Al Ain have not wasted any time this summer to bring in two early additions to their squad ahead of the 2016-17 Arabian Gulf League season, with Bani Yas midfielder Amer Abdulrahman and Kashima Antlers winger Caio arriving through the doors.
The transfers have been hailed as a major step in the right direction, but will it be enough to leave Al Ain challenging for titles against a star-studded Al Ahli side boasting the likes of Moussa Sow, Lima and Everton Ribeiro.
This week’s #360debate is: Is Al Ain’s spending enough to unseat champions Al Ahli?
Marquee signings Amer Abdulrahman and Caio will ensure Al Ain’s pursuit of Arabian Gulf League champions Al Ahli will be far more thrilling than the meek surrendering of their 2014/15 title.
The addition of ex-Bani Yas man Amer is an astute bit of business and further strengthens a team boasting an impressive Emirati core – something that beyond the sprinkling of foreign stardust has always underpinned AGL title-winning squads. Al Ain now boast nine UAE internationals, equalled by Ahli.
He is also a step up from Fellipe Bastos, whose influence waned alarmingly after an initially promising start following a summer arrival from Gremio. He netted six times in his first 20 games but failed to find the net in his next 17.
Playing more games than anyone (37) bar South Korean Lee Myung-joo eventually took its toll as Bastos burned out.
Abdulrahman, 27, is not without fault. Plagued by injuries in recent seasons, his 20 AGL games last season was the most he’d ever played. When on the field, however, he is a livewire influence at both ends of the pitch who also carries a potent goal threat.
New Al Ain signing Caio sporting some typically horrendous modern day footballer clobber last night pic.twitter.com/WrmVkyMfkG— Matt Jones (@MattJones360) July 3, 2016
Exciting 22-year-old winger Caio, likewise, is an upgrade on Dutch misfit Ryan Babel, whose questionable acquisition last summer proved predictably catastrophic.
The Brazilian arrives having won the 2014 J1 League Rookie of the Year, and his ratio of one goal every three games dwarfs Babel’s paltry contribution of just one goal in 14 AGL games.
Caio has AFC Champions League experience and could prove the perfect foil for compatriot Douglas. He’s an exciting young talent and his pace and trickery promises to inject much-needed zest into an attack that all too often appeared lifeless last term.
The Boss have sorely lacked a consistently dangerous threat from the flanks since jettisoning Jires Kembo Ekoko and Miroslav Stoch from their 2014/15 title-winning team, the duo scoring 15 and 13 goals respectively.
Their once vice-like grip on the AGL was loosened by their bitter rivals last season, but the business completed by the Garden City side this summer ensures they remain the biggest threat to dethroning the Red Knights.
Al Ain’s major summer business will not be enough to stop the red tide sweeping over them again in the upcoming Arabian Gulf League.
Left-winger Caio and UAE midfield orchestrator Amer Abdulrahman’s weekend presentations represented the Boss biting back after their crown was meekly surrendered to runaway winners Al Ahli. The pair represent reasonable fixes to problem positions.
Caio’s record of 23 goals in 78 J1 League games is commendable, while a starting spot in national boss Mahdi Ali’s hotly-contested midfield exemplifies Abdulrahman’s eminence. Yet the question Al Ain’s temporary board must ask themselves is whether their bitter rivals from Dubai would have coveted either? The answer to this has to be ‘no’.
Ahli have operated in a different financial league to the team from the Garden City during the last year. The acquisition of Caio fits this pattern perfectly.
They bought Senegal forward Moussa Sow for a record €17 million (Dh70.5m) last summer, while Al Ain sold – admittedly fading – talisman Asamoah Gyan to Shanghai SIPG for €20m (Dh81m).
The dichotomy in ambition was most pronounced in January when supreme UAE defensive midfielder Khamis Esmail was prised from Al Jazira’s grasp for Dh60m, while the Boss took in cast-off Yaser Matar on a free.
The €3m (Dh12.4m) fee needed to recruit Caio from Kashima Antlers represents an area of the transfer market Ahli simply no longer operate in. They prefer full Brazil internationals like Everton Ribeiro.
A similar position of strength ensures Abdulrahman would struggle to feature for the Red Knights. Stagnation at Bani Yas makes his continued berth in Ali’s Whites XI puzzling, especially when the trio of Habib Fardan, Esmail or the magnificent Majed Hassan have performed to varying levels of distinction for Ahli.
Abdulrahman is a fine player, but repeat injuries and apathy make his consummate performances of 2010/11 an increasingly distant memory.
To reclaim top spot in the UAE, something arresting from the Boss was required. With Caio and Abdulrahman, this simply hasn’t occurred.