Al Wahda have urged coveted attacker Yahya Al Ghassani to continue his development with the Abu Dhabi giants in the midst of talk linking him with a historic permanent move to Europe.
News broke over the weekend that several clubs are in negotiations with the Clarets regarding the exciting 21-year-old winger, with two unnamed teams in the Bundesliga and Premier League side Burnley cited as being in the running.
“It’s too early (to talk about a transfer). So far he’s our player,” said Wahda chairman Ahmed Al Rumaithi, speaking at a press conference in the capital on Monday to announce the signing of new coach Maurice Steijn – who takes over from fellow Dutchman Henk ten Cate.
“We have seen things in the media. Sometimes football agents make inappropriate statements to the media.
“I want to talk in general about Yahya and all the young players. They need to keep focusing on their level and the matches in our league here.
“Yahya didn’t play a lot of matches with this club. He still has two to three years to prove himself and then we can talk about playing outside (the UAE).
“Yahya or any other youngsters in the club should complete three to four years playing in the top flight before thinking of playing in Europe. Yahya has played just one season and that’s not ideal.”
Al Ghassani, born to an Emirati mother and a father who holds Tanzanian and Omani passports, joined Wahda at the beginning of last season on a one-year deal and instantly impressed.
He netted a debut goal in a 6-2 thrashing of Ittihad Kalba on the opening day of the Arabian Gulf League season on August 31 and scored again in his third game – a 3-0 Arabian Gulf Cup triumph over Al Wasl. This led to him signing a lucrative contract until 2023.
He went on to make 24 appearances in total, scoring four goals, during what turned out to be an injury-plagued second half of the campaign, limiting him to just seven matches in 2019.
As well as ex-ADO Den Haag and VVV-Venlo boss Steijn, Wahda also unveiled a trio of new signings. These included Uruguayan centre midfielder Nicolas Milesi, 26, who joins on a season-long loan deal from fellow AGL side Al Dhafra.
Also arriving on a 12-month loan deal is 27-year-old winger Al Hussain Saleh, from Al Nasr. They are joined by Brazilian teenager Eduardo Voltan da Silva – an 18-year-old known as ‘Dudu’ – who joins from Sao Paulo’s Esporte Clube Sao Bernardo.
Steijn will immediately begin work for the season ahead, with Wahda facing a stern test in the round-of-16 of the AFC Champions League against champions of Saudi Arabia, Al Nassr.
The Clarets travel to Riyadh for the first leg on Tuesday, August 6, before hosting the second a week later at Al Nahyan Stadium. Steijn and his side were headed to the Netherlands on Monday night for a three and-a-half week training camp, and the 45-year-old refused to be drawn on Al Ghassani’s future.
“Let’s see in the camp about every player,” Steijn said when asked if he is looking to keep hold of the youngster.
“I don’t speak about players in particular, on this day. First I want to meet all the players, I met my staff yesterday to say hello. I want to talk with all those guys in private in Holland and then after three-and-a-half weeks I will know everything about the players.
“I don’t want to talk about players particularly now, but we have all the time.”
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.”
🎥 جميع مواجهات فخر ابوظبي في دوري الخليج العربي لموسم 2019 / 2020 pic.twitter.com/pr1dx6tc3G— نادي الجزيرة (@AlJazira_uae) June 21, 2019
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.”
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:
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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?