DOHA, Qatar – When the Emir of Qatar placed a black and gold mantle over the shoulders of Argentina’s victorious captain Lionel Messi, Ahmed Al-Salem was more emotional than most soccer fans.
The garment Messi wore when he lifted the soccer trophy was a $2,200 “beast,” a traditional dress worn by men for weddings, graduations and official events — and it was made by Salem’s family company.
The gesture sparked international debate on social media over whether it was appropriate.
Salem watched Argentina beat France in a cafe near the family shop in Doha’s Souk Waqif market, having previously handed over two of the delicate handmade coats to World Cup officials – one in Messi’s diminutive size and one to fit the taller French captain Hugo Lloris.
“We didn’t know who they were for and I was stunned,” he told AFP of the moment the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, put Messi in the mantle.
Salem recognized his company tag and is now celebrating his own World Cup victory.
The Al-Salem store, a long-standing supplier to Qatari royalty, normally sells 8-10 garments a day.
On Monday, the day after the final, sales were up to 150, including three copies of the top-of-the-range beast made famous by Messi, said Salem.
“At one stage there were dozens waiting outside the shop,” he said.
“They were almost all Argentinians,” he added as he watched eight supporters of the new world champions sing their “Muchachos” (comrades) anthem and take pictures of themselves while wearing a flimsy vest and carrying a copy of The World Cup Trophy.
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A stream of fans came into the store when Salem spoke to AFP, and all of them applauded the Emir’s gesture.
“We were all happy when we saw that, it was a gift from one king to another,” said Mauricio Garcia as he tried on the coat, but decided the price tag was too high to buy.
Some commentators, mostly European, criticized that Messi’s shirt is covered for the presentation of the trophy.
But the moment was welcomed by Arab social media users.
Salem and other Arab commentators stated that the intention was to “honor” Messi and that the gesture was misunderstood.
Salem said: “When a sheikh dresses a person in a bisht, it means honoring and appreciating the person.
It was a “very important moment” for Qatar as it seeks a World Cup publicity boost, said Carole Gomez, a professor of sports sociology at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.
“These images are widely circulated, preserved and reissued,” she said.
Salem said when the World Cup officials went to his shop “they wanted the lightest and most transparent fabric.”
“I was surprised because we are in winter, so it seems that the goal was to show the Argentina uniform and not cover it,” he said.
While the belt is worn in many Gulf countries, Al-Salem is the biggest of about five Qatari producers, with about 60 tailors.
Each beast takes a week to make and goes through a seven stage completion, with different workers adding different lines of gold braid to the front and arms.
For Messi Bisht, the golden thread came from Germany and the Najafi cotton fabric was imported from Japan.