Exasperated 2015 AFC Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil is considering making an exit from Al Ahli after they failed to instigate official talks to renew his rapidly-expiring contract, with teams from Europe and the Arabian Gulf League monitoring the situation.
Khalil, 25, has just nine months left on the deal which ties him to his boyhood club.
Repeat overtures to extend have been met with a non-committal response from the Red Knights hierarchy. They have also forced the star – who has struck 110 times for them in 227 games since his 2006 debut – to further question his future by signing fellow striker Asamoah Gyan plus taking the captain’s armband from him and bestowing it to Lima.
This attitude has dumbfounded the player, who made history last year by becoming the first Emirati to be named the continent’s finest after performing a pivotal role in the run to the 2015 AFC Champions League final.
His glittering form for club and country has not gone unnoticed elsewhere, with a long list of admirers forming ahead of a potential free transfer next summer. These include bitter rivals Al Ain and Al Jazira in the UAE.
But most intriguing for Khalil is the lengthy list of foreign suitors. Interest abroad has come from the La Liga trio of Deportivo La Coruna, Granada and Espanyol – where ex-Ahli boss Quique Sanchez Flores is in situ.
Serie A’s Fiorentina and Primeira Liga giants Benfica have also expressed a desire to recruit Khalil, who is fascinated by the prospect of becoming the first footballer from the UAE to secure a permanent move to a major European competition.
The forward, who with 14 goals is joint-top scorer in the AFC World Cup qualifying process for Russia 2018, is prepared to consider making a financial sacrifice to force through any groundbreaking move to football’s traditional heartland. He also feels that he is now at the optimum age to head west.
Despite this desire, the option of remaining at Rashid Stadium has not been excluded. It is only the expressed attitude to delay potential discussions until early 2017 that has made him feel unwanted.
Reports in the Arabic press that a demand has been made to be paid Dh21 million per annum are incorrect. But if he was to sign up once again, his elite standing with the national team necessitates remuneration in line with the likes of Al Ain icon Omar Abdulrahman and Al Jazira hot shot Ali Mabkhout would need to be offered.
Khalil has won three AGL titles at Ahli, plus a pair of President’s Cups and Arabian Gulf Cups.
Al Ain’s 11-year wait to return to the AFC Champions League final is over after brothers Omar and Mohamed Abdulrahman struck during a breathless 5-3 aggregate victory against dogged Qataris El Jaish.
With a 3-1 first-leg advantage in hand, the peerless Amoory’s composed effort prior to the hour mark appeared to be sending the Boss back into Asia’s showpiece event at a canter. But a double from dangerous Brazilian forward Romarinho – a thorn in their side from both Group D-defeats – cranked up the pressure at Doha’s Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium.
Sibling Mohamed Abdulrahman then rose from the bench to smash home at the second attempt deep into injury-time, securing a meeting with South Koreans Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors or FC Seoul next month.
A brave tactical change by coach Zlatko Dalic –who appeared utterly drained in his post-match press conference – gained full reward and he will now plot to better the chasing given to his club by Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad in 2005.
“Mabrook to all Ainawy and for the final,” the overjoyed Croatian said. “Hard luck to El Jaish, they fought until the last minute.
“We had control in the first half. We had changed our tactic because El Jaish needed to score a quick goal.
“Now we have to be ready for this game. Another big team awaits us from South Korea.
“But tonight we will enjoy our success and tomorrow we will think about that game.”
Opposite number Sabri Lamouchi was both gracious and grateful in defeat, praising a squad who had far exceeded a previous club-best run to the round of 16.
He said: “First of all I want to congratulate my players because they did a great, great job – we saw the small details in experience and quality.
“It was a great adventure in the AFC Champions League. We made a great job and now I want to congratulate Al Ain and say good luck for the final.
“All the Gulf is behind you.”
The first shock of the night came when the teams were announced for this semi-final decider. Out went red-hot Boss centre forward Douglas and the usual 4-2-3-1 formation, with superstar playmaker Omar Abdulrahman deployed as an unforeseen ‘false nine’ in a 4-3-3.
Al Ain were set-up to do more with less possession and erratic Colombian winger Danilo Asprilla twice forced excellent low saves when played in from Qatar goalkeeper Khalifa Ababacar, who was determined to make up for his crucial late error in last month’s opening skirmish.
The breakthrough finally came on 57 minutes. It was apt the outstanding Omar Abdulrahman was the man to force it, placing home when given time in the penalty box by Caio’s cute pass at the end of a rapid counter-attack.
His effort made it 4-1 on aggregate and put the 2003 winners firmly on track for a meeting with East Asia’s finest.
Yet a bumpy road lay ahead. Romarinho’s deflected shot soon found the bottom corner, before a cleanly-hit effort found the same spot to make it 4-3 with 10 minutes left.
Despite the tension, the next goal was to come at the other end. Replacement Mohamed Abdulrahman was present to fire in his own rebound at the death, making it 2-2 on the night and sealing a third outing in Asia’s premier fixture.
Adventurous midfielder Song Jin-hyung has revealed a continuing desire “to play across the world” was the catalyst behind his switch to Sharjah.
Song, 29, signed up with the King last month. This decision to swap Jeju United in his native South Korea for a stint in the Arabian Gulf League has seen him play professional football in a fourth different country, after previous stints at Australia’s Newcastle Jets and France’s Tours FC.
Speaking after Saturday’s dispiriting 3-0 loss at rampant Al Jazira, the three-times-capped Taegeuk Warrior expanded on the wanderlust which has been ever-present during his career.
He said: “I was really interested in the UAE. I am nearly 30-years old now and I am looking to play across the world.
“I like playing in different leagues, that is why I am here now. It is all different, especially the weather. Religion and life are different, but I have to adapt to their life.
“At the moment, I am just adapting.”
A familiar face was present during the chastening loss at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, with countryman Park Jong-woo manning the Pride of Abu Dhabi midfield.
“It is always good to play against Koreans,” Song said. “I was very happy to play against him. We shook hands and talked about life in the UAE.”
Fellow new boys Gelmin Rivas and Jamal Maroof missed a litany of chances as Sharjah fell to a second AGL loss in three games. Song was aware the conversion rate must go up if his new side are to excel.
He said: “We had good chances, in both the first and second halves. But we didn’t score. This result was really disappointing, but we just keep going. If we start scoring goals, we can go up very quickly.”