The Qatari manufacturer of the cape given to Messi is enjoying a boom after the World Cup

DOHA, Qatar — Watching Sunday’s World Cup final, Ahmed al-Salem was more emotional than most soccer fans as Qatar’s emir draped a black and gold mantle over the shoulders of Argentina’s victorious captain Lionel Messi.

The garment Messi wore when he lifted the soccer trophy was a $2,200 “bisht,” a traditional dress worn by men for weddings, graduations and official events — and it was made by Salem’s family company.

The gesture has triggered international debate on social media whether it was appropriate.

Salem watched Argentina beat France at a cafe near the family’s shop in Doha’s Souq Waqif market after earlier handing over two of the delicate handmade capes to World Cup officials – one in Messi’s petite size and one to match the taller French captain Hugo Lloris.

“We didn’t know who they were for and I was shocked,” he told AFP of the moment the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, draped Messi in the robe.

Salem recognized his company brand and is now celebrating his own World Cup victory.

Argentina’s Lionel Messi, wearing an Arab robe, lifts the trophy after winning the World Cup soccer final between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2022. (AP/Martin Meissner)

The Al-Salem store, a longtime bisht supplier to Qatari royalty, usually sells eight to 10 garments a day.

By Monday, the day after the final, sales were up to 150, including three copies of the premium bisht made famous by Messi, Salem said.

“At one point there were dozens waiting outside the store,” he said.

“They were almost all Argentines,” he added as he watched eight supporters of the new world champions sing their “Muchachos” (comrades) anthem and take pictures of themselves wearing a flimsy bisht and carrying a replica of the World Cup trophy .

Boom tail

A stream of fans entered the store as Salem spoke to AFP, all applauding the emir’s gesture.

“We were all happy when we saw it, it was a gift from a king to another king,” Mauricio Garcia said as he tried the cloak on but decided the price tag was too high to buy.

Some commentators, predominantly European, criticized Messi’s shirt being covered for the trophy presentation.

But the moment was welcomed by Arab social media users.

Salem and other Arab commentators explained that the intention was to “honor” Messi and that the gesture had been misunderstood.

“When a sheikh dresses a person in bisht, it means honoring and appreciating that person,” Salem said.

Argentina captain and forward Lionel Messi gestures to his teammates as he stands on stage with FIFA President Gianni Infantino (L) and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani after Argentina won the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup final between Argentina and France at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, north of Doha on December 18, 2022 (Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP)

It was a “very important moment” for Qatar as it seeks a boost in World Cup advertising, said Carole Gomez, a professor of sports sociology at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland.

“These images are widely disseminated, preserved and republished,” she said.

Salem said when WC officials went to his shop, “they wanted the lightest and most transparent fabric.”

“I was surprised because we are in winter so it seems the aim was to show the Argentina uniform and not cover it,” he said.

While bisht is worn in many Gulf countries, Al-Salem is the largest of about five Qatari manufacturers, employing about 60 tailors.

Each bisht takes a week to make and undergoes a seven-step completion process, with different workers adding different lines of gold braid to the front and arms.

For Messi’s bisht, the gold thread came from Germany and the najafi cotton fabric was imported from Japan.

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