Awana, 27, had been expected to follow former club-mate Amer Abdulrahman to the Boss this summer. But he instead opted for a switch to the UAE’s other remaining representatives in the 2016 AFC Champions League.
With a quarter-final against Qatar’s El Jaish approaching, plus the smart additions of Sharjah striker Wanderley – whose deal is close to official completion – and Marseille schemer Abdelaziz Barrada, the recent Whites debutant couldn’t wait to get started.
“I thank the board of directors at Al Nasr for placing their trust in me and I hope to prove the worth of this good will,” he told his new club’s website after signing a two-year contract.
“I hope to meet the aspirations of the club’s board and its fans in the Arabian Gulf League and AFC Champions League.”
Awana scored eight times in 73 top-flight games since making his Sky Blues debut during September 2010. He was one of a handful of players to emerge with any credit from a frustrating 2015/16, with this form seeing him start the UAE’s 1-0 defeat by Syria in June’s King’s Cup.
A fierce battle now awaits to establish himself at the Blue Wave. Tariq Ahmed, Khalid Jalal and Amer Mubarak will provide strong competition for the two anchorman roles in coach Ivan Jovanovic’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, while Barrada should operate in the hole behind striker Wanderley.
Awana’s addition, at a minimum, should instil added quality and depth to a squad which appears much better equipped to scrap for a first Arabian Gulf League title since 1985/86.
Meanwhile, Cruzeiro have reportedly offered unwanted defensive midfielder Denilson an escape route out of Al Wahda.
Denilson, 28, did not travel with the Arabian Gulf Cup holders to Barcelona after being deemed surplus to requirements.
A season-long loan switch is close to being finalised with the Brazilian giants according to Superesportes, with an option to buy set at $2.5 million.
Diop arrived in the Emirates in January 2012 from Syrian Premier League side Al Karamah in a €300,000 (Dh1.2m) deal.
The 6ft 1in forward has been an unqualified success in the Western Region, netting more than 100 goals for Dhafra in his four campaigns – including an incredible tally of 26 in 32 Arabian Gulf League and Arabian Gulf Cup games in 2013/14.
During the last two seasons he is the joint sixth-highest goalscorer in the top flight with 25 strikes, behind only Al Wahda’s Sebastian Tagliabue (40), Al Jazira’s Ali Mabkhout (39), Al Wasl’s Fabio De Lima (36), Sharjah’s Wanderley (32) and Al Jazira’s former Juventus star Mirko Vucinic (27).
Although Diop renewed his Dhafra contract earlier this month, his ex-colleague Mohammed feels the 27-year-old hotshot is destined for bigger and better things.
“He deserves to be in a better team. I wish him good luck for the future if he leaves,” said the 32-year-old left-back, who himself ended a four-year spell with the Western Knights this summer by signing for relegated Al Shaab.
“I hope for him to be in a good team, he deserves it. Dhafra have a great professional who has been with them for four years. He is every day working. I have seen him do amazing things, he has scored so many goals in four years. I don’t look at him just as a professional footballer, he is one of my brothers. He’s a captain and he leads.”
In the transient environment of domestic UAE football where players and coaches come and go, Dhafra are notorious for retaining players for the duration of their contracts.
Diop will not be on the move this summer after the club confirmed on July 4 he had renewed his contract, but Mohammed feels Diop should be rewarded for his loyalty.
“Diop is the kind of player who respects himself off the field even more than he does on it. He’s a very good guy,” added the former UAE international.
“For the last two years he has received many contracts from other clubs, good clubs. If he stays good luck but if he goes, he deserves it.
“It is now time for him to be playing for a team winning championships, to be rewarded.
“I hope for him a good future, either with Dhafra or without Dhafra. He has been loyal.”
Law studies rather than the stereotypical footballer’s pursuits of Snapchat and sports cars take up his time off the pitch, the imposing Australian centre-back likely to instead be found buried inside a pile of case notes.
The legal profession awaits once the boots are hung up. But at 25-years-old and with a first foreign adventure to look forward to now a two-year deal in Ras Al Khaimah has been signed, his priorities currently firmly lie in raising the floundering Falcons up the Arabian Gulf League table during 2016/17.
“My parents are both academics, so I left school initially without a club and decided to go to university as a Plan B,” he tells Sport360 after Saturday’s gruelling first pre-season training session. “As a footballer, you do have a lot of down time.
“It is a thinking game and players can get caught up with FIFA games. I think it is important to mentality stimulate your mind, especially when you live in a foreign country.
“I enjoy it and I hope it is something I transition to. I am very early on in my studies, I’ve only completed seven or eight units out of 32.
“There are different types of footballers. I like to think I have some type of intellect, but make no mistake, all I think about during the day is football. But at night time, I will read some case notes rather than playing FIFA.”
Anderson arrives in the UAE after a mid-career crisis gripped him at Sydney FC. Steady progress at Gold Coast United and Central Coast Mariners saw him snapped up by the A-League’s glamour side in July 2015, only for mentor Graham Arnold to grant a dispiriting nine runouts in all competitions.
There are plenty of examples available to now believe a fresh start in the UAE will bring reward.
Australians have traditionally excelled here. Sydney captain Alex Brosque – who provided counsel once overtures were made – lifted the 2012/13 top-flight title and 2014 President’s Cup at Al Ain, while a stellar three-year spell for revered playmaker Brett Holman concluded at Emirates in May after previously leading Al Nasr to silverware.
Bani Yas midfielder Mark Milligan also remains a regular for the Socceroos and Anderson thanks his predecessors for the impression they have made.
He says: “Brosque is a fantastic mentor of mine. As is Brett Holman and Mark Milligan.
“I have spoken to all the Australian boys and they’ve got a great reputation out here. One of the reasons why I got this opportunity is the legacy they have left.
“I am here to create my own legacy and uphold that strong Australian name which we are building out here.”
The other headline arrival for Emirates is coach Theo Bucker, with the club taking advantage of a contractual wrangle to snap up the sprightly Middle Eastern veteran who impressed so much by keeping new boys Dibba Al Fujairah up last term.
“I only met him for the first time at training, but I’ve spoken to him a few times on the phone,” Anderson says. “You can soak up his passion for football and love for the game, which is so important when you are working with someone every day.
“I feel like I needed to be on my toes for the whole session, as I thought he was going to outrun me. I have to prove to him and the players I can do a job for the team.”
A nail-biting season under Paulo Comelli saw Emirates cling onto their AGL status on goal difference in 12th place. With promoted clubs Hatta and Ittihad Kalba moving quickly in the summer market and Sharjah landing the marquee buy of prolific Al Ittihad striker Gelmin Rivas, competition at the bottom will be fierce.
Yet this is not a prospect which daunts Anderson, who takes inspiration from Leicester City’s shock run to the 2015/16 Premier League title.
He says: “I have been living in Ras Al Khaimah for about 10 days now, so I have had a bit of time to acclimatise to the heat and meet a few of the staff.
“I think it is a negative thing to put a ceiling on where this club can finish. This club has to be ambitious.
“We are going to bring in a few players, but you can’t put a ceiling on these youngsters. You can see what Leicester did.”