Trouble brewing as Abu Dhabi giants Al Wahda and Al Jazira collide over Mourad Batna transfer

Matt Jones 4/08/2019
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Batna pictured with Jazira CEO Ayed Mabkhout.

Abu Dhabi giants Al Wahda and Al Jazira appear to be on a collision course with the UAE Football Association over Moroccan playmaker Mourad Batna – who was officially unveiled as a Jazira player on Saturday, only for Wahda to claim he is still under contract with them.

The Pride of Abu Dhabi issued a press release on Saturday morning announcing the arrival of Batna, 29, on a free transfer. He spent two seasons across the UAE capital at Al Nahyan Stadium after his summer 2017 arrival – notching an excellent seven goals and eight assists in 20 Arabian Gulf League games during his debut 2017/18 campaign with the Clarets.

He scored eight goals last season despite only featuring 11 times as he and the club fell out. He featured in just four games in 2019.

Jazira’s unveiling of the talented forward provoked an angry response from Wahda on Saturday evening, with the club labelling the deal “invalid” and claiming Batna had extended his contract for another season at Al Nahyan.

Through a series of announcements on their Twitter feed, Wahda said: “Al Jazira Club announced on its official account with the signing of Moroccan player Mourad Batna.

“The Board of Directors of Al Wahda Football Club confirms that Mourad Batna is linked to a contract with Al Wahda Club and extends for the 2019/20 season and is registered in the Emirates Football Federation and that the club still has the player’s card.

Batna on his Wahda unveiling two summers ago - the club claim he remains under contract.

Batna on his Wahda unveiling two summers ago – the club claim he remains under contract.

“Thus, the signing of the player to Al Jazira Club is considered invalid and is contrary to the rules of the UAE Football Federation, where the player may not transfer to any club except with the consent of Al Wahda Club.

“The Board of Directors confirms that it will resort to the judiciary and the law to preserve its rights after the announcement of the contract with the player without agreement with Al Jazira and follow the proper procedures for the mechanism of negotiation and contracting.”

Batna was quoted in the statement released by Jazira as saying: “I am excited for my new journey with Al Jazira and am eager to join my new team-mates at the pre-season camp in Netherlands.

“I look forward to working with Jurgen Streppel and his coaching staff and playing good football with my new colleagues.

“Al Jazira has some of the best local and international players in their team with a world-class infrastructure and one of the best football academies in the region.

“I look forward to being part of the club’s commitment to compete at the highest level in all the games they play and I promise the fans to bring them joy through our performances.”

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Sebastian Tagliabue admits he still dreams of representing the UAE one day

Matt Jones 1/08/2019
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Sebastian Tagliabue admits he still dreams of representing the UAE at national team level after original hopes faded earlier this year.

Al Wahda striker Tagliabue refers to the Abu Dhabi club as “his second home in football” and he had been earmarked as a potential pick for the Whites’ Asian Cup squad in January, having become eligible for naturalisation last summer.

The 34-year-old Argentine was rumoured to be under consideration for a spot in then UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni’s squad for the tournament – held in the Emirates – along with Al Wasl’s Brazilian duo Fabio De Lima and Caio Canedo (now of Al Ain).

The trio had become available under FIFA rules, with Tagliabue a constant resident since he was purchased from Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab Riyadh in June 2013.

The Buenos Aires native overtook Asamoah Gyan as the Arabian Gulf League’s all-time top-scoring foreign player last year and was left upset at not being able to earn a UAE call-up – although he holds out hope it is still possible as he goes into his seventh AGL season.

“Yes, of course,” he told Sport360 when asked if he would accept an invitation were he to be approached by the UAE Football Association again.

The UAE reached the semi-finals of January's Asian Cup on home soil.

The UAE reached the semi-finals of January’s Asian Cup on home soil.

“How do I say no to the national team of this country? They’ve given me everything. My youngest son is eight-years-old and 90 per cent of his life he has lived here.

“Of course if, I can help now or in six months I have the opportunity in my football career. I will take it and try to help the country.”

The last thing Tagliabue was told was, “everything is ready” for him to earn a cap for his adopted nation, but after he’d completed a medical and filled in all the relevant paperwork, he never heard another word from anyone in authority, which he said was the most disappointing aspect.

“The last words I knew was that ‘everything is ready, we have all the papers, we will give them to the president’,” said the man referred to affectionately by Clarets fans as ‘Tigali’.

“After that nobody called me again, the Asian Cup was gone and nobody spoke with me again. But believe me it was something I wanted to do.

“I don’t know what happened with the other players – Caio and De Lima – but what happened with me is they wanted to give me the passport to play the Asian Cup. It was especially for the Asian Cup.

“I don’t know what happened with this and the guy who spoke with me. I already did the blood test, the check-up, I signed some papers and what I knew [is that] they gave all the papers to the president of the country and after that I didn’t know anything.

Sebastian Tagliabue had been hoping to link up with Wahda colleague Ismail Matar for the Asian Cup.

Sebastian Tagliabue had been hoping to link up with Wahda colleague Ismail Matar for the Asian Cup.

“I think the president said ‘no’, I don’t know. Maybe they didn’t give (the papers), maybe something happened in the middle and they decided no, and the president didn’t say anything or the paper didn’t reach him.”

The UAE, chastised for playing dull, uninspiring football under former AC Milan coach Zaccheroni, ended up reaching the semi-finals of the tournament, where they lost to eventual champions Qatar.

Tagliabue added: “In the beginning I never expect that. For that I was not angry when I didn’t get it. My (reason for being) upset was, if you come to me and offer me something, come to me after and say ‘sorry, it’s not possible’ and I will say ‘thank you so much for thinking of me’. For even giving me the chance to dream of that.

“From the beginning I knew maybe 70/80 per cent it was not possible. Some people work like this, but I don’t accept that. I’m not like this. But it’s OK. It was an amazing time and a nice dream.”

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Ivan Leko encouraged by Al Ain's pre-season but will have better idea of his squad when complete

Matt Jones 31/07/2019
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Caio Canedo is the headline arrival for Al Ain this summer.

Al Ain coach Ivan Leko has been encouraged by his side’s efforts and performances in pre-season so far, although the Croat knows he will not gain a complete perspective of his squad until every player is available.

The Boss drew 0-0 with Saudi Pro League side Al Fateh in Slovenia on Tuesday in what the former Club Brugge boss has described as a beneficial summer – even though it has been disrupted by playing only two games thus far as their second was abandoned due to cold weather.

Algerian winger Abderrahmane Meziane and Togo forward Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba made their first appearances for the club, but have only been with their new team-mates for a matter of days.

And Leko confirmed that the players must continue to work during this crucial period of preparation ahead of the new season.

“More training is needed to achieve the required level of togetherness,” said Leko, who replaced Juan Carols Garrido, the Spaniard struggling after the departure of Zoran Mamic midway through last season.

“The main objective of the friendly matches is to see how players apply for training in such confrontations and I have felt good returns from everyone.

“It is certain that the lack of international players joining the start of the preparation period, in addition to Laba and Meziane only joining a few days ago, is a factor that leads us to redouble our efforts. Because our actual training begins when the team is complete.

“And we will work together in a strong and serious way to achieve our goals in the new season.”

Veteran defender Ismail Ahmed, meanwhile, is similarly encouraged by what he has seen in camp and during the games so far.

“We came out with the desired gains from the friendly,” said the UAE international, who celebrated his 36th birthday at the beginning of July.

“The game was good and gave everyone a good boost, especially as the second friendly match was not completed due to weather conditions accompanied by cold weather. The encounter was both technical and physical.

“I would like to thank all my colleagues and the coach and I wish success to all of us in achieving the required gains during this important stage of preparation for the new season.

“I believe that the team’s performance indicators are positive so far and by the end of the pre-season period, I hope that the team reaches the required readiness for the new season ahead.”

Leko has a big task ahead of him as the Boss look to arrest the slide that set in last term, resulting in a fourth-placed finish in the Arabian Gulf League and a group stage exit from the AFC Champions League.

But the summer has been positive in terms of business – with prolific Brazilian forward Caio Canedo the standout acquisition from fellow UAE side Al Wasl.

Both Laba and Meziane were pursued by Egyptian titans Al Ahly, while midfielders Mohamed Jamal and Mohammed Helal have joined from of Al Jazira and Ajman respectively.

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