Few clubs across Asia last term boasted a greater disparity than Al Nasr between the awe-inspiring venue they called home and the sorry side that floundered in it.
Not even the flood of goals from ex-Manchester City striker Alvaro Negredo could hide a litany of sins which witnessed the Blue Wave crash into an unseemly eighth spot in the 2018/19 Arabian Gulf League. A lowest finish since 2009/10, incongruously, came at the same time they introduced a new architectural wonder to Dubai’s skyline.
The sublime upgrade for January 2019’s Asian Cup transformed their dilapidated arena into the Middle East’s version of Bayern Munich’s iconic Allianz Arena. Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette and the rest of Arsenal’s travelling party provided apt opponents in March’s official opening.
A grand home then, but one without a requisite star name to regularly grace it.
This is where celebrated UAE playmaker Omar Abdulrahman and his tumultuous summer come into the picture. Rare opportunity knocks for an emboldened Nasr to nab a refined footballer, truly befitting of their grandiose home.
As games of brinkmanship go, this week’s reputed squeeze attempt by Amoory’s camp on exasperated employers Al Hilal will not go down as a classic.
Amid claim and counter-claim from both sides, the only tangible fact is that the Emirates’ best player from a ‘Golden Generation’ is presently set to, for the second-successive pre-season, become a free agent next month.
Hilal’s Saudi Professional League rivals Al Ahli Jeddah are reported to have prepared an alluring Dh40 million deal. Closer to home, competition for former side Al Ain is expected to arrive from Al Jazira and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club.
Nasr have, to date, been conspicuous by their absence within Arabian football circles.
No matter the venom in Hilal’s weekend statement that alleged mendacious behaviour, eventual rapprochement cannot be ruled out. Such is the pull of the 2016 AFC Player of the Year’s boyhood team.
This does not mean, however, that the Blue Wave are incapable of offering an enticing package.
Dubai is in desperate need of a sporting icon it can call its own. Forget the constant flood of illustrious visitors, from Roger Federer to Anthony Joshua and beyond, few other truly global cities are without one in permanent residence.
Amoory’s pull in the Arabian Gulf saw “Amoory matlab ya Bin Nafil” (Amoory new contract from Hilal president Fahad bin Nafil) become the number one trending topic on Saudi Arabian Twitter on Monday.
Transport the fervour to Dubai and the Al Maktoum will be lifted. This vibe could help lift an entire division.
AGL organisers, the Pro League Committee, have put concerted work into raising falling attendances and waning interest. Amoory’s presence in Dubai would be a welcome boon.
Amoory’s appeal for Nasr is obvious. It is less so when this scenario is flipped.
But there may also be legitimate doubts that cause hesitancy from the region’s biggest hitters and AFC Champions League participants in securing his signature.
Only one goal and one assist in five SPL games were notched by Amoory, prior to October’s devastating anterior cruciate ligament tear.
Full fitness from the latest in a long line of serious knee problems was also only confirmed late last week. From there, shenanigans began with Hilal.
Nasr appear to have recruited sensibly in this summer transfer window.
Colo-Colo’s Esteban Pavez helped anchor Chile’s midfield at the 2019 Copa America. Portuguese free agent Toze struck nine goals and three assists from attacking midfield for Portugal’s Vitoria Guimaraes, plus winger Brandley Kuwas reached double digits for both at the Eredivisie’s Heracles Almelo.
Amoory would turn a solid recruitment drive into a sensational one. He’d also make the Al Maktoum a sporting landmark, rather than just a resplendent example of landmark design.
Al Jazira have commenced their preparations for the upcoming season after departing for the Netherlands on their summer training camp on Saturday morning.
The club flew from Abu Dhabi International Airport to Amsterdam, from where they will travel to Wageningen to set up camp until July 31. They will then travel to Oosterbeek before concluding their camp on August 9.
It is the second consecutive year that Jazira will tour the Netherlands and the camp is expected to play an important part for the team to build on their fitness and work on tactical strategies ahead of the start of the new Arabian Gulf League season.
Fares Jumaa, Sebastien Siani, Saif Khalfan and new signing Sultan Al Ghaferi were among the first-team players that travelled to Europe. The prolific Brazilian striker Keno, who was signed on a loan from the Egyptian club Pyramids FC, will join the team directly at the camp.
Eight first-team players including club captain Ali Khaseif, prolific striker Ali Mabkhout and exciting playmaker Khalfan Mubarak will join the team on July 22 after wrapping up their international duty with the UAE national team.
Five academy players are also travelling with the first team players who will make up the 27-man squad in the Netherlands.
The players will be aiming to step up their fitness after undertaking medical tests back in the UAE capital following the summer break and return to pre-season.
The summer camp will provide another opportunity for new head coach Jurgen Streppel to assess his new players and work on tactics with the club set to play a number of friendlies.
The Pride of Abu Dhabi will play friendly matches during the three-week camp, which will end on August 10 before flying back to Abu Dhabi.
Jazira kick off their 2019/20 season in August when they face promoted Khorfakkan in the Arabian Gulf Cup on August 22. The Pride of Abu Dhabi will then open their AGL campaign against Al Dhafra on September 19.
Despite having recently celebrated his 36th birthday and enduring a torrid 2018/19 campaign, both individually and collectively, Ismail Ahmed admits he has “tremendous enthusiasm” to help Al Ain win more trophies.
The veteran UAE centre-back regressed badly last season as the years appeared to catch up with both him and his Boss centre-back partner Mohanad Salem. Individual errors became prevalent in their performances – particularly Ahmed, whose lowest ebb came when he suffered the ignominy of being sent off for elbowing an opponent in the UAE’s Asian Cup semi-final defeat in January.
At club level there was the high of reaching December’s FIFA Club World Cup final on home soil, where the Boss were beaten by Spanish giants Real Madrid 4-1 in the final in Abu Dhabi.
But the domestic campaign ended in failure as Al Ain slumped to a fourth-placed finish. They failed to emerge from the AFC Champions League group stage for the first time since 2013 and have to negotiate a play-off to qualify for next year’s tournament – fail and it would be the first time in eight years they won’t have qualified for the continental tournament.
But Ahmed – who has lifted two Arabian Gulf League titles, two President’s Cups, two UAE Super Cups and one Arabian Gulf Cup, not to mention been to one Champions League final and one semi-final in his 11 years with the club – is confident going forward.
“Let me thank the Al Ain fans for their continued support of me and strong support for the team in all circumstances,” said the man who turned 36 earlier this month.
“I am proud to be part of this Al Ain family, I have sincere love for this great club.
“I lived happy moments and contributed to the championships and numerous achievements and I have also lived as well with my team in difficult circumstances during the 11 years I spent at the club.
“None of these moments can fall out of my memory. I have a tremendous enthusiasm to contribute with my team to win more tournaments.”
The Morocco-born defender, who arrived in the Garden City in 2008, was curiously offered a lengthy new deal in September last year, extending his contract until 2024, although Ahmed revealed he has taking initial steps into coaching by obtaining his AFC coaches’ C licence.
He added: “I entered on the advice of close friends. I have great ambitions and am committed to the journey in the world of football even after my retirement as a player.”
Despite their escapades at the Club World Cup, 2018/19 was a disruptive season for Al Ain and AGL sides, with the league starting in the baking August heat in order to accommodate both that and the Asian Cup.
The Boss went into a tailspin after their Los Blancos meeting, winning just five of their ensuing 21 in all competitions. Former Villarreal and Real Betis manager Juan Carlos Garrido was unable to arrest a slide that began with talisman Omar Abdulrahman’s defection to Al Hilal last summer, with coach Zoran Mamic soon following suit. Al Ain’s season seemed doomed from the start.
“Certainly the success and the circumstances that accompanied the team and the lack of technical stability and injury factor was one of the reasons that made it difficult for us to appear at a good level locally and continental,” said Ahmed.
“But we defended the name of the club honorably in the Club World Cup. Criticism does not infuriate me at all because I see perspective so I am working to modify my status and improve my level, especially for the fans.
“Always the defensive line are responsible for mistakes, and there are those who are critical of us. But I wish to reconcile in the upcoming season and hope we can achieve the aspirations of the club and the happiness of the fans.”
Despite their woes last term, new boss Ivan Leko has got off to a bright start this summer with a number of eye-catching moves in the transfer market.
Algerian winger Abderrahmane Meziane and highly-rated Togo forward Kodjo Fo-Doh have joined Dh25-million rated forward Caio Canedo, impressively acquired from fellow AGL side Al Wasl. Domestically, talented midfielder Mohamed Jamal has been snapped up from Al Jazira while Mohammed Helal joins from Ajman.
The club are currently on a pre-season camp in Austria where Ahmed says he has been encouraged by the Boss’ bright start to the summer.
“Al Ain, in every season, seeks to provide strong levels of competition for all tournaments, whatever the circumstances experienced by the team the previous season.
“Today we are in an excellent position with the players signing new contracts and the deals concluded to strengthen the team. Certainly the team cannot stand on one player or two or even five alone.”