Arabian Gulf League champions Al Jazira’s ominous summer recruitment drive looks set to continue with the purchase of exciting Uzbekistan winger Sardor Rashidov.
Rashidov, 25, posted a welcoming picture of a cake emblazoned with the Pride of Abu Dhabi’s emblem on his Instagram late on Sunday as he prepared to put the finishing touches on his move from now-defunct Qatar club El Jaish.
The wide man has scored an impressive 23 times in 48 Qatar Stars League run-outs for the Soldiers since a July 2015 switch from Bunyodkor for $2.1 million and will replace South Korea anchorman Park Jong-woo in the four-player foreign quota’s Asian-qualified berth.
The Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium-outfit have already tied up the impressive free transfers of ex-France defensive midfielder Lassana Diarra plus UAE front man Ahmed Khalil once his deal at boyhood club Al Ahli expires this summer.
They are also interested in Rashidov’s club-mate Romarinho. The electric Brazilian forward has struck 40 goals in 72 QSL games.
Of Jazira’s current non-Emirati quartet, both Park and Brazlian forward Ailton Almeida have been released after their contracts ran out.
Morocco conductor Mbark Boussoufa is halfway through a two-year arrangement, while winter arrival Leonardo has been linked with a loan move to Riyadh’s Al Nassr.
Coach Henk ten Cate’s troops earned a provisional spot in the 2017 Club World Cup after they romped to the 2016/17 AGL title with a record points and wins tally.
Meanwhile, relegation dodgers Emirates Club have announced the retention of saviour Sebastian Saez on a new one-year contract.
The Argentine striker, 32, played a decisive role during last season’s final two matches as he produced a last-gasp header to draw 4-4 at Bani Yas and helped force the only goal versus Al Nasr to secure a great escape.
Henk ten Cate has heaped praise on Al Jazira’s youth academy and believes the Pride of Abu Dhabi’s stunning 2016/17 Arabian Gulf League title success was deserved reward for putting their faith in youth.
Jazira sauntered to just a second-ever top-flight crown and first in six years last month, finishing 11 points ahead of second-placed Al Wasl.
It was a far cry from the previous campaign, one in which the Abu Dhabi giants had been on the brink of a very real relegation battle before Ten Cate replaced Abel Braga in December.
The Dutchman steadied the ship and even ended the season with silverware as Jazira defeated old foes Al Ain in the President’s Cup final on penalties.
Despite the obvious progress, Jazira’s success this season has still come as quite a shock due to possessing a threadbare squad.
And even though their policy of trusting youth has been somewhat necessitated by a lack of transfer activity, it is nevertheless impressive, with the likes of Khalfan Mubarak (21), Mohamed Jamal (22) and Salem Rashid (23) all featuring prominently during their title-winning campaign.
“The path we are following, bringing in players from the academy which regularly played. This is the way Al Jazira should concentrate on,” insisted the 62-year-old former Ajax coach, Ten Cate.
“There’s a very good academy here, it’s now a matter of building structure to have an elite group of players. I think the club is on the right track.
“You cannot continue buying players. Money, even here in the Emirates, is not endless. People should pay more attention to their academies and youth development plans.
“Chances are minimilised at a lot of clubs. We have a philosophy of if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.”
The former Chelsea and Barcelona assistant added that he believes there is even better to come from Jazira next season.
“I think this team is maybe only at 80-85 per cent,” he said.
“I think there is more for them to take. I hope it’s the beginning, not the end.”
By winning a first AGL title since 2010/11, Ten Cate’s men have also qualified for the FIFA Club World Cup, taking place in the Emirates this December.
There, they could join Real Madrid, who qualified by virtue of their 4-1 defeat of Juventus in the Champions League on Saturday.
Fellow UAE side Al Ain could still scupper that dream should they win the 2017 AFC Champions League –in which case they would qualify and the runners-up of the ACL would be invited in Jazira’s place.
Of the chance to take on some of the world’s best clubs, Ten Cate added: “It’s a very big event. I t would put Jazira on the map as hundreds of millions of people watch those games. It’s a fantastic thing.”
Ex-Al Wasl assistant Pedro Carmona is convinced he can achieve the ambitious goal of becoming “the best coach in the Middle East” thanks to hard lessons learned during his European return.
Carmona, 34, was a long-term ally of Argentinian tactician Gabriel Calderon at Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal, Bani Yas, Bahrain, La Liga’s Real Betis and the Cheetahs. He broke away in November 2015 to become part of Engishman Gary Neville’s staff at Valencia, before his first stint as head coach saw a 73-year wait ended for minnows Estoril to enter the Taca de Portugal‘s semi-finals.
The Spaniard has been unemployed since March because of indifferent form in the Primeira Liga and changing targets from the Canarinhos rulers.
“My experience in Portugal was fine, all experiences are good,” said Carmona, who won two, drew two and lost nine of his games in charge of a relegation-threatened side.
“If you don’t have a very good team, you can’t do many things. I left because the owner wanted to be fighting for the Champions League and Europa League – that is all.
“I love the Middle East and I worked there for five years. I know the culture of the footballers there.
“My target is to be a big coach, the best coach in the Middle East.
“Always you learn. I am a better coach after Valencia and Estoril.”
Carmona was drafted in by a struggling team last December. The highlight of his tenure was taking Estoril to a 5-4 aggregate loss to giants Benfica in the cup’s last four.
This experience of battling Portugal’s finest has emboldened him.
He said: “The main things I learned in Estoril was to be effective. It is difference when you start with a team in July for pre-season, or start in the middle of the season.
“Portugal is a very-competitive league and I played against Benfica, Porto and Sporting Lisbon.”
Carmona won the Saudi Professional League and Crown Prince Cup double at Hilal in 2010/11, plus helped lead Bani to their knockout-stage debut in the 2012 AFC Champions League.
He hoped the kind of mentality change which saw Wasl shine under the youthful Rodolfo Arruabarrena last term, could lead to a premium Arabian Gulf League post.
“Here in Europe, it is normal to sign a young coach,” Carmona said.
“But in the Middle East, they like coaches who are 60-years old. Young coaches are hungry.”