Swiftness and shrewdness from Al Ain in summer market sets new benchmark for AGL clubs

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Shrewdness is not a quality associated with Arabian Gulf League clubs at this time of year.

They, typically, lollop through the hectic summer transfer market. A near-sighted recklessness is then welcomed by rapacious agents eager to rid them of their dirhams.

Unheralded foreign additions are regularly recruited in July, via unscrupulous recommendation, and gone by January. It is also not unheard of for some not to last until the new season’s kick-off.

Only six of the 14 outfits in the 2018/19 competition declined to alter their foreign quartet at the midway point. Crisis clubs Al Nasr, Emirates Club, Fujairah and Dibba Al Fujairah churned through three quarters of their non-Emiratis when they desperately sought to alleviate the damage rendered by pre-season folly.

Remarkable prudence, however, has been exhibited by the nation’s most-decorated institution as they astutely plot a route back to glory after a wretched previous campaign.

Al Ain have concluded the majority of their recruitment before any of their direct rivals have stirred and in ample time for fresh parts to bed in. And, at a price in keeping with UAE football’s straitened reality.

Their example, if it gains requisite and predicted success in the months ahead, is one that should be heeded at a time when largesse from patrons are diminishing and organising body, the Pro League Committee, is preaching the merits of self sustainability.

A manic Thursday in the Garden City witnessed Al Ain announce deals for two of Africa’s fastest-emerging players. Diminutive Algerian winger Abderrahmane Meziane helped inspire USM Alger’s first Ligue Professionnelle 1 title in three seasons, while Togo forward Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba was the eight-goal leading marksman in the 2018/19 CAF Confederation Cup with Morocco’s RS Berkane.

Both were pursued by Egyptian titans Al Ahly, among other suitors from across the region. Both were convinced that their future aims were best served in Al Ain.

This is a fruitful market that has been curiously ignored by many AGL competitors. Only five deals were concluded with clubs from that continent, throughout the 2018/19 cycle.

This followed on from midweek moves for a pair of promising Emirati midfielders, Mohamed Jamal of Al Jazira and Ajman’s Mohammed Helal.

All generated excitement. Not one of them cost a fee.

This astute approach was also applied to landing a new coach.

Ex-Croatia midfielder Ivan Leko was named Belgium’s Professional Manager of the Year for 2017/18 after he led Club Brugge to that season’s title.

He bid farewell to Jan Breydel Stadium in May after his two-year contract expired and pitched up at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

Even when Al Ain spent cash, it went on a proven option. The €5.3 million paid to Al Wasl for Caio Canedo secured a Brazilian striker that has netted 68 times in 113 AGL run-outs.

This figure was largely covered by the money profited on Egypt midfielder Hussein El Shahat when he was sold to Ahly after a red-hot 2018 Club World Cup.

This pressing need for financial acumen has been painfully learned.

An enormous windfall was spurned last summer when golden boy Omar Abdulrahman was allowed to run down his contract and join Saudi Professional League giants Al Hilal. Brazilian attacker Caio is now set to join Benfica on a free transfer, denying club accounts of yet more precious cash.

Portuguese playmaker Ruben Ribeiro caused open revolt under Juan Carlos Garrido in the second half of 2018/19. Mali anchorman Tongo Doumbia is also unwanted and still, apparently, attached.

Sweden striker Marcus Berg’s travails – and subsequent departure – after a prolific 2017/18 mean a long-term successor to Asamoah Gyan is yet to be unearthed. The Ghana superstar departed for Shanghai SIPG in July 2015.

Al Ain, as defending champions, finished three places and 13 points behind shock winners Sharjah.

It’s not even July and, yet, such a disheartening outcome seems a world away after profligacy made way for acuity.

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