Leonardo wings in as Al Wahda show they mean business in the AGL

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Leonardo in action for Al Ahli Jeddah.

Arabian Gulf League runners-up Al Wahda have gained an injection of goals into their side with the promising addition of Al Ahli Jeddah winger Leonardo on a two-year deal.

The Clarets have chosen a patient approach to filling the final spot in their four-player foreign quota after they declined to renew Hungary wide man Balazs Dzsudzsak’s deal at the end of 2017/18.

Links to fellow Brazilian Luisinho of Al Faisaly ebbed away after a disappointing performance in the 2018 King Cup final, while Santos playmaker Serginho ended up signing for J1 League runners-up Kashima Antlers.

Leonardo, 26, represents an addition of genuine quality even though he is a free agent.

The former Al Ain target scored 11 goals in 23 run-outs after a €4 million (Dh17m) move to King Abdullah Sports City in August 2017, following on from productive spells at the likes of Partizan Belgrade and Anzhi Makhachkala.

“The Brazilian Leonardo has become a Wahawi (Wahda fan) for two seasons, after passing the medical examination and signing the contract,” Wahda tweeted on Monday. “We wish him success.”

The UAE represents the eighth country that Leonardo has played in. The early stages of his career were spent in the youth system at Belgium’s Beerschot and Cyprus’ Enosis Neon Paralimni.

Switches to Eastern Europe with Ukraine’s Metalurh Donetsk, Azerbaijan’s Gabala and Russia’s Anzhi followed, prior to an excellent spell in Serbia with Partizan.

There, he lifted the 2016/17 Serbian SuperLiga and Serbian Cup double. He was also the top flight’s joint-leading marksman with 24 goals.

Wahda’s strong foreign contingent already  contains the retained South Korea centre-back Rim Chang-woo, Moroccan winger Mourad Batna and Argentine centre forward Sebastian Tagliabue – the AGL’s all-time foreign top scorer with 110 strikes in 112 matches.

Coach Laurentiu Reghecampf will now be expected to improve on a campaign that also saw victories in the 2017/18 Arabian Gulf Cup and Arabian Gulf Super Cup.

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Al Ain and UAE superstar Omar Abdulrahman attracts European interest as Al Hilal press

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Omar Abdulrahman was named man of the match against Oman.

A series of European clubs have registered interest in the UAE’s superstar playmaker Omar Abdulrahman this summer, amid a serious and sustained approach from Saudi Arabia giants Al Hilal.

The coveted 2016 AFC Player of the Year is currently available on a free transfer after his deal at Al Ain lapsed this summer. This situation has led to fevered speculation about him finally being prised away from Hazza bin Zayed Stadium after a celebrated decade in the first team that has included 62 goals and 114 assists in 229 appearances, plus 11 major honours.

A return to boyhood club Hilal for the Riyadh-born, UAE international has been heavily touted since last January’s winter transfer window. Further rumours in the Saudi press have declared that a contract renewal with Al Ain will be inked, prior to a lucrative one-season loan to the reigning Saudi Professional League champions for 2018/19.

Sources close to the 26-year-old have labelled Hilal as “an option” and “the only Middle East club” he will go to. This follows rumours that Al Nassr have offered Dh3 million more in wages, bringing the total operation to Dh24m.

A number of teams from Spain, France and the Netherlands have also been contacted by advisers. Several have reacted with intrigue about the prospect of recruiting arguably the finest domestic footballer currently based in Asia.

If Abdulrahman does depart in the coming days, it will represent an end to years of speculation.

He first experienced a successful trial at Manchester City after the London 2012 Olympics, only for work-permit issues to scupper a historic first permanent move for an Emirati to the old continent.

Valencia, Hamburg, Arsenal, Benfica and Fenerbahce are among the outfits to further be attached to his name. Al Ain rejected a loan offer from Nice in July 2017.

Links to the country of his birth, however, have always been strong.

Central to this stance has been Hilal.

Amoory successfully underwent a trial there before his teenage years. But as his family was part of the Yemeni diaspora, a lack of Saudi citizenship presented an opportunity to join Al Ain’s productive academy across the border in 2007.

A heavy pre-season recruitment drive by Hilal could force a reunion.

They have already brought in celebrated former Benfica and Sporting Lisbon head coach, Jorge Jesus.

On the playing staff, ex-Spain Under-23 defender Alberto Botia has been picked up from Olympiacos and Peru forward Andre Carrillo has been reunited with Jesus thanks to another loan away from Benfica – the 27-year-old scored twice in 27 matches at Watford last term.

If Amoory does head to Hilal on a temporary basis, it will bear echoes of predecessor Ismail Matar’s career path.

The 2003 FIFA U-20 World Cup Player of the Year had a brief spell at Qatar’s Al Sadd in 2009 from Al Wahda, despite previously attracting offers from Europe.

Amoory experienced a mixed 2017/18, even though his employers won a first Arabian Gulf League and President’s Cup double.

He began the campaign injured and was handed a controversial domestic ban for breaking curfew the night before January 5’s Gulf Cup final defeat to Oman.

In that harrowing showpiece, Amoory missed decisive penalties in normal time and the shootout.

But he finished the campaign on 13 assists and seven goals in 25 club run-outs.

An inability to agree a contract extension with the Boss saw him become a free agent in July.

This meant he was not present during pre-season training, although he was selected for the UAE camp in Salzburg, Austria from August 1-18.

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Al Ain goalkeeper Khalid Essa targets Super Cup response after Arab Club Champions Cup exit

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(Al Ain).

Goalkeeper Khalid Essa is not wallowing in Al Ain’s first-round elimination from the Arab Club Champions Cup and has immediately set his sights on claiming the Arabian Gulf Super Cup.

The Arabian Gulf League and President’s Cup double winners went out on away goals to Algerian champions ES Setif, despite Saturday’s 1-0 victory at Zagreb’s Stadion Maksimir earning a 2-2 aggregate scoreline.

This was a competition regularly stated as being low on the Boss’ list of priorities. UAE No1 Essa is confident of a better result when they battle top-flight runners-up Al Wahda on August 25 at Cairo’s 30,000-capacity Al Salam Stadium.

“The team camps in Slovenia and Croatia has absolutely been successful under the leadership of coach Zoran Mamic,” the 28-year-old said. “The Arabian Gulf Super Cup is one of the goals for the new season.

“The team has not competed in it during the two seasons. I expect a strong and exciting match to win the Super Cup title between the two teams.”

Essa is one of six players – out-of-contract superstar Omar Abdulrahman has already travelled – who will join up with club-mates Mohamed Ahmed, Mohanad Salem and Ahmed Barman in the UAE’s training camp in Salzburg. This is scheduled to run until August 18, plus feature a number of friendlies – including a clash with Andorra.

“I think the development of the team is very reassuring,” said Mamic. “I am very happy that 90 per cent of the Al Ain players played full games during this short preparation period.

“I hope that the players will keep working hard with the international squad until everyone reaches the required level before the Super Cup, as they will re-join us only a few days before the match in Egypt.”

In the same competition, Al Jazira and Al Wasl will both meet Saudi Arabian opposition. The former battle Al Nassr on August 13 and September 29, with the latter drawn against Al Ittihad on August 24 and September 30.

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