Facial expressions of sadness and exasperation as his country’s football team slumped to an opening game defeat at this year’s football World Cup have propelled a 16-year-old member of Qatar’s royal family to social media stardom in China.
The young royal, Abdulrahman Fahad al-Thani, has been crowned super-cute by Chinese netizens, who have also affectionately dubbed him “dumpling wrapper prince”.
The adoring moniker has caught on because video clips of the prince gesticulating at the game in his traditional Arab headgear make him look like tournament mascot La’eeb, which also resembles traditional Chinese dumpling and wonton wrappers.
Earlier this week, Abdulrahman sparked an online frenzy when he opened an account on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, calling himself “La’eeb little prince”.
In just 48 hours – with just three video clips – the teenage Qatari royal attracted 14.3 million followers and 13.8 million likes.
He opened an account on Weibo on Wednesday (Nov 30) and attracted some 210,000 followers in just a day.
Indulging his new-found Chinese audience, the young prince began his first Douyin video clip with “Ni Hao,” Mandarin for hello.
“This is my message for all my Chinese fans. Thank you so much for your support,” he said.
“I’ve seen all of your beautiful comments and your beautiful videos. I’ve seen all of it,” he added, inviting his Chinese fans to go to Qatar and enjoy the World Cup.
“Who do you like more, me or La’eeb?” He said in his latest clip, repeating the signature movement of throwing his traditional kaffiyeh headdress up and over his shoulder.
This was exactly the gesticulation he performed at the end of the opening match, grabbing people’s attention along with his facial expressions of disappointment and exasperation at his team’s dismal performance.
In the aftermath of that defeat for Qatar, cartoons and memes of him circulated widely on Chinese social media.
Humorous captions accompanying the pictures included “Is money useless?”, “Is US$220 billion (S$300 billion) gone?” and “Can’t US$200 billion buy happiness for the host country?”, referring to the oil wealth of the Middle Eastern country.
Interviewed by China’s state broadcaster CCTV, Abdulrahman said he was surprised how popular he had become in China and around the world.
“I didn’t know the camera was videoing me,” he told CCTV. “I was just saying, like, please, what kind of football is this? I wanted to show support for the team.”
He also admitted he may have been “overreacting” at the time because he is passionate about football, adding that his favourite player is Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
Chinese internet users have posted millions of hilarious comments for the youngster.
“Prince, I have been a fan of yours for a decade. Do you think you can send a plane to pick me up and take me to Qatar?” Quipped one.
“Prince, how can I let you know my bank account number?” Another user said.
“Come to China. There is a lot of fun to be had here and our food is delicious,” said another.
One social media poster felt compelled to put the comments in context for the prince: “We Chinese are humorous. They beg you for money and they are just kidding. Don’t take it seriously. They are only making jokes about your wealth.”