Sebastian Tagliabue believes exciting young Al Wahda attacker Yahya Al Ghassani has the ability to play for Portuguese giants Porto or Benfica – but stressed how key it is for him to fully prove himself in the UAE first.
Argentine striker Tagliabue was hugely impressed by the 21-year-old last season at Al Nahyan Stadium. He had floated around several Arabian Gulf League clubs before signing a one-year deal with the Clarets ahead of the 2018/19 season, impressing so much he instantly earned an extension until 2023 after just a handful of games.
It has led to widespread speculation of a move this summer, with several Bundesliga and Premier League sides registering their interest in the winger.
Veteran forward Tagliabue says that while Al Ghassani might well yearn to reach the top level sooner rather than later, he must fully develop his skill-set and establish himself as a force in the AGL – Al Ghassani’s second half of last season was pockmarked by injury.
When asked if he would advise Al Ghassani to remain with the Abu Dhabi club for one more year, Tagliabue told Sport360: “No, for Yahya, two more years, minimum. Because this year he has to take his confidence and go forward.
“Last season he spent six months injured so this year he will try to play without getting injured. This year is a transitional year for him. Then, if nothing happens, he’ll need one more year to be brave and strong and then he can try to move to a higher level.
“I think everything is coming at the right time for him. If he gets injured now, like last season, he will learn about the injuries and how to come back, to recover, that’s what he learnt last season.
“If the possibility comes again in two years to go to the Premier League or Bundesliga, or Spain, he will be right.”
Technically gifted and possessing bags of pace, Al Ghassani netted a debut goal in a 6-2 thrashing of Ittihad Kalba on the opening day of the AGL season last August and went on to make 24 appearances in total. However, a recurring hamstring problem in the second half of the campaign limited him to just seven matches in 2019.
Current Wahda and UAE defender Hamdan Al Kamali was the last high-profile player from the club to move to Europe, signing a six-month loan deal with Ligue 1 giants Lyon in January 2012, when he was 22.
It didn’t work out for the centre-back, who failed to make an appearance and was subsequently loaned to Maltese side Valletta the following season where he scored two goals in 28 league appearances before returning home.
Despite advising him to stay put for now, however, Tagliabue is confident Al Ghassani has the talent to shine at a top team in a lower profile European league, or at a smaller team in Spain, England, Germany or Italy.
“It’s difficult to say,” said Tagliabue when asked what level his young team-mate can play at.
“But I think he could play in a normal team in Spain. Not Atletico Madrid, not Sevilla. But a little lower or maybe a big team in Portugal; Porto, Benfica, Sporting Lisbon.
“But he has to show a high level. If you speak seriously we have never seen the highest level of Yahya here yet. But a smaller or middle team in a top league like England or a big team in a lower league, like Portugal, let’s say Holland. It could be both.
“In this kind of country he could play in a good team because he has the quality. In Spain, England, Italy, Germany it would be a small team.”
Breaking down barriers is already nothing new to Al Ghassani, born to an Emirati mother and a father who holds Tanzanian and Omani passports, he made history by becoming the first son of a non-Emirati father to play in the AGL outside the four-man quota reserved for foreigners last term.
⚽️ 31/8 Yahya Al Ghassani scores on his #AGLeague debut— Arabian Gulf League (@AGLeague_EN) September 9, 2018
✍️ 8/9 Al Ghassani renews his contract with @AlWahdaFCC
⚽️ 9/9 Al Ghassani scores on his first start at the #AGCup
But Tagliabue – who is himself going into his seventh season with the Clarets following a 2013 move from Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab Riyadh – insists consistency and patience are key.
“In the beginning I say to him, when I first heard about this and when he first came to the club, it’s good to play here two or three years and then you can try and go somewhere else,” said the 34-year-old, who overtook Ghana icon Asamoah Gyan as the AGL’s top-scoring foreign player ever last season.
“You have to feel and show yourself that you can play somewhere two-three years at a high level. It will give you the confidence to play away. But if you always try to move, it’s not good for you.
“At the same time if he goes to train with players at a much higher level, he will grow up. He’s a very good player but I told him he has to play in order to become a complete player.
“He has good skills, speed, a lot of good things but he has to do it consistently. The last six months he had a few injuries but he is doing really good things and this year I think he will be really good.”
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