From Batistuta and Desailly to Xavi and Sneijder: Qatari football's highest-profile signings ever

Wesley Sneijder, who won 134 caps for Netherlands, is one of just several high-profile players to have plied their trade in Qatar over the years. Rico Brouwer/Soccrates/Getty Images

Belgium international Toby Alderweireld will become one of the most expensive players to ever appear in the Qatar Stars League, after the 32-year-old centre-back completed an US$18 million transfer to Al Duhail from Tottenham earlier this week.

The former Ajax and Atletico Madrid player, however, is hardly the most famous of players ever to move to Qatar. The Middle Eastern country has attracted a string of stars since the turn of the new millennium -- 2003 to be precise, when the Qatari league turned professional.

From iconic South American strikers like Gabriel Batistuta and Romario to Spanish stalwarts like Xavi and Pep Guardiola, football fans in Qatar have been fortunate enough to witness the sport's biggest talents turn up for their local sides.

Here, we take a look at some of the biggest names to have graced the stadiums of Qatar.

Gabriel Batistuta - Al Arabi (2003-05)

Argentina legend Gabriel Batistuta was one of the earliest stars to set foot in Qatar after the organisers of the Q-League handed its clubs $10 million each to splurge on transfers.

It was Al Arabi who convinced the striker -- famous for his long flowing locks -- to join them on a deal worth around $8 million. It was no surprise when the Argentine, who scored for fun in the Serie A for Fiorentina and Roma, broke the scoring record in Qatar with 25 goals in his first season.

The era proved to be a star-studded time for Qatar as "Batigol" partnered with his former Fiorentina teammate Stefan Effenberg at Al Arabi, while another German star, Mario Basler, was at Al Rayyan. Brazil legend Romario also turned up for Al Sadd albeit for just three matches.

Pep Guardiola - Al Ahli Doha (2003-05)

Al Ahli Doha might not be one of the biggest sides in Qatar these days, so it might be almost unthinkable they once -- if the rumours then are to be believed -- convinced Pep Guardiola to turn down Manchester United in their favour.

After 17 years at Barcelona and then a couple of seasons in Italy, the Spaniard lit up the Qatari top division and also represented Al Ahli in the Arab Champions League. All the while, he was still being eyed by some of the big clubs in Europe including Manchester City, the club he is currently managing.

His connection with Qatar has endured as he acted as an ambassador for the country's successful 2022 FIFA World Cup bid.

Raul - Al Sadd (2012-14)

A veteran of three FIFA World Cups and two European Championships with Spain, Raul arrived in Qatar in 2012 by signing a one-year contract with Al Sadd, who had won the AFC Champions League a season prior.

During his time in Qatar, the former Real Madrid star helped the Wolves win the 2012-13 QSL title and the 2014 Emir of Qatar Cup.

The prolific forward also played the 1,000th game of his career while at Al Sadd before announcing his retirement after two seasons there -- only to return to play one final stint for the New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League.

Juninho Pernambucano - Al Gharafa (2009-11)

A man renowned for the exceptional set-piece skills that he exhibited during his years with Lyon, Juninho Pernambucano's departure from the French outfit after winning seven Ligue 1 titles with a year left on his contract was an emotional affair.

The midfielder's next stop was in Qatar where he captained Al Gharafa to a treble of silverware with a Qatari Stars Cup and Qatar Crown Prince Cup to add to their seventh QSL title.

Named the league's Player of the Year in 2010, Juninho will go down as one of the best Brazilians to play in the league, even though compatriots like Nilmar and Ze Roberto have followed his path since.

Xavi - Al Sadd (2015-19)

Barcelona great Xavi Hernandez has spent more time in Qatar than any other player in this list -- first as a player and then as the manager of Al Sadd. Xavi moved to the Wolves straight after winning the historic second treble with the Catalonians during the 2014-15 season.

The Spanish midfielder would go on to win the QSL, Qatar Cup and Emir of Qatar Cup both as a player and a coach. However, the AFC Champions League has eluded Xavi so far despite reaching the semifinals in both roles.

Xavi now manages Santi Cazorla at the Wolves and only recently signed Ghanaian winger Andre Ayew after his ended his time at Swansea City, playing his part in ensuring there is no let-up in the influx of stars to Qatar.

Wesley Sneijder - Al Gharafa (2018-19)

One of the finest playmakers ever of his generation, Wesley Sneijder spent the final days of his playing career in Qatar with Al Gharafa.

The Dutch midfielder came through the ranks at Ajax and enjoyed success at Real Madrid and Inter Milan.

Though the 2010 UEFA Champions League winner's time at Qatar is sometimes best known for his furious outburst after he was sent off while on a hat-trick, Sneijder did score 15 goals in 22 league appearances for the Cheetahs before retiring in August 2019 to take up a role at his hometown club FC Utrecht.

Frank de Boer - Al Rayyan (2004-05), Al Shamal (2005-06)

After being teammates at Ajax, Barcelona, Rangers and the Netherlands national team, Frank de Boer -- along with twin brother Ronald -- moved to Al Rayyan after Euro 2004.

The Dutch duo won the Emir of Qatar Cup defeating Qatar SC 3-2 before moving onto local rivals Al-Shamal for the 2005-06 campaign.

While Frank only lasted months at Al Shamal, Ronald went on to make more than 50 appearances for the club before retiring in 2008.

Marcel Desailly - Al Gharafa (2004-05), Qatar SC (2005-06)

After leaving Chelsea after the 2003-04 season, 1998 FIFA World Cup winner Marcel Desailly decided to jump on the bandwagon and move to Qatar alongside several other star names -- including his former Blues and France teammate Frank Leboeuf.

While Leboeuf headed for Al Sadd, Desailly's destination was Al Gharafa after negotiations for a move to Barcelona broke down.

Under French coach Bruno Metsu, Le Rock captained Al Gharafa to a league title in 2005. He then moved to Qatar SC the following season before hanging up his boots.