Arabian Gulf League heavyweights Al Ain have begun trimming their squad after an emphatic start to the summer transfer window, sending Mali defensive midfielder Tongo Doumbia to Ajman and loaning left-back Saeed Al Menhali to Ittihad Kalba.
Doumbia, 29, has inked a two-year deal with the Orange Brigade. The towering former Rennes, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Toulouse and Dinamo Zagreb battler was registered exclusively for the Boss’ 2018 Club World Cup and 2019 AFC Champions League rosters.
He was overlooked for their 2019/20 top-flight squad, despite three of four foreign players departing. A new challenge awaits at a mid-table outfit who shed Senegalese striker Mame Baba Thiam to Turkey’s Kasimpasa earlier this week, plus landed Emirati striker Mohammed Ibrahim from surprise champions Sharjah.
Al Menhali, 25, has inked a one-season temporary switch to Kalba. The unwanted youth product made only six top-flight appearances for the Boss in 2018/19.
Al Ain have been exceptionally busy this month as they attempt to rebuild in the wake of last term’s distant fourth-placed finish.
Diminutive Algerian winger Abderrahmane Meziane, highly rated Togo forward Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba and Dh25 million-rated Al Wasl forward Caio Canedo have bolstered their foreign ranks. Domestically, successful moves have been made for promising midfielders Mohamed Jamal of Al Ain and Mohammed Helal of Ajman.
These troops will be overseen by ex-Croatia midfielder Ivan Leko.
The 41-year-old – who replaces Spain’s Juan Carlos Garrido – was named Belgium’s Professional Manager of the Year for 2017/18 after he led Club Brugge to that season’s title.
Meanwhile, Portuguese minnows Portimonense are expected to soon finish Brazilian striker Iury de Castilho’s unremarkable stint at Al Nasr.
Iury, 23, was signed from the Ukraine’s Zorya Luhansk in June 2018 and then deregistered in September once ex-Spain centre forward Alvaro Negredo was landed. He failed to spark on loan at Saudi Arabia’s Al Fayha in the second half of the campaign.
O Jogo has reported agreement on a three-year contract in the Algarve.
Nicolas Milesi declared himself “proud” to sign for Al Wahda with the Uruguayan midfielder happy to be playing for another big Middle East club following a successful spell with Saudi Arabia giants Al Hilal.
The 26-year-old central midfielder was officially unveiled at a press conference held at Al Nahyan Stadium on Monday, alongside fellow new Clarets recruits Al Hussain Saleh and Brazilian teenager Eduardo Voltan da Silva – better known as Dudu.
“It’s a very proud moment for me to be in this club,” said Milesi, who has signed on a 12-month loan deal from fellow UAE side Al Dhafra after notching one goal in 21 league appearances last term.
“It’s a challenge for me, to work hard and obtain the best for the club. I’m going to work hard and I’m proud to be here. I’m very happy.”
One-time Atletico Paranaense player Milesi left South America when he joined the Crescent in 2016, enjoying a trophy-laden two-year spell.
Milesi lifted back-to-back top-flight Saudi titles in 2016/17 and 2017/18, as well as the 2017 Kings Cup with Hilal, scoring six goals in 59 appearances.
He added: “I played in another big team in the Middle East with Hilal, I was champion twice there and one of the stars of a big team. For me to be here is a new challenge, because it’s a team that’s bigger than Dhafra.”
It was a busy day for the Abu Dhabi giants who also introduced new coach Maurice Steijn to waiting media – the 45-year-old Dutchman replaces compatriot Hen ten Cate, who left the club after a brief but successful five-month stint.
Ten Cate, who previously led capital city rivals Al Jazira to the Arabian Gulf League title in 2016/17, took Wahda to a third-place AGL finish and also led the club into the AFC Champions League knockout stages.
They take on 2018/19 Saudi Pro League champions Al Nassr early next month – the first time they will appear in the latter stages of the continental tournament since 2007, when they made it to the semi-finals.
Winger Saleh, 27, moves to Wahda from Dubai’s Al Nasr while diminutive forward Dudu, just 18, arrives from Sao Paulo’s Esporte Clube Sao Bernardo.
Al Wahda have opted for double Dutch in more ways than one by appointing Maurice Steijn as their new coach, replacing Henk ten Cate.
The 45-year-old Hague-born Steijn was officially unveiled as the Clarets’ new manager on Monday, taking over from celebrated compatriot Ten Cate. The veteran Dutchman led the Abu Dhabi club to a third-placed Arabian Gulf League finish last term, as well as the knockout stages of the AFC Champions League for the first time in 12 years during a brief but highly successful five months in charge after taking over from Laurentiu Reghecampf in December.
Steijn, 45, is almost two decades younger than the 64-year-old former Ajax boss Ten Cate. Even so, he admits a “special” relationship with his former manager led him to the Al Nahyan hotseat, while he also hopes to lean on the ex-Barcelona and Chelsea assistant for advice during the coming season.
“I was looking for a new challenge outside of Holland and this was a very beautiful opportunity with Al Wahda,” said Steijn during a press conference to announce his arrival held in the capital yesterday.
“I was contracted for two more years in Holland, but I wanted to make the next step.
“Mr Ten Cate called me two months ago. He was very positive about the club and I know the club want to work the same way as he did in the last five months, which was very successful for him.
“We talked about the club, the people, the way of playing. I know the people here like the Holland school.
“He only told me very good and positive things.”
Asked if Ten Cate – who coached Steijn at NAC Breda during the 2000/01 campaign – would be available to offer any advice during 2019/20, the former midfielder said he had always leaned on the advice of more experienced compatriots.
Despite his age, Steijn already has nearly a decade’s worth of experience coaching ADO Den Haag and VVV-Venlo in his homeland, taking over Den Haag aged just 37 in June 2011.
“I have always had a good relationship with Mr Ten Cate,” added Steijn.
“I was his player and he was following me the last 15 years as a coach. He prepared me for this role.
“I was a coach for the first time in Holland 10 years ago so I was a very young head coach.
“There were a lot of experienced coaches like (Dick) Advocaat and Ten Cate (in Holland). I would always talk with them about players, situations, everything, for me to be more experienced.
“That’s how you become a better coach, so I will be speaking to him this year.”
Unlike most new managerial appointments, Steijn is not entering a sedate, pre-season environment in which players will leisurely be limbering back up to peak condition.
Wahda are in ACL action against Saudi Professional League champions Al Nassr, travelling to Riyadh for August 6’s first leg of their round-of-16 tie. They then host them in Abu Dhabi a week later.
It is the first time the Clarets have featured in the continental showpiece’s latter stages since reaching the semi-finals in 2007, and Steijn is wasting no time in getting himself and his players prepared.
They were flying out to the Netherlands for a three-and-a-half week training camp on Monday night, he only arrived in the Emirates on Sunday, where they will play five friendly matches before returning home at the end of July, where they will play a final warm-up game.
“I know the difficulty of the programme, we have to play strong opponents, but it’s also a challenge,” added Steijn.
“Three-and-a-half weeks in Holland and 10 days here. The players are physically OK and we have five weeks to prepare them.
“I think we will be ready to play those games and I hope we will be successful but the most important thing is the players are fit, we have to develop our way of playing, we have to be together.
“I hope we will be ready because they are very important games for the club and the players. I’m looking forward to working with everybody in the club.
“It’s a very special day for me and I’m happy to be here. It’s the first time in 10 years for me coaching outside Holland and now I’m in Abu Dhabi. I want to thank the chairman and everybody in the club for the warm welcome, it feels like a family here.”
Steijn will have veteran Argentine striker and last year’s AGL top scorer Sebastian Tagliabue to call upon this season, while he will also be hoping the club retain Brazilian sensation Leonardo.
The future of wonderkid Yahya Al Ghassani remains uncertain as he is said to be in talks with two unnamed Bundesliga clubs, as well as the Premier League’s Burnley. The club announced versatile South Korea defender Rim Chang-woo signed a one-year contract extension this week.
Wahda also unveiled a trio of new signings alongside Steijn at Al Nahyan Stadium. Uruguayan centre midfielder Nicolas Milesi, 26, 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 Dudu, an 18-year-old whose full names is Eduardo Voltan da Silva, who joins from Sao Paulo’s Esporte Clube Sao Bernardo.