ABU DHABI // At age 21, Manuel Lanzini is poised to become the youngest foreign player to play in the Arabian Gulf League.
The Argentinian midfielder, nicknamed "La Joya" (the jewel), on Sunday night was officially unveiled as Al Jazira's new signing. He replaces Abdelaziz Barrada, the Moroccan international, who moved to the French club Marseille.
Lanzini joined his new team in their camp in Switzerland two weeks ago, played in two friendlies and scored once. He now forms a part of coach Eric Gerets’s lineup alongside summer signings Mirko Vucinic of Montenegro and Jonathan Pitroipa of Burkina Faso. Jucilie da Silva, the Brazilian who has obtained Palestine citizenship, completes Jazira’s foreign quartet.
“I am very happy to be in the Emirates with my new club,” he said when at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium. “The club officials and my new teammates made my stay very comfortable during the camp. I want to do my best to achieve the goals and ambitions of my new club.
“At the camp and playing in the two friendlies, I felt I was with a strong team with a lot of quality. The coach gave me a lot of confidence. I hope to transform that into a high level result for the team.”
Lanzini made his professional debut at 17 for River Plate and spent the 2011/2012 season on loan at the Brazilian club Fluminense,where he played for former Jazira coach Abel Braga.
His name was linked with several leading clubs, including Tottenham Hotspurs, Besiktas, Lazio, and Villareal. But the youngster characterized a move to Jazira on a four-year deal as a “big step forward” in his career.
He was handed the No 10 shirt he wore for River Plate and considers “lucky”.
“It is a special feeling to receive the No 10 shirt, but with that comes responsibility,” he said.
Mohammed Salim Al Enazi, Jazira’s team manager, earmarked the player as a long-term prospect for the club.
“In him, the club has invested in the future,” the former UAE international said.
“When the club had to find a replacement for Barrada, they looked to sign a player with a long-term plan. Manuel has already impressed us in the camp and we would like to achieve success through him.”
Lanzini may have to play the main role in the absence of Vucinic and Pitroipa, both called up for national duties, in tonight’s IPIC Cup opener against Bahraini league champions Al Riffa at Jazira’s home venue.
Vucinic was called up for Montenegro’s European qualifier against Moldova on September 8, while Pitroipa was included in Burkina Faso’s squad for the African Nations Cup qualifiers next week. “There is not much to prove for Manuel in these friendlies, but this is an opportunity for him to prove his potential to the fans,” Al Enazi said.
The IPIC Cup is a three-team friendly tournament that also includes the Asian Champions League semi-finalist Western Sydney Wanderers.
“It is an important competition, as all three teams will be taking these games as a final preparation for next week’s matches in the domestic leagues and the ACL,” Al Enazi said.
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