With less than a month to go until the start of the season, Arabian Gulf League clubs have been busy sculpting squads to experience a successful 2018/19.
Reigning champions Al Ain are yet to bring in any senior recruits, but this is not the case throughout the rest of the division. Money has been spent on targets that will either gain a better tilt at the title, earn mid-table security or ensure a successful battle against the drop.
The top flight kicks off on August 30, plus the summer transfer window closes on October 2. Here are the recruits that have most impressed us, thus far.
It will take some doing for a rival to better Al Wasl’s snapping up of the experienced UAE anchor man.
Esmail was procured for a figure approaching Dh50 million in January 2016. But Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club decided he was expendable amid the chase for Al Dhafra’s Abdullah Al Naqbi.
At 28-years old, Wasl are getting a refined midfielder capable of providing expert guidance to a developing side that is eager to better last term’s third-placed finish.
A Premier League stalwart will be gracing the AGL’s pitches during 2018/19.
Al Nasr pulled off a great shock when they convinced 48-times-capped France midfielder Yohan Cabaye to end his three-year stay at Crystal Palace and move onto Al Maktoum Stadium.
Cabaye, 32, offers expert playmaking, a ferocious ability from dead balls and a tenacious side that will see no ground given in the middle of the park. This is a figure for whom coach Ivan Jovanovic can build his entire system around.
Sharjah lavished a significant €6 million (Dh25.5m) fee on the Brazilian playmaker, who made a strong impression during Palermo’s promotion back to Serie A.
Coronado, 25, has been hired to add an injection of creativity into a King side that scored only 26 times in 22 top-flight matches last term. Countryman Lulinha singularly failed at this task.
If he can better last term’s Serie B tally of 10 assists and nine goals from 38 matches, Sharjah will feel content about their substantial investment.
The ex-Netherlands Under-21 international has chosen to swap fighting for A-League glory with Melbourne Victory to scrapping against relegation with Bani.
There was plenty of regret in Australia’s second city when a contract extension could not be agreed with a winger who’d come from nowhere to notch 13 assists and eights goals in a championship season.
The 31-year-old’s talents will need to be on display in Abu Dhabi as the Sky Blues bid to avoid immediate relegation back to First Division League.
Great strides have been taken by Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club to avoid the goal shortage that crippled their inaugural campaign.
Central to this drive is the purchase of diminutive playmaker Diaz from FC Dallas. The former Argentina Under-20 international excelled during five years in Major League Soccer, being named in 2016’s Best XI.
In total, the 27-year-old heads to Rashid Stadium with a record of 23 goals and 44 assists in 84 matches. Great things are expected.
Al Ain boss Zoran Mamic has insisted it is in the “best interest” of UAE football that he has retained a number of international stars for the Arab Club Champions Cup first-round decider against Algeria’s ES Satif.
An eligibility row broke out after a threat was made to withhold all nine call-ups – a figure that excludes unattached superstar playmaker Omar Abdulrahman – from the Whites’ external training camp in Austria from August 1-18. This meant a strong side from the Arabian Gulf League and President’s Cup holders went down 2-1 in Tuesday’s opening leg at Zagreb’s Stadion Maksimir.
A compromise was then reached which means utility defender Mohamed Ahmed, centre-back Mohanad Salem and anchor man Ahmed Barman will be missing for Saturday’s clincher.
“It is in Emirates football’s best interest that we created a deal in the spirit of one team,” said Mamic. “This is because our goals are shared about the preparation of players to face the challenges both at club and international level.
“We will show the best that we have and we look forward to a superior performance.”
One player who could feature for the first time in pre-season is 36-goal striker Marcus Berg. He is ready to be unleashed after helping Sweden make the quarter-finals in World Cup 2018.
In midweek, veteran forward Ibrahim Diaky put Al Ain ahead from the penalty spot.
But Algeria playmaker Abdelmoumene Djabou then converted a low cross in the latter stages of each half to hand an advantage to the Ligue Professionnelle 1 champions.
A strong Boss outfit lost 2-1 to Algeria’s ES Setif in the first-leg of the competition, switched to a knockout format this year, in Zagreb on Monday.
The Arab Football Federation has warned that both club and the UAE Football Association could face action as Zoran Mamic fielded a number of UAE national team players despite the fact the game came within the window of an international fixture, with the Whites due to meet up for a training camp in Austria later this month.
Goalkeeper Khalid Essa, defenders Ismail Ahmed, Mohamed Ahmed, Bandar Al Ahbabi, midfielders Amer Abdulrahman, Rayan Yaslam and Ahmed Barman all featured in the Croatian capital, which could land the club in hot water.
“The player stays with his club during the period of preparation for the football season because it is better to fight a challenge such as today’s instead of playing a match against a third-class team in Austria,” said Mamic of the threat of action.
“I do not think there is a team in the world who adopts such decisions that deprive the player of good preparation with his club before the start of the season without justification.
“I also heard that the UAE team in the past decided to put the players in a 40-day preparation camp which makes no sense.
“I am not responsible for the development of laws but I am working to protect my team and myself and the club to which I belong and I’m willing to do whatever contributes to the achievement of our goals.”
The Boss took the lead in the opening leg of the round of 32 clash, with veteran midfielder Ibrahim Diaky netting from the penalty spot in the 22nd minute.
But 13-times capped Algeria midfielder Abdelmoumene Djabou bagged a second half brace to earn Hacene Hemmar’s side a crucial win ahead of the second-leg, to be played again at Zagreb’s Stadion Maksimir, on Saturday.