Al Shabab officially wrapped up their foreign business on Friday with the acquisition of exciting Argentine attacking midfielder Tomas De Vincenti.
De Vincenti, 27, signed a three-year deal after a €3 million (Dh12.3m) fee was agreed with Cyprus’ APOEL earlier this week. He has inherited the No. 10 jersey from Carlos Villanueva, a club legend who departed for Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad last month on a free transfer once his landmark seven-year stay in Dubai came to an end.
His replacement adds further quality to a non-Emirati contingent which has already seen prolific Dutch striker Ruud Boyman added.
Moldova forward Henrique Luvannor and Uzbekistan stalwart Azizbek Haydarov have been retained, with new coach Fred Rutten expected to illicit an upturn from last term’s fifth-placed finish in the Arabian Gulf League.
De Vincenti arrives on the back of an epic goodbye performance in the UEFA Champions League. He scored the third goal during a 3-0 home victory against Rosenborg on August 2 which saw APOEL overturn a 2-1 first-leg deficit and reach the competition’s play-off round.
The expert free-kick taker scored 43 goals in 102 games since joining in January 2014, lifting the Cypriot First Division crown three times and the Cypriot Cup twice.
APOEL alumnus have provided mixed recent results in the UAE. Coach Ivan Jovanovic continues to shine with Al Nasr, but Macedonia winger Ivan Trickovski soon exited Al Maktoum Stadium in 2014/15.
Bending in a wonderfully struck free kick in what was an otherwise underwhelming performance against San Martín de Formosa in the Copa Argentina was perhaps the perfect way for Paraguayan midfielder Víctor Ayala to sign off after four years with recent Argentine champions Lanús.
Saudi Arabian club Al-Nassr had already agreed the deal to bring the 28-year-old to Riyadh and despite it not being the big European move that all South American footballers crave, at this point in Ayala’s career it appears to be a transfer that suits all parties.
In the wake of helping El Granate through to the next round of the cup, an emotional Ayala told reporters: “It was a nice farewell to have scored a goal and helped the team. I want to thank the club for the faith it had in me. I spent four very happy years here and I’m leaving with two titles. I think I did good things and this is a big step in my career. It will be difficult to forget these people.”
Having played a significant role in one of the most successful periods in Lanús’ history, Ayala’s thunderous strikes and energetic performances in midfield will be remembered fondly by supporters.
As a youngster progressing with Paraguayan club Libertad, Ayala had already caused a buzz courtesy of his fierce right boot in the Copa Libertadores, when Lanús swooped in 2012.
It was considered something of a coup for a side outside one of Argentina’s traditional powerhouses and then manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto immediately made Ayala one of the first names on his teamsheet.
This proved entirely justified with Ayala providing dynamism to the centre of the pitch, matching lung busting box-to-box performances with consistently threatening set pieces.
Ayala’s instant success was capped with a vital goal in the 2013 Copa Sudamericana final second leg against Brazilian club Ponte Preta, effectively handing Lanús the trophy. Although his influence on the side gradually diminished, particularly since Barros Schelotto left the club, the Paraguayan has still had a major impact.
Under Jorge Almirón in 2016, Lanús enjoyed arguably their best ever campaign as they swept to the Transición title in style.
The emergence of fellow Paraguayan Miguel Almirón and the return to the club of Román Martínez meant Ayala often had to settle for a place among the substitutes as it was deemed that perhaps Vic simply didn’t offer enough over the entire 90 minutes.
Regardless of his inconsistencies, Ayala remains always capable of the spectacular and he proved this to devastating effect at a crucial point in the title race when he blasted in a goal from 40 yards against bitter local rivals Banfield. The goal will live long in the memory of Lanús supporters not only for its savage beauty but for its role in edging El Granate towards the title.
Internationally, Ayala has mirrored his club form and as a result is something of a divisive character who has failed to hold a place down. His thunderous strike in the recent Copa América, a first goal for Paraguay, doesn’t cover the fact that for many compatriots his inability to go past a man hinders the fluidity of their attack.
However, as Paraguayan football writer Ralph Hannah noted, perhaps for a national side with a tradition of ‘Centra, Cabeza y Gol’ (Cross, Head and Goal) a player with as good a delivery as Ayala should be valued far higher.
Ultimately these flaws, for all of Ayala’s qualities, are why offers from Europe never materialised and beside interest from Mexican club Toluca, the 28-year-old had few options on the table.
The financial rewards that come with a move to Al-Nassr cannot be ignored at this point of his career and so it is a move that is met with complete understanding in Argentina and Paraguay.
Ayala will no doubt look to a number of Paraguayan footballers who have tested themselves in the Middle East and the examples of Néstor Ortigoza in the United Arab Emirates or Víctor Cáceres in Qatar will give reasons for optimism.
With the chances of a glamour move to Europe only diminishing with age, Ayala faces a new challenge. But with potentially his best years ahead of him, Al-Nassr supporters should feel positive about their latest signing.
Vic is unlikely to have his head turned in a bid to further his career and it shouldn’t take long before he bursts the back of a net in Saudi Arabia.
It’s hard to work out whether Balazs Dzsudzsak loves football or whether he just sees it as a way to make money.
During his 12-year career we’ve seen him at his passionate, rip roaring best. Yet we’ve also seen him so often at his disinterested, frustrating worst.
This is the conundrum for Al Wahda, after the Arabian Gulf Cup holders completed the winger’s intriguing signing.
Dzsudzsak made his debut for Hungary aged 20 while playing for Debrecen in his home country, and has been a stalwart ever since.
Though he has suffered some unfortunate times playing for Hungary – like the time he was booed by his own fans after a humiliating loss to Romania in 2013 – he has often been fantastic in the red Magyar shirt.
The recent European Championship was a showcase of the wideman’s finest talents; drifting in from the flank, beating men on the inside or outside, shooting with his wicked left foot, crossing with his trusty right and scoring vital goals.
His performances epitomised his time as a Hungary player, his passion and hard work was there for the world to see on the biggest stage.
Passion and hard work which would’ve certainly left fans of Anzhi Makhachkala, Dinamo Moscow and Bursaspor scratching their heads.
It’s fair to say Dzsudzsak certainly hasn’t left a mark on the club sides he’s played for since leaving PSV Eindhoven in 2011.
At the time of his departure from the Dutch giants, the then 24-year-old was being linked to the biggest sides across the continent but Dzsudzsak eventually went with the money option and chose the oil-rich Anzhi. This was a move which left a real bitter taste in the mouth of the Hungarian fans back home, a decision which he has never been forgiven for.
At PSV in just over 150 games, Dzsudzsak scored 54 goals and created 50 assists from the wing which really does show how he good he was and can be.
At Anzhi he played eight games before being transferred to Dinamo Moscow for a January 2012 record fee of €19 million (Dh56.5m).
At Dinamo, off-the field trouble – including the time he was shot at with a paintball gun by Dinamo fans protesting at the foreign players at the club – meant he never really found any lasting form and often looked disinterested on the field despite playing more than 100 games and scoring 13 goals for the club during three years.
In the summer of 2015, he moved to Bursaspor for just €1.6m (Dh7.5m) where he struggled in a poor side. After being sent off in December, he started just six of the remaining 19 games and spoke incessantly of his desire to leave the Turkish club.
Now 29, and after five years of being unappreciated and unloved at club level, he has the chance to redeem himself somewhat.
Many in Hungary see this as another money move but in truth there was little option for him to move elsewhere.
His wage demands put off the Bundesliga clubs sniffing around, and he was never going to stay in Turkey any longer.
If things start well, Dzsudzsak really could take the UAE by storm, though his chequered past should warn against too much giddy optimism.
Tomasz Mortimer is a Hungarian freelance journalist who has appeared on BBC World Service, Sky Sports, ESPNFC and World Soccer. He is the founder of HungarianFootball.com.