao in August 2016.
Ahead of his team's big trip to play in the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu against league leaders Real Madrid on Saturday, the 19-year-old Qatari spoke exclusively to sc.qa, and discussed growing up in a football family, admiring Brazil's Ronaldo as a youngster, and why he believes his national team can dream big in 2022.
Q. You became the first Qatari player to play for a club in La Liga this season with Sporting Gijón. Do you see yourself as an inspiration for a new generation of Qatari youngsters?
A. For sure it is an honour for me to be in La Liga as the first Qatari player. I represent my country, my national team, Aspire, and I would like to inspire the next generation of players from Qatar to play in La Liga or any of the other European leagues. It is a responsibility and an honour at the same time. My idol growing up was Ronaldo from Brazil. Now I represent my country, Aspire, Gijón, so for sure I want to inspire a young generation. We have a young generation of talented players who play in Spain, in Celtic, in Eupen, players who will represent Qatar in the future.
Q. How determined are you to break into the starting eleven in your first season at Sporting Gijon?
A. I have a contract with Villarreal for four years and am on loan to Gijón this year, and I am only 19 years old so I am not in a rush. I really respect the decision of the coach when I don't play, because I know I will play later on. La Liga is a very tough league, but I am willing to improve myself and willing to obey the coach's orders. The most important thing is learning Spanish, and I am learning the language so I think I can adapt well and help the team stay in La Liga this year. I am on the right way but I just need to be patient.
Q. Where did your football journey start as a youngster growing up in Qatar?
A. As any young boy in Doha, I started playing in the neighbourhood, in the Aziziyah area near Aspire Academy. After that I joined Markhiya Club in the second division, and then I joined Aspire Academy. I was almost 11 years old at the time, and started training there full time. Then I had spells in Sevilla, and then joined Belgian side Eupen. It's been quite a journey, but I come from a sporting family. My father used to be one of the most skilful players in Doha, Hassan Afif, who is a legend at Gharafa Club. My brother Ali is also a national team player, so I come from a football family.
Q. For a recent Under-23 competition you had Xavi among the coaching staff guiding the team. How is he as a coach?
A. Xavi is a legend, he played with Messi and against Ronaldo. Every time we see him and train with him we learn from him. He follows our development closely, and he has a great experience in football. In the Asian U-23 tournament he was with us in the coaching staff and it was a fantastic experience for me. He will be a great coach. He faced many challenges during his career and was able to overcome them.
Q. By the time of the 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar™, you will be in your prime as a player and have gathered more experience. Just how much are you looking forward to that tournament?
A. My target is to achieve the best level of my career during the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The experiences I gain over the coming years will help me when I am 25, in 2022. The aim is to have a strong team to represent the country in a good way. We don't just want to participate, we want to go far. We want to challenge the other nations to win the World Cup. This is our aim. And we are able to do it, especially if we look at the young generation of Qatari players abroad, and also players in our current national team who will still be with us, we will have a very good team and we still have six years left to develop until the tournament.
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