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‘Happy’ Sneijder unveiled by Qatar’s Al Gharafa

Doha (AFP) – A beaming Wesley Sneijder said he had turned down offers “from everywhere” to play in Qatar as the Dutch star was officially unveiled by Al Gharafa in Doha on Monday.

The former Ajax, Real Madrid and Inter Milan star said he was “happy” to be in the Middle East and could not wait to play football again after a disappointing few months at French Ligue 1 side Nice.

The 33-year-old has signed an 18-month contract with the mid-table Qatari side and could make his debut as early as Friday, when Al Gharafa take on Al Ahli in a league match.

“To be honest, my choice to come here was to play football,” Sneijder told reporters at a press conference in Doha’s Four Seasons hotel.

“There was speculation about me going to the US, about going to China or others, but I never read about ‘he will go to Qatar’.”

Officials close to the Dutch star said he had also received offers from club in Mexico and Brazil.

He added: “Of course, there were more offers and they came from everywhere.”

“I feel very welcome here and I am happy that I chose Al Gharafa.

“To be honest, I can’t wait to start training tomorrow and to help the team.”

He said he had not spoken to “gentleman” Xavi Hernandez, the former Barcelona legend who plays in Qatar for Al Sadd, but was persuaded to move by Dutch Moroccan midfielder Anouar Diba, who plays for rivals Al Kharaitiyat and has been in the Gulf for several years.

Sneijder added he had no worries about playing in Qatar, which has been heavily criticised ever since being chosen to host the 2022 World Cup finals on issues such as human rights and corruption.

“I don’t have any concerns,” he said. “I came here to play football and not think about other things.”

The unveiling of Sneijder was a sometimes hectic event complete with music, videos, mascots, Dutch embassy staff and even football-themed food.

Al Gharafa chairman Jassim bin Thamer Al-Thani revealed they had previously tried to sign Holland’s most capped player, with 133 appearances, back in 2014.

Sneijder was given the number 10 shirt and will captain the team, said Al-Thani.

Currently the club are marooned in mid-table with just two wins in 11 league games and trail league leaders Al-Duhail by 18 points.

Al Gharafa though are one of the most decorated clubs in Qatari football, having won the league title on seven occasions, the last time in 2010.

Sneijder and Xavi played against each other in the 2010 World Cup Final which the Netherlands lost 1-0 to Spain.

The two stars could face each other again in less foreboding surroundings by the end of the month when Al Gharafa and Al Sadd clash on January 25. 

Other international stars to play for Al Gharafa, include French World Cup winner Marcel Desailly, who moved to Qatar from Chelsea in 2004.

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