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The importance of taking the initiative – on and off the pitch

Dona, Qatar: Football is an incredible tool to bring people together and change lives for the better. Last month I had the privilege of visiting India for the first time, and I was inspired by the story of Umesh Rathod, the football-crazy 15-year-old that I met in Mumbai.     

Umesh faces daily difficulties in the slum community where he lives, where access to water is limited and some children are sent to work and forced out of education from an early age to support their families.

His parents insisted that Umesh stays in school and encouraged him to follow his passion to play football. He introduced me to his family and showed me his house, his medals and his trophies. He was very happy about the visit, and the same went for me. I could tell almost instantly then he has the right attitude and character to deal with any situation, and football will help him greatly.

Our encounter in Mumbai was just one example of how Generation Amazing, the human and social legacy programme initiated during Qatar’s successful bid for the FIFA World Cup in 2010, is using the power of football to positively impact lives and create sustainable social development in communities such as the one where Umesh lives.

In Mumbai, we inaugurated the construction of a Generation Amazing community football pitch which will serve him and those living in the area, including Poonam, a 19-year-old female football player who is giving back to her community through inspirational coaching sessions for young kids.

Ever since I was a child I have this consciousness that football is my passion. It is my life. The experience to visit India was marvellous. The feeling when you are a child is one of freedom, and to be able to contribute an opportunity to these children in India makes me very happy and proud. Football can change the world, without a doubt.

In Umesh I saw the happiness which he has for football, which took me back in time, to the sensation of wanting to succeed in football. Over the coming four weeks, I will be lacing my boots for the last games of an unforgettable career which has spanned over 21 years and taken me to every corner of the world.

It has been a fantastic end to my playing career here in Qatar. Winning the Qatar Stars League this month was the title which was missing. Since I arrived here, we have won everything and only the league was missing, so I’m very happy for this fantastic Al Sadd team, which worked so hard and deservedly won the title.

As a sportsperson, you never get tired of winning. Once you have won a title you always want to win more. We have a very good generation of football players in Qatar, many of them from the exciting young Qatari national team which won the Asian Cup earlier this year.

It is a privilege to have been able to play football until the age of 39, and now I would like to finish the season on a high by winning the Amir Cup and reaching the next stage in the Asian Champions League. This is my last season as a player, but I am already excited for what the near future holds as a coach.

You will see that my coaching philosophy reflects the style which we were able to develop over many years through the influence of Johan Cruyff, La Masia and the Barcelona way of playing football. I love to see teams taking the initiative on the pitch, playing attacking football and going back to the essence of what we all love about this game since our childhood days; having possession of the football.

I have been privileged to achieve everything that I was able to do over the past two decades, and by extension it is also our duty to take the initiative off the pitch and give back through football wherever we can. This is why my work with Generation Amazing is so important to me, and I look forward to continuing my work with this wonderful programme, and the magnificent project that is Qatar 2022.

Umesh is one of over 250,000 young people we have reached to date. Generation Amazing has built 28 community football pitches across the Middle East and Asia, creating programmes which empower and educate young people to become leaders in their communities through the unifying power of the beautiful game.

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