Barcelona superstar Ivan Rakitic makes surprise appearance at Al Nasr in Dubai

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(Twitter/@ALNasrSC).

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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