Arabian Gulf League yo-yo side Ittihad Kalba have completed their foreign quota with the additions of Spanish playmaker Carmelo Gonzalez and Iraq veteran Salam Shaker.
The double deals for Suphanburi’s Gonzalez, 32, and Al Fateh’s Shaker, 29, were announced early yesterday morning as the newlypromoted Tigers added them to the previous acquisition of Burkina Faso striker Yahia Kebe.
Of the four-player non-Emirati group which helped the club finish second in the 2015/16 First Division League, only 17-goal Romanian forward Mihai Costea has been retained by coach Mourad Okbi. Kalba are attempting to arrest a pattern which has seen them instantly bounce between the top two divisions since a fine 2009/10 campaign saw them win promotion to the AGL for the first time during the professional era.
To do this, the onus will now be on their key buys. Shaker will be expected to add grit and class to an-already strong backline which conceded just 17 times in 16 second division games last term. The recently-retired, 93-cap centre-back arrives after a one-season spell in Saudi Arabia.
In attack, Gonzalez will join up with deadly Costea. The well-travelled Las Palmas youth product comes to the UAE after a three-and- a-half-year spell in the Thai Premier League, in which he scored 46 goals in 81 games at Buriram United and Suphanburi.
Kebe represents the star purchase. His 18 strikes for struggling Al Kharitiyath in last term’s Qatar Stars League made the difference in them staying up on goal difference ahead of Qatar SC.
Domestically, the only transfers Kalba have secured are the purchases of Ajman’s midfield pair of Mohammed Al Khdeim and Hamad Al Hosani.
Diaz, 56, is currently unemployed after his 18-month spell in charge of Los Guaranies ended after last month’s group-stage exit at the Copa America Centenario. This has made him available to land the Sky Blues post, which has been open since Dr Abdullah Misfer stepped aside after 2015/16 season.
The club – who finished a disappointing ninth last term – have prioritised appointing a new boss ahead of the start of pre-season training in a fortnight. Argentine paper El Liberal have stated negotiations between the two parties are “advanced”, with a conclusion expected within the next 72 hours.
The chances of the former Internazionale and Monaco striker making the switch has been improved by the fact his agent, Hernan Berman, negotiated Manuel Lanzini’s transfer to Al Jazira in 2014.
Meanwhile, Al Dhafra have confirmed the renewals of their superb foreign foursome.
The Western Knights rallied in the second half of the season after the January arrivals of nine-goal Syria forward Omar Khrbin, ex-Al Wahda midfielder Adel Hermach and Morocco centre-back Issam El Adoua. Alongside Senegal striker Makhete Diop, all four helped their push from the relegation places into an excellent eighth.
“Al Dhafra’s renewal decision came after the board took the advice and opinion of the technical staff, who praised the level of players,” a tweet from the club’s official account said Monday.
Al Wahda have just completed one of the most successful seasons in club history, yet star playmaker Jorge Valdivia is urging his team-mates to strive for better.
Under Mexican coach Javier Aguirre, the Clarets lifted a first-ever Arabian Gulf Cup and claimed third spot in the Arabian Gulf League to qualify for the 2017 AFC Champions League playoffs.
They will hope to go one better than when they reached the same stage in 2015, defeat to Qatar’s Al Sadd robbing them of a return to Asia’s premier continental competition that they last graced in 2011.
The sign of an elite player is that they are never satisfied even when things are going well – and while Wahda’s Chilean orchestrator is content with his maiden campaign in the Emirates, he believes the Clarets are capable of much more.
“I think it was not a bad season,” said the 32-year-old, who scored seven goals in 19 games for the Al Nahyan outfit last term.
“When I came here, Al Wahda, I think in three or five years, had not won anything. They had not qualified for the Champions League in I think five years, or played in the playoffs two years ago.
“We now take a cup, we qualify for the Champions League playoffs. Of course, it’s not bad but I want more, because we are a big team. We have good players, good staff, and a good coach.
“I’m happy but not 100 per cent, but next season we will come back different. I don’t know who are the new players who will come in the new season, but they know we are a big family in our club.”
Valdivia’s future was a constant source of speculation during his debut season in the Emirates, and he is constantly linked with a return to Colo Colo in his homeland, the club he started his career with, but ‘El Mago’ (the Magician) insists he and his family are happy here.
“I never talk about rumours,” said Valdivia, whose contract with the Clarets runs for another year.
“There’s no serious or joking offer. I never talk about ‘he said’, ‘I heard’, ‘I think’, ‘maybe’, no, no, not at all. And also, it’s not true. I’m very happy here.
“The most important thing is that my family is happy. My son, my daughter, my wife, and also I have a contract. I hope for a new contract here.”
Wahda finished a distant 26 points behind AGL champions Al Ahli, while there was a 14-point gap to runners-up Al Ain.
Valdivia though is confident Wahda have the combination of experienced players such as Argentine Sebastian Tagliabue and exciting youngsters that can close the gap to the UAE’s top two clubs, and possibly even launch a title bid.
“When the team comes back next season, the players will be different because they’ll have more experience,” said the 73-times capped La Roja firebrand.
“We have good players. Suhail (Al Mansouri), Khalil (Ibrahim), (Mohammed) Al Akbari, Salem (Sultan), (Mohammad) Abdulbasit. These are young players and they have a chance to fight and help us, because it’s not an easy league. It’s a strong league and we also have more competitions.
“All the teams will come back different. Al Ahli is a strong team. Al Ain is strong. Step by step, we also come back stronger and I hope next season will be better than this.”