Felix Sanchez: The Visionary Behind Qatari Football's Rise
Felix Sanchez has emerged as a beacon of light in Qatari football after masterminding a historic AFC Asian Cup triumph in 2019. Rubbing shoulders alongside countries such as Japan, China and Australia, which have produced players who have shone across Europe’s most contested leagues, Qatar’s prospects as mere contenders were also out of the question before even a ball was kicked.
Despite all the odds stacked against their favor, their talismanic manager ensured that his troops rose to the occasion and that too in emphatic fashion.
Their exploits in the competition led them to gain entry alongside Japan into the Copa America 2019 as the CONMEBOL decided to invite two of Asia’s best sides to participate in the tournament.
However, the obvious question that demands answers is how the Spanish coach led The Maroons to unprecedented glory?
Sanchez possesses pedigree in abundance as he worked as a Barcelona youth coach for a decade. At a club that is celebrated for having at its disposal the most prodigious youth academy on the planet, Sanchez had the opportunity to impart the ‘Barcelona way’ onto future stars such as Gerard Deulofeu and Sergi Roberto.
After a decade of honing the mercurial talents of La Masia, Sanchez decided to move on to pastures new in 2006 to pursue a coaching career in Qatar.
He joined the Aspire Academy, the nation’s standout sports academy that aims to develop Qatari athletes. Much like any youngster’s rise through the ranks, Sanchez’s progression to eventually become the manager of the Qatar national team bore clear similarities.
After his stint at the state-of-the-art institution, the Spanish boss was at the helm of the Under-19 Qatar team in 2013. In a space of just a year, Sanchez’s wealth of knowledge as a youth coach was for Asian football to witness as Qatar emerged first-time winners.
Conceding an impressive 4 goals while scoring 15 in 6 matches rounded off a stunning tournament for the young guns.
Sanchez’s fruitful spell led to him taking charge of the Under-20 and Under-23 outfits before landing the top job of managing the senior team. The Spaniard’s climb up the ladder of Qatari football can be compared to Gareth Southgate’s model of success as Three Lions gaffer. Much like how the Englishman had previous experience of managing several of the squad that flourished during last year’s World Cup during his days as Under-21 boss, Sanchez also selected 10 players from the Under-23 setup to represent Qatar in the AFC Asia Cup.
This bold approach was balanced by a pragmatic philosophy to equip The Maroons to go toe-to-toe against Asia’s very best. Deploying a 5-3-2 formation, Sanchez’s vision for his side was everything a traditional Cule would reject.
It also showcases that despite his time absorbing the nuances of one of the world's most well-thought and successful systems, Sanchez wanted to carve out not only his team's identity, but also his own as a manger by bringing to the table his original ideas. In order to bring his framework to life, there were certain players in specific areas in particular that had to step up to the plate.
Pedro Miguel and Abdel Karim Hassan were the heart of this system as the pair provided excellent width down the flanks while not leaving any stone unturned defensively. The steel in midfield was a result of the tough-tackling duo of Abdul Aziz Hatem and Assim Madibo who ensure that the back 3 are not left exposed.
Practicality ultimately did not fully outweigh flair as striker Almoez Ali emerged as the top scorer with a brilliant return of 9 goals and bagged the ‘Best Player’ accolade.
A counter-attacking system meant Qatar compromised on dominating the ball and instead capitalized on the chinks in the armor of more technically adept teams through directness and precision.
Despite having only 38% possession, Qatar ran out 3-1 winners in the final against a Japanese side that fielded the likes of Maya Yoshida and Yuto Nagatomo who are lauded in the Premier League and the Bundesliga respectively. Their ruthlessness in front of goal was in full effect as they converted all of their 3 shots on target.
However, Sanchez managed to construct a plan of action that covered all bases as Qatar scored over 2.5 goals per match while goalkeeper Saeed Al Sheeb picked the ball just once out of his net.
With the Copa America less than two weeks in sight, even the staunchest Qatari supporters would not expect their team to topple the likes of Brazil, Argentina and Colombia to name a few. However, the fact that Qatar could even stake a claim in such a major tournament and compete against such terrific teams is all down to the heroics of Felix Sanchez. Ultimately, it is a sizeable step in their journey to create a footballing culture in and across the nation.