The next season of domestic action in the UAE is scheduled to kick-off with a reformatted Arabian Gulf Cup on September 4 after the Pro League Committee revealed its calendar on Tuesday for 2017/18.
For the first time since 2011/12, the top flight will drop down to 12 teams following last month’s shock merger of Al Shabab, Al Ahli – the AGC holders – and promoted Dubai CSC to create Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club.
This call has instantly impacted the nation’s secondary cup tournament. It will now be played out in two groups of six, with the top four from each meeting in the quarter-finals – previously, only the first two teams progressed from the pools to the semi-finals.
Elsewhere, the Arabian Gulf Cup between Arabian Gulf League winners Al Jazira and President’s Cup champions Al Wahda will take place on September 15 – a decision on venue is yet to be made.
The top-flight entertainment begins a day later, with all domestic play set to end on April 29 to give time for World Cup 2018 preparation.
Al Ain and their opponents will be the only teams to feature on September 4 because of the Boss’ commitments in the 2017 AFC Champions League’s quarter-finals. The rest of the participants will take to the field on September 8 and 9.
Another alteration for next term is the introduction of online ticket sales. This is viewed as an important method of increased revenue generation as the competition moves away from hard ticket sales.
Greek giants Panathinaikos have vowed not to block Sweden star Marcus Berg’s lucrative move to Al Ain as long as their “perfectly reasonable demands” are met.
Berg, 30, has emerged as a stellar cure to the Boss’ long-term problems up top ever since they sanctioned the sale of the iconic Asamoah Gyan to Shanghai SIPG in July 2015. A fee of about €5 million (Dh20.4m) fee has been demanded for the man – who has already travelled to the Garden City – with 12 goals in 47 international appearances and started Blagult’s 2-1 World Cup 2018 qualifying win against France on June 9.
Reacting on Tuesday, his amenable current employers stated they would not provide unmovable resistance to their star striker’s desire to push a transfer through.
“We understand the possible desire of the player to gain at this stage of his career a move with significant economic benefit,” said the side for whom Berg has struck 73 times in 116 Superleague Greece clashes since a July 2013 move from Hamburg
“Panathinaikos does not intend to stand in the way of these efforts of Marcus, with the prerequisite that perfectly reasonable demands of the club will be met.
“Although obvious, we wish to point out that Panathinaikos wants to continue with Marcus. But if financial, family and other reasons drive him to another choice for his career, we will respect it.”
Al Ain have added Japan defender Tsukasa Shiotani this month to their four-player foreign quota.
Berg was top scorer in last season’s Greek top flight as To Trifylli – the Shamrock – finished third. He has also played for IFK Goteborg in his homeland, plus Groningen and PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands.
The attacker – who is renowned for his heading ability – first came to prominence with a record seven goals in four games for Sweden at the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Football Championship.
Al Ain have churned through Nigeria’s Emmanuel Emenike, Brazilian Douglas and Saudi Arabia’s Nasser Al Shamrani since Gyan departed. Their return of 58 goals was 14 less than 2016/17 Arabian Gulf League champions Al Jazira, as they finished fourth.
Berg will be expected to lead a charge into the 2017 AFC Champions League quarter-finals against Saudi giants Al Hilal.
Meanwhile, Garden City alumnus Jorge Valdivia’s career has come full circle after he returned to boyhood side Colo-Colo now his Al Wahda contract has expired.
Valdivia, 33, underwhelmed with the Clarets as the Chile playmaker’s heralded summer 2015 switch yielded just eight goals and eight assists in 34 AGL games.
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.