In the southeast corner of Belgium, there is a town of about 20,000 that is known, to the extent it is known at all, as a key battleground during the Battle of the Bulge and, more recently, as the center of the tiny slice of this country that speaks German instead of French.
Time moves slowly here. There is a quaint stretch of shops and a small train station and a hotel, the Ambassador, which has 28 rooms. The biggest commotion on any given day is when the children at the school in town go outside for recess.
Except on soccer days. Then, much of the town treks up a steep hill to a modest soccer stadium, the Kehrweg-Stadion, home to K.A.S. Eupen, the local professional team that has spent most of its 69-year existence in the lower divisions of Belgium’s national league. The stadium is unremarkable, with its squat, steel stands and patchy grass, and yet it was the site, on a March morning two years ago, of one of the strangest couplings in professional sports.
On that day, a group of about 20 men toured the 8,000-seat stadium, examining its sparse amenities and looking out at the drab surrounding areas. They then moved on to K.A.S. Eupen’s small offices, where a candid meeting between club officials and executives from Qatar’s Aspire Academy, based in Doha some 3,000 miles away, began promptly at 10 a.m.
Those in the room would later describe this meeting between the officials of a mostly anonymous Belgian soccer team and representatives of a Middle Eastern royal family as surreal. As they negotiated the details of an acquisition, four languages were spoken — English, French, German and Arabic — and while the club had a multilingual staff member on hand to help translate, there were still moments of inevitable confusion.