Al Ain’s 2018/19 commitments will kick-off on Tuesday amid the continuing absence of superstar playmaker Omar Abdulrahman when they battle Algeria’s ES Setif in the Arab Club Champions Cup’s first round.
Abdulrahman, the 2016 AFC Player of the Year, is yet to concur on fresh terms for his expired contract and is not present in Zagreb, Croatia for pre-season training. Reports in Saudi Arabian media state he has agreed to a new contract, with the caveat that a mega-money season loan to Riyadh’s Al Hilal – the club of his youth – is agreed.
This situation has placed a cloud over the Arabian Gulf League and President’s Cup winners, although coach Zoran Mamic was more perturbed about the scheduling of the opening leg (kick-off 20:00 on Abu Dhabi Sports HD) against the Ligue Professionnelle 1 holders at Zagreb, Croatia’s 5,000-capacity Igraliste Hitrec Kacian.
He said: “The exact timing for the game is strange, actually. It is difficult to play a formal game in the middle of the preparation phase that precedes the start of the season.
“In contrast, the opposing team (Setif) has played in the CAF Champions League during the past two weeks.”
The former Dinamo Zagreb tactician estimated he will have up to 20 players missing for the deciding tie on August 4. This is because of injury, plus the UAE senior’s training camp in Austria and the Under-23’s run at the 2018 Asian Games.
“During my 35 years spent in football at the top level, I have never heard about calling the international players from their clubs during the period of preparation for the season,” Mamic bemoaned. “It is not normal because that stage is most important to prepare the players for a long season.”
Opposing coach Rachid Taoussi boasts intimate knowledge of Al Ain after serving as their sporting director from 2008-10.
“I know the Al Ain team very well and it has a wonderful football academy,” the ex-Morocco boss said. “It always offers the national team the brightest stars.”
The first-round commitments of fellow Emirati entrants Al Jazira and Al Wasl – against Saudi opponents Al Nassr and Al Ittihad – only wind up at the end of September.
A total of 32 teams from 15 different nations, excluding Qatar, Yemen and Palestine, will take part in the opening stage.
No UAE outfit has won the competition, that culminates on April 28, 2019 at Casablanca, Morocco’s 67,000-capacity Stade Mohammed V.
El Shahat, 26, proved a revelation upon his mid-season arrival – initially on loan – from Misr El Makkasa. A return of seven goals and nine assists in 11 games was pivotal to the Arabian Gulf League being secured, plus he continued to impress when a club-first double with the President’s Cup was secured.
Despite inking permanent terms in March, the one-capped Egypt international was linked to Cairo giants Al Ahly and upstarts Pyramids FC. But judging by his quotes at the Boss’ pre-season training camp in Slovenia, he’s going nowhere.
“All my thinking, my concentration and my feelings as a professional football player are limited to achieving the goals of my club Al Ain, especially as I consider myself one of the players who have the responsibility to represent Egypt outside the borders of my beloved country,” El Shahat said.
“My relationship with Al Ain is not just as a football player who defends his club’s slogan, but I consider myself and all my team-mates as one family.”
Al Ain meet Algeria’s ES Setif on Tuesday for the first leg of the first round of the 2018/19 Arab Club Champions Cup.
George, 31, was named Player of the Season by the A-League victors after he scored nine goals and notched 14 assists. But the former Netherlands Under-21 international could not agree an extension after an outstanding debut campaign upon arrival from Turkey’s Adana Demirspor, leading to the fielding of offers from across Asia.
The promoted Sky Blues officially won this chase on Saturday night. He joins Colombian midfielder Michael Ortega in becoming the club’s second foreign capture, after a loan deal for Ghanaian defender Abdul Kadiri Mohammed from Austria Wien was cancelled.
“Bani Yas signs with the Dutchman Leroy George for one year coming from the Australian team, Melbourne Victory,” they tweeted. “This is renewable for another season.”
George played for Utrecht from 2006-10, with whom he scored once in seven Jong Oranje caps. His career then took him to N.E.C., Azerbaijan’s Qarabag plus the Turkish duo of Goztepe and Adana, before gaining silverware Down Under.
Bani previously signed Australia star Mark Milligan from Victory in June 2015.
A number of promising domestic additions have also been made this summer under new coach, Krunoslav Jurcic.
These include UAE and Emirates Club centre forward Ahmed Malallah, Al Wasl playmaker Ahmed Al Shamisi, injury-prone Al Jazira utility man Salem Ali and the rehiring of centre midfielder Fawaz Awana from Al Nasr.