UAE stars Ali Mabkhout and Khalifa Al Hammadi show strength of Al Jazira academy

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When the UAE national team begins next month’s training camp in Austria to kick off their preparations for the 2022 World Cup qualification, Al Jazira will be well represented by seven first-team players.

Record-breaking striker Ali Mabkhout and promising defender Khalifa Al Hammadi are two of the players included in the 27-man list following their impressive individual displays during the 2018/19 season.

Mabkhout’s 20-goal tally saw him finish second in the Arabian Gulf League’s scoring charts, while Al Hammadi built on his breakthrough season to establish himself as a first-team starter with 25 appearances.

The pair will be joined in Salzburg by Jazira team-mates Ali Khaseif, Mohamed Al Attas, Salim Rashid, Khalfan Mubarak and Zayed Al Ameri.

Jazira’s academy has been integral for nurturing and developing their players for many years and Mabkhout and Al Hammadi, who came through the ranks, being called up to the national team is a testament to the club’s coaching philosophy.

Before their dreams became a reality, Mabkhout and Al Hammadi put in the hours on the training pitches under the guidance of the academy coaches and haven’t looked back since making their first-team debuts.

With Mabkhout at the peak of his career aged 28 and Al Hammadi showing great promise as a 20-year-old, both stars have credited the academy model for their careers to date.

“Since joining the academy, I have always had the ambition of playing in the highest level,” said Mabkhout, who has struck 133 league goals to date since making his debut as an 18-year-old.

“At the same time, I wanted to achieve the goal of playing for Al Jazira’s first-team and the UAE national team and am happy to have reached those objectives.”

He added: “I have always been grateful to Al Jazira’s academy as they develop the technical aspects while also educating players on the importance of mentality and nutrition. With regular coaching and my desire to improve meant that when I was picked for the first-team, I was fully prepared for what to expect as a professional footballer.

“The club also gives opportunities for youngsters to train with first-team stars and this certainly helps them to adapt quickly. With the number of players that have come through in recent years, the club has shown there is a bright future.”

With Al Hammadi making his debut as an 18-year-old, his first-team career also saw him join Mabkhout in the UAE squad for January’s 2019 Asian Cup.

“I have really developed as a player last season as I established myself in the first-team and represented my country at the Asian Cup which was a proud moment for me,” said Al Hammadi.

“It’s been a great learning curve so far and I feel the club academy has helped me a lot to what I have achieved today.

“I joined the academy when I was seven-years-old and realised that I had to work very hard if I wanted to reach the top. The academy has a clear pathway in place for those who want to be professionals.”

He added: “It wasn’t just about football as outside the training, we also had regular schoolwork during the day. This meant we would sometimes have long days from 7am to 8pm but it was a great learning experience.

“We also learnt the importance of nutrition and as a youngster, I found that was a big change but it has helped me be the player that I am today.”

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Al Hilal, Al Ain, Europe or even Al Nasr - where will Omar Abdulrahman end up?

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(Twitter/@Alhilal_FC).

The long-term future of UAE superstar Omar Abdulrahman is yet to be determined after his agent denied undertaking talks to stay at Saudi Professional League giants Al Hilal or return to the Arabian Gulf League’s Al Ain.

Abdulrahman, 27, is set for a vital pre-season after October’s serious knee injury curtailed the celebrated playmaker’s debut campaign at boyhood club Hilal and precluded him from the 2019 Asian Cup on home soil.

A lucrative and controversial one-year contract – worth a reputed Dh60 million, with signing-on fee – was signed with the Riyadh behemoth last August, ending a 12-year association with the Boss. But clarity about what comes next could not be provided by representative Nader Marzouki.

“We have not received any negotiations to renew Amoory’s contract. He has a desire to continue with Al Hilal for another season, especially since injury prevented him from completing the season,” he told Saudi sports daily Al Riyadiya.

“Amoory will join the list of Hilal at the start of the preparation phase, as the contract continues until mid-August. We did not receive any offer from Al Ain for his return.”

With these quotes in mind, Sport360 reviews the options for the 2016 AFC Player of the Year:

AL HILAL

‘Unfinished business’ defines Amoory’s feelings about Hilal.

A lifelong wish for the Riyadh-born member of the Yemeni diaspora to don their famous dark blue kit was made real with last year’s sensational free transfer. An assist and goal followed in five solid SPL performances, before the questionable turf at Al Shabab’s Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium wrought havoc on his cruciate ligament.

The game-changing injection of cash that brought Abdulrahman, ex-France centre forward Bafetimbi Gomis and several other stellar names to the Kingdom for 2018/19 is expected to be tempered this time. There is also a minor reduction in the foreign players quota, from eight to seven.

Amoory’s status as a beloved Arab icon – he has 1.4 million followers, alone, on Instagram – and lauded past exploits should, however, be enough for Hilal to seek a renewal if his fitness can be proved during pre-season. The Crescent’s unquestionable status as the region’s premier club retains significant allure, judging by his agent’s recent remarks.

But will terms be as generous, plus is he guaranteed a regular spot in the XI or the Asian-qualified berth in the four-player non-Saudi list for the 2019 AFC Champions League’s knockouts?

Italy playmaker Sebastian Giovinco blocks his route domestically and Australia centre-back Milos Degenek appears a shoe-in continentally.

Amoory’s heart is painted blue. His judgement, however, should not be clouded by emotion.

Likelihood: 8/10

AL AIN

The Boss have been bold reconstructing a squad that slumped so alarmingly in Abdulrahman’s absence.

A tumultuous spell has seen the disintegrating side that claimed the 2017/18 AGL and President’s Cup double comprehensively dismantled. There are three new foreigners already in situ for next term and rumours abound that the UAE’s most-decorated club seek a reunion with the golden boy who recorded 11 major trophies, 62 goals, 114 assists and 229 appearances with them.

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الحمدلله دائما وأبدا

A post shared by Amoory | عموري (@amoory10) on

This potential comeback to the Garden City, however, is a complicated one. The winter’s explosive interview with Dubai Sports about his rancorous exit caused uproar, while serious question marks remain about whether this version of the Boss – who got one point in the 2019 ACL group stage and finished a distant fourth in the AGL – can sate his ambitions.

New Al Ain boss Ivan Leko is also a proponent of the 3-5-2 formation. This system vexed Amoory during Jorge Fossati’s doomed 49-day tenure at the start of 2013/14.

Likelihood: 5/10

EUROPE

Many European suitors have knocked on Amoory’s door since a successful trial at Manchester City was undone by work-permit complications. All have been rebuffed.

La Liga’s Leganes and Ligue 1’s Lyon were linked 12 months ago. Nice were dismissed before then, while Valencia and Primeira Liga giants Benfica also failed in the past.

Now, the picture has flipped. Amoory is returning from the fourth major knee problem of his career, earns wages north of Dh20m per annum and will be 28-years old in September.

He once seemed destined to become the UAE’s first permanent export to the big leagues. This avenue now appears closed off, forever.

Likelihood: 1/10

ANOTHER AGL CLUB

Amoory’s stock as a footballer is low, but his reputation remains high.

If deals cannot be struck with Hilal or Al Ain, could a local alternative emerge?

With much of Amoory’s downtime spent in Dubai, an obvious option is presented by Al Nasr. The resplendent redevelopment of Al Maktoum Stadium, desperately, requires footballers of a requisite standard.

Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club are a coming force under Rodolfo Arruabarrena, if the Argentine remains. Could surprise champions Sharjah spring another shock?

Likelihood: 2/10

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Arabian Gulf League champions Sharjah to start title defence against Khorfakkan

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The UAE Pro League made the draw for the 2019-20 Arabian Gulf League and Arabian Gulf Cup at Al Nasr Club’s Al Maktoum Stadium on Thursday night.

The draw was conducted thanks to the help of UAE Special Olympics team members Hamda Al Hosani, Aisha Saif, Zayed Al Ameri and Saleh Al Marri, who played a superb role in the Special Olympics earlier this year.

The draw for the Arabian Gulf Cup was conducted first, executed by His Excellency Ahmed Al Bahri Al Hammadi and Jamal Al Marri, member of the PLC Executive Office.

Arabian Gulf Cup champions Shabab Al Ahli were placed on top of Group A, while Arabian Gulf League champions Sharjah were placed in pot 1 of Group B.

The first group included Al Ain, Al Jazira, Al Nasr, Al Dhafra, Ittihad Kalba, Khorfakkan alongside Shabab Al Ahli, while the second group brought Bani Yas, Al Wahda, Ajman, Al Wasl, Hatta and Fujairah in addition to Sharjah.

Matchweek 1 of the Arabian Gulf Cup sees strong fixtures, with Shabab Al Ahli starting their title defence against Al Ain, while Al Jazira face newly promoted Khorfakkan.

Al Nasr face Ittihad Kalba, while Arabian Gulf League winners Sharjah play Bani Yas, Fujairah are away to Al Wahda and Ajman take on Hatta.

Next up was the Arabian Gulf League draw, conducted by His Excellency Yousef Mohammed Rasool Khoory, Vice President of the PLC Executive Office, His Excellency Abdulhameed Al Mestaka, member of the Executive Council, Chairman of the Technical Committee.

The draw produced seven big clashes in the opening matchday, spearheaded by a Bur Dubai Derby between Al Nasr and Al Wasl.

Sharjah start their title defence against Khorfakkan, while Shabab Al Ahli host Hatta.

Al Ain face Ittihad Kalba, Al Jazira play Al Dhafra, Fujairah entertain Al Wahda and Bani Yas are pitted against Ajman.

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