With each impressive summer move by Al Jazira, it becomes increasingly clear mere domestic success will not suffice in 2017/18.
The shock of last term’s record-breaking run to a first Arabian Gulf League crown in six years has morphed into an enterprising desire to leave an indelible mark on wider horizons.
A squad is being assembled at impressive speed who can heal their AFC Champions League wounds by going deep into the 2018 edition, and – provisionally – fly the UAE flag at December’s Club World Cup on home soil.
Pipe dreams had been the Pride of Abu Dhabi’s stock trade in the painful, intervening years between their top-flight triumphs.
The likes of Paraguay forward Nelson Valdez, Serbia striker Mirko Vucinic and Peru attacker Jefferson Farfan entered through Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium’s front door with esteemed reputations and left with little more than enhanced bank balances.
Yet all this changed with Dutch veteran Henk ten Cate’s December 2015 arrival, and another evolutionary step is at hand.
Despite being in its infancy, the summer transfer window looks set to bring the runaway AGL winners prolific UAE forward Ahmed Khalil, France anchorman Lassana Diarra, Uzbekistan flyer Sardor Rashidov and electric Brazilian forward Romarinho.
These supreme talents will bolster a squad which already contains Khalil’s international strike partner Ali Mabkhout (right) – the scorer of a historic 33 league goals last term – and Morocco metronome Mbark Boussoufa, plus a host of other talented Emiratis.
Last term, they went from rank pre-season outsiders to recording the most wins (22 from 26 games) and points (68). Startling progress for a team who flirted with relegation during Abel Braga’s doomed return which necessitated Ten Cate’s rescue act.
If smart moves are made to bolster a defence which conceded 11 times in six insipid continental group-stage displays last term, a push far beyond the club’s round-of-16 best seems assured.
Similarly, OFC Champions League holders Auckland City should hold no fears on December 6 in the play-off for the CWC’s quarter-finals – if Al Ain don’t win Asia’s version this year and take their place.
Everything is in place for Jazira to truly live up to their exalted nickname.
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