Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli Jeddah have emerged as leading contenders to seal the signature of prolific Partizan Belgrade forward Leonardo, ending lingering hopes of a switch to the Arabian Gulf League.
Leonardo, 25, has been of interest to both Al Ain and Al Nasr at various stages of this summer after his representatives offered him to leading clubs across the region for a fee in excess of €5 million (Dh21.5m). This follows a productive debut campaign during which he netted 24 times in 34 appearances as Crno-beli – The Black-Whites – lifted an eighth Serbian Super Liga.
A desire to earn a lucrative switch elsewhere saw Partizan agree to sell him once their fate in the UEFA Champions League qualifiers is sealed. Their third-round tie against Greece’s Olympiacos begins late on Tuesday night.
Ahly have made major head way to ensure they will snap Leonardo up before August 6’s deadline to be registered for the latter stages of the 2017 AFC Champions League.
Al Ain had investigated making the former Anzhi Makhachkala attacker their fourth foreigner, but Partizan’s financial demands allied with doubts about the player’s calibre saw coach Zoran Mamic announce an intention to re-register Brazilian striker Douglas two weeks ago.
Nasr also expressed interest to Leonardo’s representatives. Yet they have been subsequently linked to unwanted Internacional loanee Marcelo Cirino.
Meanwhile, Al Ain outcast Danilo Asprilla looks likely to find a new home at promoted Saudi Professional League-outfit Al Fayha.
Asprilla, 28, did not travel to Austria with his team-mates for an ongoing summer training camp after he was ruled surplus to requirements. The erratic Colombian winger had been in negotiations about a €1.5m (Dh6.4m) exit to Turkey’s Bursaspor, prior to them collapsing this week.
Reports in the Kingdom have stated Fayha have stepped into the breach for the January 2016 signing from Bulgaria’s Litex Lovech.
Arabian Gulf League champions Al Jazira could be set for late disappointment in their chase for electric Brazilian forward Romarinho after Qatar’s Al Rayyan and Al Sadd emerged as strong competition.
The Pride of Abu Dhabi believed two weeks ago that a deal was done for the 26-year-old, who is a free agent after April’s liquidation of El Jaish. But he has stayed away from a pre-season training camp in the Netherlands – unlike ex-club-mate and Uzbekistan winger Sardor Rashidov, UAE forward Ahmed Khalil and ex-France defensive midfielder Lassana Diarra, who are integrating into the squad.
Complications caused by the ongoing Qatar blockade and the allure of dual citizenship has made the €7.5 million (Dh36.2m) buy from Corinthians in September 2014 now more likely to remain in Doha.
Rayyan need to find a buyer for 70-cap Paraguay defensive midfielder Victor Caceres if they are to make space in their four-player foreign quota for a target with 40 goals in 72 Qatar Stars League games. Spain and Barcelona legend Xavi’s Al Sadd are in a similar position.
Jazira also remain keen observers of the wrangle surrounding Shabab Al Ahli Dubai club centre-back Mohammed Ali Ayed. The 26-year-old – latterly of Al Shabab – is in dispute with the merged club’s management and has requested the termination of his deal.
Meanwhile, South Korea centre midfielder Park Jong-woo has pitched up at lowly Emirates Club on a one-year contract after he became unwanted at Jazira.
Park, 28, will add an injection of quality to a side who finished one point above the drop zone in 2016/17. The free agent scored once in 43 AGL games for his previous employers.
Al Nasr’s search for a foreign winger has reportedly guided them towards Internacional’s Marcelo Cirino.
Cirino, 25, has fallen out of favour just three months since his arrival from Flamengo. Globo Esporte has stated that the Blue Wave have made contact with a view to snapping up a forward who has one goal in 11 run-outs for his new team.
Sebastian Tagliabue has insisted Al Wahda are keen to add more silverware to the club’s trophy cabinet at the Arab Club Championship, although he is making domestic issues the pre-season priority.
The Clarets take on Algeria’s NA Hussein Dey in their opening Group A game tonight in Cairo – where local sides Al Ahly, Zamalek and Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal, as well as Wahda – are expected to be among the favourites.
Wahda kick off at 19:30 UAE time at Al Salam Stadium, with Egyptian giants Ahly taking on Jordan’s Al Faisaly in Group A’s later kick-off.
Prolific striker Tagliabue has declared his President’s Cup holders would love to become the first UAE team to win the tournament – back after a four-year hiatus – but claims his eyes are firmly set on a mouthwatering Super Cup clash on September 15 with Arabian Gulf League champions and fierce Abu Dhabi rivals Al Jazira.
“Of course when we play in any competition we want to win it, but we must not lose the objective, which is to arrive in the best way to the Super Cup,” said Tagliabue, 32.
“We are just starting pre-season and we will have only 10 trainings when we play the first game. It’s a cup so it should be to good to get minutes on the pitch after training hard. But I repeat, the most important game in this time is the Super Cup.”
Wahda could be back in Egypt for that Super Cup clash, played between Jazira and Al Ahli last season, with the UAE season’s traditional curtain-raiser possibly set to again be played in the Egyptian capital.
Today’s game will see Romanian Laurentiu Reghecampf take charge of his first Wahda game and Tagliabue has been impressed with what he’s seen of his new coach in the early weeks of his reign.
“The coach is very interesting, he is similar to Javier Aguirre in that he likes to apply pressure and to play attacking football,” added the affable Argentine.
“He’s very serious and shows us he likes to work professionally. The first week of pre-season was very good, we didn’t train so hard, it was more about adapting to being back, but we have been training with intensity in the second week.”
It is hard to gauge how far Wahda can go in the tournament, with today’s game the first run-out for the players, while Reghecampf is without the likes to veteran striker Ismail Matar and all-action midfielder Tariq Ahmed, while Mohamed Al Akbari, Ahmed Rashid and Mohammad Abdulbasit are also missing after their exploits with the UAE Under-23s at the 2018 AFC U-23 Championship qualifiers.
“There is a shortage of players,” admitted Reghecampf, the former Hilal and two-time Steaua Bucharest coach.
“The team had gathered shortly after a long vacation and we will try to avoid injuries. The reasons are known for the Olympic players who have matches with the team, while Ismail Matar and Tariq Ahmed need to rest after their return from the UAE first team.
“We have come to Cairo to try to make good quality matches and we use the tournament as preparation to provide a good level for the new season.”
Hussein Dey, who finished seventh in Algeria’s Ligue 1 last season, qualified for the tournament as 2015/16 Algerian Cup runners-up. Coach Nabil Neghiz says his side have not had the best preparation ahead of the tournament but feels they have as much chance to qualify for the semi-finals – with the winners of each of the three groups progressing as well as the best runner-up – as their opponents.
“We came in difficult circumstances, our team did not find the time to prepare but we are happy to be in our second country, Egypt,” said Neghiz.
“Our chance to qualify is equal to Al Faisali, Al Wahda and Al Ahly. The result of the first game is very important.”