Royston Drenthe has warned Arabian Gulf League full-backs they are in for a torrid time after being unveiled by new club Bani Yas.
The 28-year-old free agent signed for the Sky Blues, completing their four-man foreign quota for the season and could make his debut from the bench at Fujairah on Friday.
Drenthe was Player of the Tournament as the Netherlands won the European Under-21 Championship in 2007 and has played for La Liga giants Real Madrid as well as Premiership outfit Everton in his nomadic career.
Since a patchy loan move to Goodison Park his fortunes have dipped with short-lived spells in Russia, the English Championship and Turkey. But he insists he is ready to make a big impact in the UAE – particularly if deployed in his favoured left-wing position.
“The manager decides where I will be playing but basically I’m a winger and that’s the reason why I’m here as well,” said Drenthe at the Bani Yas Stadium last night.
“My favourite position is on the wing and if you want to have 120 per cent from Royston Drenthe then you have to put me on the wing and that’s where I can perform to the best of my ability most of the time.
“I want to win everything and that’s always been my spirit. I have played 10 years of professional football and came to play and win things.
"I want to thank the manager for having the confidence in me to play and the only thing I have to do is work hard in training and games that I can perform and happy to be here and will give everything to Bani Yas.”
The 28-year-old admits he knows little about football in the UAE, but says it was an easy decision to pursue a new chapter in the AGL.
A great deal of that is because of Bani Yas’ former Levante and Getafe boss Luis Garcia, who Drenthe recalls from his days in La Liga.
“My agent said that it would be a good thing to come here because it’s new life and a good way to demonstrate your quality. It was a good decision and when I spoke to the manager, he gave me a good feeling and it was not a difficult decision.
“Both of us can speak Spanish so the communication is really good. But when I signed for Real Madrid in 2007, my coach was a managing in the Spanish leagues but that was not my reason why I came here.
“He gave me a lot of confidence and was really straight with me. I love that and I am only looking to the future right now and I want to give this man 130 per cent.”
Drenthe, who has been handed the Al Samawi No7 shirt, added: “I could have chosen No8 because that was the number when Netherlands won the Under-21 European Championships, but I wanted to have a number which I never had before. Hopefully with No7, I can perform like Cristiano Ronaldo.”
Al Ahli will be carrying the hopes of a nation when they bid to make the AFC Champions League semi-finals at Naft Tehran’s expense, according to boss Cosmin Olaroiu.
The Red Knights hold a slender 1-0 advantage from the first leg in Iran, earned by an excellent header from predatory new striker Lima.
Partisan ties have been cast aside across the UAE, the country coming out in force to cheer Ahli on as they look to continue their club-first run into the knockout stages. Coach Cosmin Olaroiu urged his troops to not waste all this good will at Ras-hid Stadium.
He said: “We have 90 minutes ahead of us. We only look at this game, we do not think ahead.
“We have 90 minutes to make something very big for the country and the club. I hope the players will understand they have the responsibility of a million people and the hearts of a million people and they will play in this way.”
Ahli have already seen off rivals Al Ain on their way to the meeting against Naft, who finished third in the 2014/15 Persian Gulf Pro League. But the Black Cats have endured an awful domestic start to this campaign, currently sitting second bottom after recording three defeats and one draw.
This is in stark contrast to the hosts, who began the Arabian Gulf League with an 8-1 thrashing of
Alireza Mansourian’s men will need to score in Dubai to stand any chance of progression against opponents who hold a valuable away goal, Saudi Arabian giants Al Hilal awaiting the victors in the last four.
“We should not think about the result of the first game – it is a new game,” Olaroiu said. “Naft showed in the first game they are a strong team, with experienced players.
“We have to take into consideration we start from 0-0. We have to play to win this game.
“For me, 1-0 is a difficult result. If we think only to defend our advantage, it is not the best idea.
“I hope we find the right motivation and determination to keep our concetration levels from the first game. We didn’t concede many things then.
“This is most important for this kind of game. I hope I have the squad to advance.
“It will not be easy, I expect it will be more difficult than the first game. I am sure everyone will give their all to qualify for the next round.”
Ahli welcome back controversial goalkeeper Majed Nasser after his six-match ACL suspension ended.
The only player to miss out through injury is long-term absentee Essa Santo, while €17 million (Dh70m) record buy Moussa Sow was signed too late to be eligible.
The big-spending Red Knights boast further star names such as Brazil playmaker Everton Ribeiro and a sizeable UAE contingent.
Despite the disparity in financial resources, undaunted Iran winger Vahid Amiri insisted: “the name of players alone can’t get the result”.
He said: “We have a very difficult match tomorrow, but I can promise you will see a different Naft. We can surprise Ahli.
“I know Ahli have very good players, many of them play in the UAE national team. They also have very good foreign players.
“But we have young players who play for Iran and the Under-23
national team. I know it is a big fight between experience and youth.
“In football, the name of players alone can’t get the result. If one team is focused more, they can be successful.”
Naft have no new injuries to report for the match, with midfielder Iman Mobali still sidelined.
Mark Milligan has only been at Bani Yas a matter of weeks, but already he likes what he sees in front of him.
The Australia international has been impressive so far in his three outings for his new club, anchoring the Sky Blues’ midfield in back-to-back Arabian Gulf League wins against Al Shaab and Dibba Al Fujairah.
They were unlucky in a narrow 1-0 Arabian Gulf Cup loss to Al Nasr but the former Melbourne Victory star admits he’s been impressed with his side’s start to the season, singling out local stars Bandar Al Ahbabi and Haboush Saleh for special praise.
“They’re both very different players but both extremely talented,” the 42-times capped Socceroos star said of the UAE duo.
“Bandar’s pace down the right and willingness to get forward and put balls into the box is second to none.
“Haboush is a very skillful guy and I try to get the ball to his feet as much as possible because I enjoy watching him play as well.
“The final product of the two has been pretty good. Those front four (in addition to Ishak Belfodil and Joaquin Larrivey) have been combining quite nicely, I think Joaquin got a deserved goal (in the 3-0 win against Dibba).”
The midfield general hasn’t been in the UAE long but admits he’s settling into life in Abu Dhabi life well.
“I’m slowly getting used to it,” said the man who played 90 minutes in Saturday’s 3-0 victory
despite scoring a goal and playing the full 90 as Australia beat Tajikistan by the same scoreline in Dushanbe in the 2018 World Cup qualifiers four days earlier.
“It was probably a bit of a test with the earlier kick off but I wasn’t feeling too bad. The last 10 minutes I just put my head down and battled through.
“It’s a different league and different style to what I’m used to. The more time I spend on the pitch the more comfortable I’m becoming.
“The first two games we’ve got six points, so we can’t do much better. We can’t do much more than beat what’s put in front of us. It’s very important we started the season well and we’ve done that.”