Al Ain have made their first move in the summer transfer window, signing South Korea international Lee Myung-joo from Pohang Steelers, subject to a medical.
Midfielder Lee will arrive in the Garden City on Tuesday morning to undergo tests ahead of putting pen to paper on an undisclosed deal with the 11-time UAE champions.
The 24-year-old has been an integral member of the Steelers side since making his debut in 2012, winning the K League’s Rookie of the Year in his initial campaign.
Lee has made 11 league appearances in 2014, scoring five goals, and also played seven times in this year’s AFC Champions League, scoring once, as the Steelers reached the quarter-finals.
Despite making his international debut in June 2013 and subsequently winning nine caps, Lee missed out on a place in Korea’s World Cup squad.
Al Ain team supervisor Mohammed Obeid Hammad said: “Al Ain board of directors headed by Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohommed bin Khalid Al Nahyan asked to speed the procedures for the local and the foreign player moves to Al Ain to have the team full and ready before the summer camp kick off in July.”
Lee becomes Al Ain’s first summer recruit, replacing Australia forward Alex Brosque as the Boss’ Asian player.
The club are still on the lookout for two other foreign stars, while it seems unlikely Jires Kembo-Ekoko will return to the first team following his year loan with El Jaish in Qatar.
Al Ain have until July 19 to register new players for the AFC Champions League last eight.
UAE winger Ismail Al Hammadi has rubbished reports linking him with a move away from Al Ahli, saying he wants to end his career with the UAE champions.
Al Hammadi, the 2013-14 Arabian Gulf League Emirati Player of the Year, emerged as a transfer target for Al Jazira last week, as the Abu Dhabi club confirmed they had tabled a bid.
But while Jazira officials appeared quietly confident they would get their man, the 25-yearold has instead thanked Ahli for the role they have played in his development, and insisted he is going nowhere.
“My relationship with the Red Castle is forever, my beginning was here at Al Ahli, and will continue until retirement. I will not wear any shirt but the Al Ahli shirt,” Al Hammadi said on the club’s official website.
“I’m happy with my achievements in Al Ahli, my ambition was to play with the reds and to compete for the title in order to win it and make our fans happy, which is what happened now already.
“So I’m going to continue among the Knights, and I will leave Al Ahli only in my retirement, and this my ambition and wish.”
On the bid from Jazira, the UAE international added: “There were no negotiations between me and any other club, I have a contract with Al Ahli for three seasons to come.
“I am just thinking only about next season, and strong competitions with my colleagues in local tournaments and to strive to provide an exceptional season, better than the previous one.”
Meanwhile, the Abu Dhabi club seem to have missed out on their other primary target, Habib Fardan, after Al Nasr issued a statement insisting the midfielder was staying in Dubai.
“We make it clear that the player Habib Fardan is staying at the club,” a statement on Nasr’s official Twitter page, read. “This was confirmed by our player himself in his intention not to leave the club.”
Ahmed Rabea’s rapid rise from Al Jazira prospect to full UAE international is a source of pride for his former coach at club level, Walter Zenga.
Teenage forward Rabea capped a remarkable debut season in top-flight football as he played the final 15 and some minutes in the Whites’ 1-0 win over Georgia on Tuesday.
The 18-year-old was a major part of the early success enjoyed at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium under Zenga.
And while Jazira lost the Arabian Gulf Cup final and crashed out of Asia in the last eight, Zenga believes Rabea’s international bow proves he left his mark in Abu Dhabi.
“Victory is not only trophies or how much money you have in the bank. That is not important,” he said. “What is important is what you build, what you did during your career and especially what you do in your career as a coach.
“One simple example, Rabea who is with the national team, is a winner for me. He is one big win.”
Rabea scored six goals in all competitions last season, and while Zenga questioned his professionalism at times he believes he has a big future ahead of him.
“He’s a very nice guy and a good player. In terms of a player for the future, he has the future in his hands,” the 54-year-old added.
For his part, Rabea relished his first international appearance.
He said: “I didn’t feel fear while I was on the pitch as my colleagues encouraged me all the time.”
Getting the most out of Rabea and other exciting prospects at Jazira, including Khalfan Mubarak and Ahmed Al Attas, is now a job for Zenga’s successor Eric Gerets.
If the Belgian lifts some silverware next season, his Italian predecessor may well feel some familiar emotions.
Having watched an Al Nasr side full of players he helped develop triumph in the GCC Club Cup last month, Zenga joked: “I did the cooking, I prepared everything and then someone else arrived and ate.”