Arabian Gulf League champions Al Ain have made a low-key first splash in the summer transfer market with the captures of Sharjah’s Jamal Maroof and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club’s Saad Khamis, marking a stark contrast in standing to departing superstar playmaker Omar Abdulrahman.
The Boss were the only side in the expanded, 14-team competition not to arrange any major incomings. But this situation changed on Tuesday night as coach Zoran Mamic was handed some bench options for the imminent defence of the top flight and President’s Cup.
Maroof, 26, fell out of the favour at Sharjah last term and went goalless in seven AGL matches. Despite this underwhelming state of affairs, he inked a two-year deal.
Fellow forward Khamis, 23, also failed to score in six top-flight games when on loan at bottom-placed Hatta. The son of UAE and Al Wasl legend Fahad Khamis has signed up for a three-year stay at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.
Al Ain’s attacking options were depleted by June’s return of 2015 AFC Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil to Shabab Al Ahli. The 27-year-old had inked a short-term contract with them last winter after a troubled stint at Al Jazira.
Inexperienced centre forward Yousef Ahmed, 24, also moved to rivals Wasl at the same time.
This exacerbated a problem caused by the loss of UAE reserve striker Saeed Al Kathiri, 30, to Al Dhafra in summer 2017.
Veteran forward Ibrahim Diaky, 36, was one of few remaining alternatives to 36-goal Sweden centre forward Marcus Berg.
It’s now a waiting game for UAE superstar Omar Abdulrahman as he prepares to make his long-awaited, blockbusting loan move from Arabian Gulf League champions Al Ain to their Saudi Professional League counterparts Al Hilal.
Intense negotiations continue between the parties to finalise the temporary switch for 2018/19.
Here, Sport360 delves into the Middle East’s most eye-catching move of the summer transfer window.
STATUS OF THE TRANSFER
Last weekend saw a move, first predicted in January, pick up pace.
Abdulrahman, 26, and his advisers came to a verbal agreement about a three-year contract extension at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. When the deal is signed, bar any last-minute hitches, it will end the celebrated playmaker’s free-agent status and allow his employers to sanction a lucrative temporary stint back in the city of his birth – Riyadh.
Hilal had hoped to complete the operation for approximately Dh30 million, including wages. But competing interest from capital rivals Al Nassr is being used to leverage a higher fee.
Reports in Al Ittihad newspaper and in the Kingdom stated Al Ain’s return could reach Dh60m. This would be only Dh17m less than AC Milan paid Juventus last week to loan Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain for the same duration.
This ensured Amoory was not present on Monday night at King Saud University Stadium when summer recruits – ex-Sporting Lisbon coach Jorge Jesus, Peru forward and Benfica loanee Andre Carrillo plus former Spain Under-21 defender Alberto Botia – were paraded in front of a packed audience.
Sources close to Amoory have repeatedly insisted his boyhood side are the “only club in the Middle East” he’s prepared to join.
Update to ongoing Omar Abdulrahman situation at #alainclub— Matt Monaghan (@mattmonaghan360) August 5, 2018
🔘 Al Hilal are considered "only Middle East club" he'll go to, at present
🔘 Options exist in Spain, France and Netherlands https://t.co/qoFS8KyDsw pic.twitter.com/F4OXheCsXR
IS HE WORTH THE MONEY?
By the lofty standards of the 2016 AFC Player of the Year, last season was one to forget.
He carried a foot injury into the 3-0 aggregate humbling by Hilal in the 2017 AFC Champions League’s quarter-finals. This knock would trouble him throughout the early months.
In a defining 24 hours in January, along with two team-mates he first broke curfew the night before the Gulf Cup final defeat against Oman. Decisive penalty misses followed in normal time and the shootout, marking a low point in a UAE career of grand achievement.
Domestic bans picked up for this incident, as well as injury, restricted him to just 25 appearances, seven goals and – an impressive – 13 assists as Al Ain won a first-ever AGL and President’s Cup double.
But bravura displays in the critical spring matches against dethroned champions Al Jazira – he scored twice – and runners-up Al Wahda showcased an enduring quality.
WHY DIDN’T HE MOVE TO EUROPE?
Ever since work-permit issues brought a frustrating end to a successful trial at Manchester City in 2012, links to Europe have never died down.
Benfica, Fenerbahce, Arsenal and Valencia have all been linked in the interim. Last summer, Nice had a loan offer rejected by Al Ain.
This time, advisers canvassed interest from clubs in France, Spain and the Netherlands. This was contingent on Amoory being a free agent.
It can seem like he’s taking the money, and the easy option, by moving to Hilal.
However, a sense of duty underpins Amoory’s links to Al Ain. Whereas his whole family – members of Riyadh’s Yemeni diaspora – received UAE passports in 2006 when he joined their academy, the Saudis would only give the valuable document to him.
A move to Europe this time would have seen Al Ain’s commitment go without full reward.
THE FUTURE FOR AL AIN
How do you replace a gem like Amoory?
This is a player who’s contributed 62 goals and 114 assists in 229 run-outs since 2008’s first-team debut for the Boss. In this spell, 11 major trophies have been won and defeat was suffered in the 2016 ACL showpiece to South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.
Yet, a productive future was mapped out during 2017/18’s victorious campaign.
Egypt midfielder Hussein El Shahat’s mid-season arrival from Misr lel-Makkasa, initially on loan, proved revelatory. He registered seven goals and nine assists in 11 AGL matches as the title was sewn up in a second-half-of-the-season surge.
This form saw coach Zoran Mamic cede some of the absent Amoory’s responsibilities – he only featured in 13 out of 22 league fixtures – to him.
Rayan Yaslam seems to be a natural alternative for club and country. The 23-year-old scored four goals and crafted four assists in 20 top-flight appearances.
His previous best was 2013/14’s one goal and zero assists in four run-outs.
Succession planning in accident, if not by design.
Al Ain are yet to bring in any major additions this summer. They are not expected to use their windfall, at this stage, to replace fitful Brazilian forward Caio.
Some money could be spent on bolstering the side with Emirati recruits. Al Wasl and UAE centre midfielder Ali Salmeen, 23, has been linked.
Al Nasr’s cornering of the Emirati market has continued with the homecoming of midfielder Habib Fardan.
Fardan, 27, excelled at Al Maktoum Stadium from July 2009-August 2014 and was highly coveted when – the now defunct – Al Ahli won the chase for his signature. But he failed to live up to his promise in new surroundings, meaning his four-year deal signed upon arrival was not extended this summer.
“Al Nasr formally contracts with Habib Fardan for three seasons and the player will wear the No10 shirt,” the Blue Wave tweeted. “Welcome to the cradle of UAE football.”
The returning star will likely line-up alongside celebrated ex-France international Yohan Cabaye, recruited earlier this summer from Crystal Palace. They will be tasked with supplying Brazilian attackers Samuel Rosa and Iury de Castilho, recruited from relegated Hatta and Ukraine’s Zorya Luhansk.
A space remains open in their four-player foreign quota after Lebanon centre-back Joan Oumari last week moved to J1 League’s Sagan Tosu – the home of former Spain, Atletico Madrid and Liverpool centre forward Fernando Torres.
Last term’s fourth-placed finishers in the Arabian Gulf League have also made significant domestic moves.
Fardan’s Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club were raided earlier this summer for imposing UAE centre-back Mohammed Marzooq. Their defence was then further strengthened by the acquisition of Mohammed Ali Ayed from Al Jazira.
Promising Al Wahda forward Mohamed Al Akbari has moved to Dubai, in part-exchange for reserve left-back Hussain Abbas.
In midfield, former loanee Al Hussain Saleh joined from Emirates Club on a permanent basis.
Great expectations will surround the ability of Fardan to reignite his career among his fellow arrivals.
UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni has dropped him from his plans and only four goals were scored in 94 AGL matches for Ahli/Shabab Al Ahli.
Fardan had proved an astute pick-up by Nasr from Al Wasl as a teenager in the previous decade, going on to score 27 times in 72 top-flight appearances.
He also played a key role when a 25-year trophy drought was ended with victory in 2014’s GCC Champions League final against Oman’s Al Nahda.