Luis Robles moves from MLS player to World Cup travel manager
Former Inter Miami goalkeeper and captain Luis Robles dreamed of playing in a World Cup from his days as a young soccer player in Fort Huachuca, Arizona, to his early professional years in Germany until to January 6, 2021, when he announced his retirement after a career-ending arm fracture.
He’s finally going to achieve his dream – with a twist.
Robles, 37, will manage the reception of visitors during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, which will take place from November 21 to December 18.
He landed his dream job last May after months of trying to figure out what to do after retirement. He was considering graduate school. He explored front office jobs with Inter Miami and other MLS clubs. He even delivered groceries for Instacart for a brief period because he was tired of sitting in his Parkland home.
Then a phone call with former U.S. soccer president Sunil Gulati led Robles to Felix Brambilla, CEO of Coral Gables-based Overseas Network, the official U.S. agent for MATCH hospitality at the FIFA Cup. World 2022 in Qatar. Overseas is in joint venture with Premier Partnership and Elevate Sports Ventures and their mission is to provide World Cup visitors with unique tickets, accommodation and cultural experiences.
Robles’ new office happens to be right across from Inter Miami’s business office.
Robles joined Overseas on May 1, 2021 and has since made several trips to Qatar, including a three-week stint at the recent Arab Cup, a test event for the World Cup.
“As a teenager and a professional football player, I always thought I would go to the World Cup as a player and instead I would go as an event host” , Robles said. “It’s a dream come true.”
Although he knows nothing about the hospitality industry, Robles earned a degree in finance from the University of Portland and gained business acumen as a longtime executive of the MLS Players Association.
“Even though I was probably underqualified, Felix let me into his ecosystem and mentored me, corrected me, sometimes berated me and taught me to reinvent who I am. Now when I meet people, I don’t introduce myself as Luis Robles, a former professional footballer, I introduce myself as Luis Robles, responsible for the World Cup overseas project.
Brambilla has appeared in the last seven World Cups. Like many football fans around the world, when he heard about Qatar he had doubts.
“When this opportunity first presented itself, I was one of those who wondered what was the logic of hosting the World Cup in Qatar,” Brambilla said. “I wouldn’t say I was skeptical, but I wanted answers. It took our first trip last June to get some answers.
Brambilla and Robles are well aware of ongoing concerns over the Cup host’s human rights history and other humanitarian issues such as anti-gay laws. But they both said their perception of the Gulf nation had changed after spending a lot of time there.
“Football is going to be able to fulfill its missions like never before,” Brambilla said. “We are going to bring together people who do not understand each other, who are full of clichés towards each other. When Luis met me there in June, being from a military family, he came with these apprehensions. Will I be welcome there? Will I be understood?
The answer is yes, Robles and Brambilla said.
“I was pleasantly surprised because you have preconceived ideas about what a place looks like,” Robles said. “My brother served in Iraq and Afghanistan. My father has this incredibly proud tradition and heritage from the military perspective. So that’s where I wanted to come from.
“Many of us have little exposure to the Middle East and the one thing that really stands out after being there is the hospitality. They are warm and genuine and it catches you off guard because you have already formed this idea of who these people are. The World Cup allows us to share experiences and learn from each other.
Brambilla added: “We have found a country that is more open-minded than we expected. They want to be a bridge between the Middle East and the rest of the world. This is not propaganda in any way. It’s not something handed down to us by FIFA or anyone else, it’s a human feeling that you get when you go there, when you get together with Qatari families. and expatriates who are there.
They have found that Qatari families love camping in the desert on weekends and visiting sand dunes, so they incorporate these activities into their travel packages. They are building two Bedouin-inspired camps, one in the southern dune area and a larger one in the desert that will include entertainment venues and a lighted soccer field. They offer mountain bike rides, camel rides and falcon handling experiences.
After attending the Arab Cup, they both firmly believe that the World Cup fans’ experience will be better than skeptics fear. The stadiums were full of enthusiastic supporters – men, women and children. All eight stadiums are within driving distance of each other, so fans will be able to see multiple matches in one day if they wish. And, yes, fans will be allowed to celebrate with alcohol.
“A lot of people ask, ‘Can I party in a Muslim country?’ Yes, you will,” Brambilla said. “Qatari culture doesn’t involve alcohol, but they welcome western visitors and say ‘You can celebrate however you like, but let’s respect each other. ”’
Fans interested in traveling to the Qatar World Cup can get information at https://usa.match-hospitality.com/
IF YOU WANT TO GO…
World Cup 2022
When: Nov. 21-Dec. 18, 2022
Venues: Eight air-conditioned outdoor stadiums
For tickets, accommodation, tour packages: https://usa.match-hospitality.com/
This story was originally published January 14, 2022 8:50 p.m.