The latest edition of the Qatar Stars League is all set to kick off on Friday with the season opener between Al-Rayyan and Al-Sailiya. The return of the former to the top division will undoubtedly be a major talking point as the league sorely missed the Lions and their massive fanbase. That said, it could all be overshadowed by a single player by means of his worldwide popularity. That player is Xavi Hernandez – the former Barcelona star who has arrived in the QSL to play for Al-Sadd. His signing has turned a lot of heads towards the league and this is an opportunity for everyone involved to show what it can offer.
Other notable things to look out for include the QSL debut of Mesaimeer Club and the plethora of managerial changes. Gianfranco Zola is the most high-profile manager to make the move to Qatar, after being handed the unenviable job of revitalizing Al-Arabi. Djamel Belmadi and Jorge Fossati, both of who have won the league before, make a return this time around. It remains to be seen if they will be just as successful.
The QSL has also brought about a welcome rule change: the return of the 3+1 foreigner rule, which is sure to make things easier for the clubs and raise the quality of football for the fans.
All in all, there’s a lot to look forward to in the 2015-16 Qatar Stars League as the teams prepare to battle it out, not just for the league title, but also for the domestic cups and places in the AFC Champions League. At the other end, the relative minnows will seek to avoid the drop to the second-tier Qatargas League. And so, before it all kicks off, here is Ahdaaf’s team-by-team preview.
Continental Competition Qualification – How it works
|League winner||AFC Champions League (ACL)||Group stage||2017|
|League runners-up||ACL||Preliminary round 2||2017|
|Emir Cup winners||ACL||Preliminary round 2||2017|
Relegation to QatarGas League
|League position||Passage of relegation||Division relegated to|
|13th||Automatic relegation||QatarGas League|
|14th||Automatic relegation||QatarGas League|
Qatar Cup format
Emir Cup format
Squad rules and regulations
Teams are listed according to last season’s league positions
Manager: Djamel Belmadi
Key players: Nam Tae Hee, Vladimir Weiss, Youssef Msakni
Preview: The defending champions enter the new season as they have done in each of the past few editions: as favourites to win the title. With burgeoning resources of the Ministry of Interior to support it, Lekhwiya have arguably the strongest lineup in the country. Yet, there are questions as to how they will cope with the crowded schedule of the coming year. The Cops now provide up to 11 players to the national squad and coupled with Champions League participation, it is going to be one tough year. The task to manage that falls to Djamel Belmadi, who makes a return to the dugout of a team that he knows inside out. Although Lekhwiya did sell their top-scorer Sebastian Soria to Al-Rayyan in a baffling move, they have brought in Mohammed Muntari from Al-Jaish in his place.
Predicted position: 1st
Even with a crowded schedule, it is hard to think of Lekhwiya not winning their fifth league title this time – they are simply too good. But it will only come after a hard fight.
Manager: Hussein Amouta
Key players: Xavi, Hassan al-Haydos, Nadir Belhadj
Preview: It’s the beginning of another season and Al-Sadd are once again responsible for bringing extra attention to the QSL. With their signing of football legend Xavi Hernandez from Barcelona, there will be more than just Saddawis watching on when the Wolves take on newly promoted Mesaimeer in Round 1. Xavi, who has been handed the captaincy, was the only signing for Al-Sadd – a fact that has irked many of their fans. With the departure of Yousef Ahmed and Al-Mahdi Ali, squad depth is a serious concern but the management has refused to delve into the market. Instead, they have retained their remaining three (ageing) foreign players while also banking on promising youngsters. Will that be enough to reclaim the league title?
Predicted position: 2nd
The midfield definitely seems better-equipped with the coming of Xavi but at the end of the day, the problem of bench strength may come to haunt the Wolves, with youngsters coming short in crunch games. They should however, do enough to secure a Champions League spot.
Manager: Sabri Lamouchi
Key players: Romarinho, Sardor Rashidov, Majid Mohammed
Preview: El Jaish can count on financial resources similar to that of Lekhwiya but have not enjoyed similar success since making their debut in the QSL. Yet, credit must be given to them for their regular finishes in the top four. The current squad has a good core of Qatari players and this season will see the addition of two top-quality forwards – Abderrazak Hamdallah and Sardor Rashidov. The duo will make up a fearsome attack alongside Romarinho. In Sabri Lamouchi, Jaish have a manager who knows the league, but how his playing experience will translate to his strategy on the pitch in his first full season is yet to be seen.
Predicted position: 4th
The attack seems formidable but Jaish’s defence has been weakened by the departure of captain Anderson Martins. The team could struggle when coming up against troublesome strikers.
Manager: Radhi Shnaishil
Key players: Hamdi Harbaoui, Han Kook Young, Fadel Omar
Preview: Last season started horribly for Qatar SC, with two stinging defeats in the opening rounds sending coach Ivan Hasek packing. In came Radhi Shnaishil to steady the ship. To the surprise of many, not only did the Iraqi steady the ship but he proceeded to steer it to the brink of uncharted territory. Had it not been for an injury-time goal, Qatar SC would have qualified for the Champions League. Shnaishil, a former player of the club, has been rewarded for his superb work and he will now look to repeat or exceed last year’s heroics. The management has given him two Moroccan signings: Mouhcine Iajour and Ismail Benlamaalem.
Predicted position: 6th
While Qatar impressed in 2014/15, it may not be so straightforward this time. Their rivals for a top four spot have all strengthened their ranks and seem to be in better shape. Remaining in 4th will be an achievement.
Manager: Zlatko Kranjcar
Key players: Mujtaba Jabbari, Meshaal Abdullah, Firmin Mubele
Preview: It was always coming and everyone at Al-Ahli expected it to happen one day or the other. Alain Dioko’s departure from the club was only a matter of when and never if. When better-paying Al Gharafa finally prised the reigning double QSL top scorer away, Al-Ahli said goodbye to an era and began another. The Congolese striker’s goals had always been the impetus for their performances and now that he is gone, Qatar’s oldest existing club needs to look elsewhere. Talismanic captain Meshaal Abdullah is still there and if things go well, he could link up nicely with Dioko’s replacement and compatriot, the 21-year old Firmin Mubele.
Predicted position: 9th
Dioko-less Ahli are like a tooth-less tiger and it will be difficult for them to sustain their gradual rise. A lot of the spirit still remains in a side built by Milan Macala and that could prove to be crucial in the contest among the mid-table teams.
Manager: Bulent Uygun
Key players: Yannick Sagbo, Jeremie Aliadiere, Andranik Teymourian
Preview: Umm Salal coach Bulent Uygun’s job seemed to be in danger at certain occasions during last season but the Turk did exceptionally well to lead the Barzan Falcons to sixth place. The team in orange has not had much to cheer about since their high-flying days came to an end around five years ago. This year, they have brought in some experienced names as the management aims to recapture a spot in the top four. Jeremie Aliadiere is the only foreigner to have retained his place in the team and he is now joined by the likes of former Hull City striker Yannick Sagbo and current Iran captain Andranik Teymourian.
Predicted position: 8th
Despite the new additions, a top four spot seems beyond their reach, especially when you consider the competition. However, Uygun’s men could prove to be a tough team to handle at times, as they have been in recent seasons.
Manager: Pericles Chamusca
Key players: Alain Dioko, Yassine Chikhaoui, Masoud Shojaei
Preview: After the uncharacteristic slump in form in recent times, this might just be the year that Gharafa return to the upper echelons of the table. After going through multiple managerial changes in the past two years, the Cheetahs have now put their faith in the proven credentials of Pericles Chamusca, former manager of Al-Arabi and El-Jaish. The management has also made some great moves in the transfer market, strengthening the team’s Qatari contingent by adding Al-Mahdi Ali and Abdulaziz Hatem. As for foreigners, they pulled off a major coup by landing Alain Dioko, who has been the QSL top scorer in the last two seasons. Yassine Chikhaoui adds further strength to the attack while Masoud Shojaei replaces Mark Bresciano in the engine room.
Predicted position: 3rd
Fans of Al-Gharafa have genuine hope of a much better showing in 2015/16 and they may be vindicated with an improved squad under a good manager out to win for them. A Champions League return cannot be ruled out.
Manager: Gianfranco Zola
Key players: Boualem Khouhki, Ashkan Dejagah, Rod Fanni
Preview: Just as any other season, Al-Arabi go into this season with doubts still flying around. The hype on social media suggests that things may finally work out for the Reds, who are now under a new management and more importantly, a new coach – Gianfranco Zola. The Italian legend, however, has had his work cut out in turning this famously underachieving team to an intimidating opposition for any QSL outfit. Just days before the league kicks off, the mood is still uneasy with a war of words going on between the club, ex-captain Abdulaziz Hatem, Al-Gharafa and QFA over the player’s transfer. Just Al-Arabi things!
Predicted position: 7th
However optimistic the Al-Arabi fans may sound, the club’s chances this time don’t seem too rosy. Expect them to hover around mid-table, with the occasional scalp of a bigger team that flatters to deceive.
Manager: Amar Osim
Key players: Hassan Abdel Fattah, Anwar Diba, Yahia Kebe
Preview: Al-Kharaitiyat were languishing near the relegation zone and in real danger of dropping down when Amar Osim took the reins at the club in February. Within two months, the Bosnian engineered a remarkable upturn in fortunes, taking the club to within four points of fifth place. Striker Hassan Abdel Fattah was crucial to the revival, scoring 13 times in his last 11 matches in the league. The club retained the Jordanian and the foreign core of the team, which also includes Yahia Kebe and Domingos. Talented Moroccan playmaker Anwar Diba completes the foreigner quartet.
Predicted position: 13th
They may have impressed in the second phase of last season, but Al-Kharaitiyat will find it difficult to stay up in the coming season. Without the scarcely believable scoring feat of Adel Fattah, the Thunderbolts would be in the second tier now; the chances of the Jordanian repeating it, however, seem less.
Manager: Jean Fernandez
Key players: Madson, Julio Cesar, Marco Antonio
Preview: Al-Khor will start their 2015/16 campaign with a familiar face missing – that of gaffer Laszlo Boloni. The outspoken Romanian spent three eventful years at the northern club during which he transformed the club into a tenacious outfit that could spring a shock from time to time. However, last season’s 10th place finish proved to be the fatal for his stay in the country as the management decided to make a change. The club’s Brazilian trio – Madson, Julio Cesar and Marco Antonio – from last season has been retained, which will delight followers of the QSL who were given a treat each time the three linked up. They will now feature heavily in the plans of new coach Jean Fernandez, who also has newly-acquired Korean defender Lee Young at his disposal.
Predicted position: 10th
A major change in Al-Khor’s fortunes is very unlikely. They may not struggle to survive in the league but don’t expect them to push for anything higher like a place in the top four.
Manager: Sami Trabelsi
Key players: Faouzi Ayesh, Edinho and Abdulrahman al-Harazi
Preview: After a fantastic 2013/14 when they finished fourth and reached the Emir Cup final, Al-Sailiya regressed back to their mediocre ways last season. The shocking fall from fourth to eleventh spurred the powers that be to action – three of the team’s four foreigners, including last year’s club top scorer Issam Jemaa were done away with. Faouzi Ayesh is the only foreigner to survive the cull; the Bahraini livewire is undoubtedly the star that makes the team tick when it does. Ambitious club President Abdulla al Eidah has overseen a number of signings, including that of striker Edinho, who has had a prolific scoring record in Iran and the UAE.
Predicted position: 12th
The team showed nothing of the character of 2013/14 during the struggles of last season and chances are things will be the same this time too. They will be lucky to escape relegation.
Manager: Jose Mauricio
Key players: Ruben Amorim, Sebastian Saez, Mouhcine Moutouali
Preview: Fortune favoured Al Wakrah at the end of last season, when Sebastian ‘Sacha’ Saez’s heroics ensured that the Blue Wave survived the relegation scare, pipping a gutsy Shahaniya side to the magical 12th spot in the table. The question in Wakrah circles is why this has to happen every other year. From winning the league and reaching Cup finals at the turn of the millennium to their current state of mediocrity, Al-Wakrah have fallen way off the radar. The small but devoted fanbase rarely attend matches. This year, the management has attempted to set things right with the signing of former Benfica midfielder Ruben Amorim. The return of Iraqi stalwart Ali Rehema will be a source of relief.
Predicted position: 11th
All signs point to yet another relegation battle for Al-Wakrah. It is unlikely that either the new coach Jose Mauricio, who is in his first stint in Asia, or Amorim will spark a revival in the club’s fortunes.
Manager: Jorge Fossati
Key players: Rodrigo Tabata, Sergio Garcia, Sebastian Soria
Preview: After suffering the ignominy of relegation, Al-Rayyan are back again in the space of a year. It would be fair to say that both the QSL and Rayyan missed each other. Now that the reunion is set, the Lions need to repair the damage caused by their absence with a return to the top four. The early signs are that it could be so. Rayyan got a crucial advantage when captain and heartthrob Rodrigo Tabata was naturalized, freeing up a foreigner spot in the team. Coming in this year are former Barcelona and Espanyol striker Sergio Garcia, Qatari striker Sebastian Soria and the South American defensive duo of Victor Caceres and Gonzalo Viera. Under the league-winning expertise of Jorge Fossati, this is a team that can satisfy the Rayyani masses.
Predicted position: 5th
A top four position in their very first season back may not be beyond them. Rayyan seem determined to return to their traditional place as fast as possible and the team will need the undying support of the black-and-red crowds to come out victorious from a crowded fight.
Manager: Rodion Gacanin
Key players: Helio Pinto, Mohammed Nouri, Rafael Amorim
Preview: Mesaimeer are the new kids on the block and have what is undoubtedly the toughest task of them all: staying up in the QSL. Many before them have tried and failed and The Torches have almost been written off even before a ball is kicked. Out to prove the naysayers wrong is a team that impressed in their promotion campaign under Yousuf Adam last year. Adam has since left the job and has been replaced by Rodion Gacanin, former coach of the Kuwait national team. Former APOEL Nicosia star Helio Pinto and Persepolis captain Mohammed Nouri will lead the battle in midfield when the minnows go up against the bullies.
Predicted position: 14th
Despite their hopes of beating the odds and pulling off a shock, the team is nowhere near the quality of its competitors and will struggle to survive in the QSL.