Words Of Wael
March 14, 2016
The sporting read: Wael Al Qadi – mapping out his plans to make Bristol Rovers a force.
(This article is written by Ali Khaled in The National Sport on Saturday 12th March 2016. – HERE)
Two weeks ago, Wael Al Qadi was in Zurich as part of the Jordan Football Association delegation backing Prince Ali bin Al Hussein’s ultimately unsuccessful bid for Fifa presidency.
The following morning, as the world digested the news of Gianni Infantino’s election, Al Qadi, 46, was flying to the UK to begin his duties as new president of League Two’s Bristol Rovers after his family bought 92 per cent ownership of the club earlier that week.
“The club has amazing heritage,” Al Qadi told The National. “It’s a very traditional family club, and the fan base is very loyal. It’s in a part of the country where they’ve been deprived of footballing success. There’s huge potential to succeed if we get things right football-wise.”
Succeed on the pitch, and Al Qadi believes the club can unlock its commercial potential off it.
“We need a new stadium,” he said. “If the club compete well on the field, and if you get the business side right, in my view this venture will be a success if we also have a bit of luck on the way, you need that in football.”
So far, Al Qadi has had a dream start. Their latest win, 3-1 against AFC Wimbledon, at the Memorial Stadium, leaves Rovers fifth in the league table.
“On the pitch, we have won four out of five games since the takeover, with one of our wins being the biggest of the season so far, 4-1 against Hartlepool,” he said. “Even the game we lost (1-0 at Wycombe) we were the better side and dominated play but they had one chance and scored, so we lost but that’s football for you.
“Our performances have been improving game by game and the team is consolidating its position in the playoff places which is creating a real buzz around the place.”
Growing the club step by step
Al Qadi, his new team and chairman Steve Hamer have wasted no time in their efforts to improve the club, on and off the field.
“We got to work straight away to try to improve supporters’ match day experience,” he said. “At the same time we brought in some key experienced personnel to tackle the different areas which needed improving and reorganising, such as the commercial side, the stadium project, on the field matters and the financial department. So it has been non-stop and will be like this for a while.”
Rovers are comfortably in the playoff positions and only six points off automatic promotion with eleven matches left. Al Qadi says manager Darrell Clarke will be given every opportunity to continue his good work.
“It’s not at all about throwing cash, spending hundreds of thousands or millions,” he said. “That’s the wrong formula, and it has been proven by many owners and investors who bought clubs to be the wrong way to do it. The right way is to build step by step.”
Historically, the city has seen a fierce local rivalry between Rovers and Bristol City, now struggling in 20th position in the Championship. The new ownership should give the Bristol area a boost after years of underachievement, according to Al Qadi.
“We’re in it for the long term, and that means growing the club organically,” he said. “It means evolution not revolution as I keep on saying. It is about building it step by step, getting the correct footballing structure in. That means working on the academy, recruiting correctly, and using the loan system smartly, so that you build a football club that’s sustainable.”
From the outset the new owners have made it clear they are mindful of not overspending and that smart investment is the key.
“There’s Financial Fair Play,” Al Qadi said. “You basically need to work on the commercial side. The more you can increase the revenue stream, the more you can invest or spend on the footballing side.”
Relocating to a new stadium
Football fans and local entities have been “very welcoming” to Al Qadi, and he is hoping to repay them by finally completing a long-mooted stadium relocation.
“They want a new stadium, they need a new stadium,” he said. “The previous owners did a lot of good work in getting the planning permission and agreements in place for the stadium to go ahead.”
Legal issue have hindered the move for a decade as the club continues to play at the Memorial Stadium.
“We kind of inherited that,” he said. “So we have to wait until this is resolved and we have to study everything to make sure everything is aligned and in place before going ahead with the stadium because we don’t want any road bumps.”
Raising profile of Middle East football
Al Qadi himself asks a question he thinks sceptics may have.
“Why a Jordanian takeover in England?” he said. “First of all the English League has a strong system which has good laws and regulations. As an owner you are protected.”
By purchasing Bristol Rovers Al Qadi is also hoping to raise the profile of Middle Eastern football and perhaps encourage regional talent to try their luck abroad.
“Part of the reason is for the kids in this region (Middle East),” Al Qadi said. “If they are willing to go a step further and try to get their careers launched, if the families are willing to help their talented young kids to go out on a limb and approach Europe from a young age, they can have a chance professionally.”
He’s hoping his new club can potentially be home for outstanding Arab talent if they prove themselves good enough.
“I’d like to think that this club can be an additional outlet for the Jordan Football Association,” he said. “Talented kids can have the chance to develop and become true professionals, maybe wear the colours of the club and go on to have a great career and strengthen the national team of Jordan. Along with Jordan, I also include the region.”
A footballing background
Al Qadi is a self-confessed Chelsea fan, having grown up in West London, and frequented Stamford Bridge from a young age.
“I was 12 when I came to London to study at Westminster School,” he said. “My father took me to my first game at Chelsea, who back then were in Division 2. Growing up, your affinity is with the club your father takes you to watch. I’ve got nothing to hide, I’m a Chelsea fan, but now my allegiance is with Rovers.”
Al Qadi has been a “football nut” for as long as he can remember and has experienced five World Cups and several Uefa Champions League finals.
“Chelsea against Bayern Munich in 2012 stands out for obvious reasons,” he said. “But the best footballing one was Milan and Liverpool in Istanbul, the comeback. I was also at Stamford Bridge when Liverpool won the league under Kenny Dalglish in 1986, they won 1-0. I’ve been to many other memorable games.”
Taking Rovers forward
On Saturday, Rovers host Mansfield as they look to keep their recent run of form going, but Al Qadi is not making grand promises about the future.
“I don’t believe in setting targets, be it short or long term,” he said. “To use an old football cliché, we’re taking it game by game. Day by day, season by season, division by division. It’s wrong to come in and change everything. The team is in the playoff positions, so it’s about observing and trying to support the manager in whatever he needs. You can’t come in and disrupt the harmony, you have to maintain the momentum that you have.”
“With a bit of luck we aim to be successful and keep the fans happy and give them what they want. That’s the plan.”
So far, everyone related to the club is on board with his Al Qadi’s vision.
“The manager, coaches and players have all worked hard and it’s showing on the pitch,” Al Qadi said. “We have had four injuries to key players at this crucial stage of the season which is unfortunate, but again that’s football for you and this will give other players in the squad the chance to prove themselves. The manager and club have moved decisively and smartly to reinforce the squad with quality loan signings which will help us in our fight to reach the playoffs. Exciting times ahead.”