The imminent capture of Al Ain forward Jires Kembo Ekoko is set to herald a series of changes at Al Nasr they believe will put them in position to mount an Arabian Gulf League title push.
Kembo Ekoko, 28, has passed a medical and agreed a two-year contract after an undisclosed fee – believed to be worth Dh6.1m – was agreed between the sides.
The former France Under-21 international has been in Dubai since the end of last week, with only the final details left to be agreed before the transfer can be officially announced as soon as Monday.
The move will see Brazilian utility player Renan Garcia lose his place in the four-man foreign quota and force the Blue Wave into the local market to improve their defensive options. Talks are already under way with Al Shabab for highly-rated UAE holding midfielder Hassan Ibrahim and another unnamed player.
Coach Ivan Jovanovic has urged the club’s technical department to improve the team at both ends of the pitch, this ambition only stiffened by Saturday’s chastening 4-2 Arabian Gulf Super Cup loss to top-flight champions Al Ain. The transfer for Kembo Ekoko will be a disappointment for Bani Yas, who had agreed personal terms and a transfer fee earlier this month, but the player prioritised a switch to Dubai.
The deal ends a rollercoaster three-year spell in the Garden City for Kembo Ekoko. The Kinshasa-born star played a key role in the 2012/13 AGL title win, before the purchase of Brazil international Michel Bastos saw him packed off on loan to Qatar’s El Jaish for the following season.
He was recalled last summer, registering 11 goals and seven assists in 21 games as his parent club reclaimed the league crown. But the Boss had no intention of renewing a contract which had one year to run and bought Netherlands winger Ryan Babel as his replacement last month.
Ibrahim, 24, will be a tougher, more expensive deal to complete, with the Hawks demanding a large fee for an ever-improving player who was part of the Whites’ Asian Cup-squad in January.
Al Ain will show there is life after star striker Asamoah Gyan starting with Saturday’s season-opening Arabian Gulf Super Cup final against Al Nasr, according to coach Zlatko Dalic.
The Boss are much changed from the side which strolled to the 2014/15 Arabian Gulf League title, South Korea defensive midfielder Lee Myung-joo the only player retained from their four-man foreign quota.
The headline alteration has come up top, Fenerbahce loanee Emmanuel Emenike replacing a club legend in Gyan who scored 95 top-flight goals in 83 games and collected five pieces of major silverware in four years prior to his record €20 million (Dh81m) sale to Shanghai SIPG last month.
The Nigeria international has thus far failed to score in five preseason friendlies, yet Dalic was sure he would prove his worth – beginning with tonight’s game at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
He said: “We know what Asamoah meant for our team, he was here for four years. But we must forget Gyan and look to the future.
“There are three new players in my team [Emenike, plus Netherlands winger Ryan Babel and Brazilian centre midfielder Fellipe Bastos]. We must look at them.
“It is a new season. I told the new players they need time – Emenike, Inshallah, will be a good replacement for Gyan. I hope tomorrow will be a good game for my team and we will take great confidence.”
Opponents Nasr proved to be the UAE’s cup kings last term, claiming both the President’s Cup – which qualified them for this match –and Arabian Gulf Super Cup.
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The Blue Wave have a trio of fresh foreign buys of their own as the club attempt to push for the AGL crown in 2015/16. Winger Jonathan Pitroipa has arrived from Al Jazira, experienced playmaker Luis Jimenez was snapped up once his Al Ahli contract expired and Brazil striker Nilmar will replace the AWOL Ibrahima Toure.
Boss Ivan Jovanovic hoped to continue the momentum from the final game of the previous campaign, when they defeated Al Ahli on penalties to lift the President’s Cup.
He said: “It is good after two months to start a new season. As a team, we are very happy to end the last season by winning the President’s Cup and begin the new one with the Arabian Gulf Super Cup.
“We now play against the best team of the league. We hope to make a good start to the new season.”
The fixture is a landmark for football in the UAE, broadcasters Abu Dhabi Sports beginning to encrypt all coverage from tonight. A fee of Dh19 a month can be paid to access the Arabian Gulf League and other competitions, the move the product of a study co-authorised by the Pro League Committee to get more fans to attend games.
With average AGL attendances only 2,529 last term, Dalic praised the move.
“In Morocco [for the UAE-Morocco Super Cup last weekend] we played in front of 50,00 people. That is football. More fans in our stadiums would be very nice. I support anything that makes this possible.”
Confusion had surrounded the hosting of the traditional showpiece after political infighting in Kuwait followed a successful petition to have December’s Gulf Cup pushed back one year.
It had even been suggested the Super Cup would be played in mid-September, though the original domestic calendar now looks set to be stuck to. “Of course, this date and time of season is difficult,” Jovanovic said.
“But we had no other choice. “We have to adapt to the conditions. It will be difficult for both.”
Tickets for Saturday’s season-opening Arabian Gulf Super Cup have gone on sale as Al Ain and Al Nasr supporters look to pack out the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
The timing of the fixture had been in doubt after a proposal was formulated to postpone the domestic start by a month after Gulf Cup hosts Kuwait obtained a one-year deferal for December’s event. But with the call mirred in political dispute, the Pro League Committee have stuck with the original time.
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Tickets are available from the 42,056-capacity host venue in Abu Dhabi, at a range of prices. Fans can choose from cabins (Dh5,000), VIP (Dh200), Category 1 (Dh50) and Category 2 (Dh20) when booking their seat for the showpiece which will pit Arabian Gulf League champions Al Ain against President’s Cup holders Nasr.
All classes of tickets are available on sale from the reception area of Al Jazira’s ground, operational hours being Thursday 10:00-20:00, Friday from 14:00-22:00 and 10:00-19:40 kick-off time on Saturday.
Demand is expected to be high for the traditional fixture, the match being moved from the 9,570-capacity Bani Yas Stadium last month.