Al Jazira first team manager Ayed Mabkhout has admitted the club are on the lookout for an Emirati defender – but stopped short of saying a deal for Mohanad Salem was done.
The Abu Dhabi club returned to training last night amid rumours of a bid for the Al Ain centre-back, who has not travelled with the rest of his club mates to Italy.
With his older brother Mohammed on Jazira’s backroom staff, a move to the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium would therefore seem plausible.
However, while Mabkhout revealed the Pride of Abu Dhabi were keen to bring in a local defender, he insisted that the players at the disposal of new coach Eric Gerets were already good enough.
“We are looking for players who add value to the team, defenders,” he said. “If we can find any player who can add good value to the team and he is free or his club have no problem to transfer him to us, we can bring him here.
“But until now there is nothing. We have a lot of good quality here in the team and we are happy with them and are going with them, Inshallah.”
When asked specifically about Salem, who would appear to fit that criteria, Mabkhout added: “There is a lot of news and you will hear it on Mohanad and other players also, but until now Mohanad is not here.”
Gerets oversaw his first training session in Abu Dhabi last night as a group of 35 players – including some youngsters from the academy – were put through a light workout.
The 60-year-old Belgian will be given time to evaluate the merits of the squad with two friendlies bef-ore Jazira depart for a pre-season tour of Switzerland on August 3.
Neither of the club’s two new signings, Mirko Vucinic and Jonathan Pitroipa, nor striker Ali Mabkhout, were at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
Vucinic and Pitroipa, signed at the end of last week from Juventus and Rennes respectively, are expected to join up with their new team-mates by the end of this week.
Both arrive in the UAE with big reputations and Mabkhout is hopeful they can help the club’s push for a second league title.
“We are expecting a lot of things from them,” he added. “Vucinic and Pitroipa are well known players and were selected with the consultation of the coach. Of course Vucinic played in Italy, and with a big team, so we are expecting the maximum from him.
“Pitroipa took the best player [award] in the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations, so we are looking for the best from the best.”
When they do arrive, the pair will join Jucilei and Abdelaziz Barrada as the club’s allotted four foreigners.
Barrada was the recipient of a bouquet of flowers, and a round of the bumps, from his team-mates at the end of last night’s session following his wedding in France last month.
UAE international defender Mohanad Salem looks set to leave Al Ain, with capital rivals Al Jazira and Bani Yas competing to secure his signing.
Salem, 29, has remained in the Emirates for negotiations while his team-mates have endured a weather-disrupted pre-season tour abroad.
Jazira are hot favourites to snap up the versatile defender, with his brother Mohammed currently employed by the Pride of Abu Dhabi as first-team manager.
The move would come as a surprise, with Salem starting 23 of Al Ain’s 26 Arabian Gulf League fixtures last term.
Team supervisor Mohammed Obeid Hammad insisted they are happy to keep the player if no agreement can be reached.
He said: “Mohanad is still associated with Al Ain and there are several offers for the player, but he soon will join the camp if nothing has developed during the negotiations.”
Meanwhile, Zlatko Dalic’s side were forced to make a hasty detour to Italy yesterday after thunderstorms washed out their training camp in Turkey.
The Boss had intended to practice in Erzurum from July 4-19, as their preparations for August’s AFC Champions League quarter-final tie with Al Ittihad continued. But unseasonally poor weather in the eastern part of the country have flooded the pitches.
“The period of the camp is short, and we are working to get out with the desired results,” Hammad said. “The rainfall affected the exercising fields in the region, because the pitch is located on a slope, and the administration decided to move the camp to Italy.
“We hope that the change is in the interest of the team because the time factor is important to us.”
Loan signing Miroslav Stoch passed a medical examination on Friday morning in Istanbul, with brothers Khalid and Mohammed Abdulrahman joining him in Italy after signing three-year contract extensions.
Stoch’s fellow new boy, South Korean midfielder Lee Myung-Joo, is also with the team in Europe.
The majority of Arabian Gulf League clubs may still be on their holidays, but Al Ain and Al Jazira have already provided champions Al Ahli with some serious food for thought.
Following a season that flattered to deceive Jazira have acted quickly and decisively to ensure that their title challenge will be maintained.
Walter Zenga was ditched in favour of Eric Gerets, while after a dismal four months Felipe Caicedo has been told to look for new employers – swift decisions that outline the club’s desire to add to their solitary league title.
To that you can now add the double capture of Mirko Vucinic and Jonathan Pitroipa, one of the most exciting swoops in UAE football history.
Yet, while Vucinic and his reported €5 million (Dh25m) a season wages will attract most of the column inches, it is his new team-mate from Burkina Faso that should provide the greater value for money.
Pitroipa has the pace and skill to worry any defence, while at 28 he still has something to prove – especially following a disappointing season with Rennes.
Another player with his peak years in front of him is Miroslav Stoch, and the Al Ain loan signing too could emerge as an extremely shrewd signing.
The Boss have been crying out for width and pace for a while now, and although something has obviously gone wrong for Stoch in Turkey, that conversely makes him exactly the sort of player that a side with amibition in the UAE should be signing. He has bucket loads of ability but also a reason to put in 100 per cent on the pitch.
He may not stay in the Middle East long term, but the only way he is going to get back to Europe is by playing well. That has to be better than signing a 30-something whose only concern is his bank balance.
Having already bought Lee Myung- joo – and with another signing on the way – Al Ain have shown their desire to succeed at home and abroad.
Ahli’s chances of keeping them at bay will depend heavily on how they react to this game of chance in the transfer market.