Hearts of Al Nasr supporters were given a momentary flutter on Monday when Barcelona superstar Ivan Rakitic was pictured holding up their shirt.
Hopes of a monumental move to Al Maktoum Stadium for the 31-year-old, however, were swiftly ended when it was revealed he had been present for a shirt exchange ceremony while on vacation in Dubai.
The Blue Wave finished 2018/19 in a miserable eighth place in the Arabian Gulf League, despite the presence of ex-Spain and Manchester City striker Alvaro Negredo.
Elsewhere, Al Jazira and Al Wasl were revealed on Monday as the UAE’s participants in the 2019/20 Arab Club Champions Cup.
This repeat of the 2018/19 entrants – an edition won by Tunisia’s Étoile du Sahel – comes at the invitation of the Union of Arab Football Associations.
The long debate about the 2019/20 foreigners rule in the Saudi Professional League has ended after authorities announced only a minor reduction to seven players from last term’s eight.
Steady growth in the presence of non-Saudis had been under way since June 2017’s call to grow from four to six, with goalkeepers also being allowed in this quota for the first time. This figure had swelled to eight for 2018/19 – aided by last summer’s unprecedented $340 million cash injection from Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.
The Saudi Arabian Football Federation commissioned an interim committee to study the impact after a reduction in playing opportunities for indigenous players, but an increase in international exposure brought about by the likes of Al Hilal’s ex-France centre forward Bafetimbi Gomis. Its report recommended a drop to January 2018’s level of seven foreigners, plus allow an extra spot for a Saudi Arabia-born non-national.
The announcement in the early hours of Monday morning also declared all seven, plus the expatriate, can be on the pitch at the same time.
The Saudi FF also declared that the summer transfer window will run from June 12-August 31 and the winter market is set to be open from January 1-31.
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Al Wahda have gone double Dutch and hired VVV-Venlo’s Maurice Steijn as replacement for inspirational veteran Henk ten Cate.
The Clarets had been locked in talks with the 45-year-old coach since they were unable to convince his sage countryman to delay retirement, once again, and extend an impressive five-month stint at Al Nahyan Stadium. Agreement on a one-year renewable deal has been secured, meaning he will lead new employers into the 2019 AFC Champions League’s round-of-16 in August against Saudi Professional League holders Al Nassr.
Steijn has never previously worked away from his native Netherlands. A five-year stint at VVV – which made him the Eredivisie’s longest-serving boss – culminated with a 12th-placed finish in 2018/19.
“Al Wahda Football Club Company signed with the Dutch football manager Maurice Steijn, 46-years old, for a year on a renewable contract to take over the management of the football team as successor of Henk ten Cate, the previous manager of Al Wahda,” Wahda tweeted on Sunday.
“Maurice Steijn will start his tasks of managing and preparing the first team from the end of June in the training camp until August, where the team will be preparing for the next season and the 2019 AFC Champions League’s round-of-16.
“Al Wahda Management Council wishes the best for the football team and the manager, as well as his technical and management teams.”
Steijn also came close to replacing Ten Cate, 64, at Al Jazira for 2017/18. He will soon travel to the UAE with assistant coach Jay Driessen.
The former midfielder experienced an unremarkable playing career at ADO Den Haag and NAC Breda, prior to retiring in 2001.
He was an assistant at ADO and then led them from June 2011-February 2014. He joined VVV in July 2014, gaining promotion from the Eerste Divisie in his third season at the helm.
Wahda began last term miserably under Laurentiu Reghecampf, but recovered to finish third. They also halted a 12-year absence from the ACL knockouts.
Al Jazira have announced their first-team will travel to the Netherlands again for a summer training camp in July in preparation for the 2019-20 football season.
The squad will travel to their main base in Wageningen on 20th July, a town in the centre of the country, before moving to Oosterbeek 10 days later.
The club will play five friendly matches during the three-week camp, which will end on August 10th, before flying back to Abu Dhabi.
It is the second consecutive year that Al Jazira will tour the Netherlands. The team’s management held a number of meetings to discuss and identify potential venues and opposition for the camp. This was followed by Ahmed Al Saeed, the first-team supervisor, visiting the country to carry out an inspection of the facilities and accommodation.
The camp is expected to play an important part for Al Jazira’s stars to build on their fitness and work on tactical strategies ahead of the start of the Arabian Gulf League season.