Ask any football fan from the Middle East which team they support and you’re more than likely to get one of two answers: Barcelona or Real Madrid.
Of course, there are always a few exceptions – the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Bayern Munich are all popular amongst fans in the Gulf – but the two Spanish giants are by far and away the best supported in the region.
But why is that the case? Is it the incredible success that both teams have enjoyed on the world stage? Is it the efficient marketing machines behind the scenes? Or is it, perhaps, the plethora or global stars in both teams’ ranks?
Well, according to Daniel Rocca, a board member of the official FC Barcelona Fan Club UAE, it’s a mixture of all those things and more, but first and foremost he points to his beloved Barça’s astounding success as a reason for their popularity. “They have been incredibly successful,” he says, “and everyone in the area likes success.”
And it’s not just the fact that they win that makes Barcelona popular – according to Rocca, it is also the way they win. “They have played a unique brand of football for decades that has enamoured fans all over the world,” he says. “It is an attacking, skillful approach to the game and people will always find that more watchable.
“Arab football has always tried to play this style of football and you can notice it with the UAE national team as well. You won’t see many Arab teams playing long-ball, direct football, which only adds to the attraction to the Barça style.”
In addition to the success and the style, there’s also the fact that both teams have for years boasted some of the biggest names in the sport, which is bound to increase their popularity. It’s certainly the reason why Dubai-based producer Dana Charkaoui started supporting Real.
“I do not really remember how it all started as I was quite young,” says Dana, who was born and brought up in Lebanon before moving to Dubai as an adult. “But I remember that the team then had all the great players including Zidane, Beckham, Roberto Carlos, the Brazilian Ronaldo and Raul.”