Al Nasr start over, Al Wasl keen to maintain status quo: Examining the AGL off-season
Ahead of the 2015/16 Arabian Gulf League season, John McAuley examines the remaining 10 clubs and addresses where they can improve for the new campaign.
The UAE’s cup specialists have set their sights on dominating the Arabian Gulf League, too. Nasr’s 2014/15 campaign concluded in inspired fashion, when they added the President’s Cup crown to the Arabian Gulf Cup trophy they secured in January.
A first league title in 30 years now forms their focus and, subsequently, they are seeking upgrades on Brett Holman, Ibrahima Toure, Renan Garcia and Pablo Hernandez. Holman has gone to Emirates and will be replaced by Luis Jimenez from Al Ahli, while Marquinho, the Roma midfielder, will supplant Hernandez.
Meanwhile, Nasr have openly cited interest in Copa America stars Edgar Benitez, of Paraguay, and Uruguay’s Cristian Rodriguez.
An inauspicious start to last season gave way to a fantastic finish, as the Dubai club came home in sixth — their best result in five years. Gabriel Calderon has been an unqualified success since replacing Jorginho, with his Brazil-born trio of Caio, Fabio Lima and Ederson scoring 46 of the side’s 53 league goals. Predictably, Wasl are trying to retain the three players.
Lima is confirmed — he completes the second year of his loan deal — while the club are attempting to make permanent the transfers of Caio and Ederson. Should Wasl fail, Racing Club’s Colombian striker Wason Renteria and Lazio’s Argentine-Italian midfielder Cristian Ledesma are potential targets. Crucially, Portuguese playmaker Hugo Viana has extended his stay.
The Abu Dhabi club appear determined to improve on last season’s eighth-place finish and have already secured the services of Mark Milligan, the talented Australian, on a two-year deal from Melbourne Victory.
He should mark the first of a number of changes to Baniyas’ foreign roster, with a bold move for the mercurial Brazilian forward Robinho in the works.
Forwards Denis Stracqualursi and Imad Khalili have made way, as has Spanish defender Angel Dealbert. The club will decided on Spanish midfielder Joan Verdu’s future once negotiations for possible signings are concluded. At present, Baniyas are thought to have approached NAC Breda’s Dutch-Moroccan winger Adnane Tighadouini, and are considering another bid for Al Dhafra’s Makhete Diop, who scored 12 AGL goals last season.
Just like the past few years, the overachieving Dubai club expect minimal change this summer. Carlos Villanueva, Azizbek Haydarov and Henrique Luvannor remain at the club, although Brazilian forward Edgar Bruno has departed following a relatively barren campaign.
Shabab have expressed an interest in Al Nasr’s Ibrahima Toure — a tall, powerful forward in the same mould as Edgar Bruno — as they attempt to emulate last season’s third-place finish, which guaranteed qualification for the Asian Champions League preliminaries.
That should prompt the club board into action, with an expert striker the top priority. Given their contacts in Brazil, Caio Junior could have another compatriot to integrate into his team. As always, Shabab will also aim to promote talented local players from their reserve side.
Last season was one of consolidation on the club’s return to the Arabian Gulf League. Captain Madjid Bougherra has extended his contract for another year, while they seem set to offload Bougherra’s Algerian teammate Karim Ziani and Lebanese midfielder Hassan Maatouk. Striker Boubacar Sanogo was not retained. Fujairah have been linked with Guingamp’s French striker Christophe Mandanne and former Al Ain forward Juma Saeed.
The Ras Al Khaimah side struggled to 10th last season, so have quickly set about improving the squad with the fine acquisition of Australian midfielder Brett Holman, who spent the last two seasons at Al Nasr. Luiz Henrique, Alexandro da Silva and Shin Jin-ho have been released. Emirates were considering former Al Ain forward Jires Kembo Ekoko and ex-Shabab man Edgar Bruno, but have shifted focus to other targets, placing a premium on players with AGL experience.
Judging by their earlier interest in Sevilla’s ex-Real Madrid and Arsenal winger Jose Antonio Reyes, the Western Region club have grand designs. Makhete Diop remains one of the league’s most potent strikers, who Dhafra desperately want to keep despite numerous offers. They recruited Argentine midfielder Jorge Luna earlier this month, while Youssef Kaddioui and Bilal Najjarine were released. Iraqi youngster Humam Tariq has returned to Al Ahli.
The five-time UAE champions have struggled recently, but in Wanderley they possess one of the league’s most effective strikers. He and Brazilian compatriot Mauricio Ramos — Ramos now qualifies as Palestinian — remain, although Marion Silva and Rodriguinho have been let go. As always, Sharjah are targeting Brazilians, with Atletico Mineiro’s Maxwell Regnaldo and Recife’s Francisco Rithely linked.
Dibba al Fujairah
Last season’s Division One champions will need to be smart in the transfer market this summer should they have any hope of prolonging their stay in the Arabian Gulf League. Sergio Alexandre, the Brazilian with a number of UAE clubs on his CV, has been appointed as coach. A move for Watford’s Nigerian forward Odion Ighalo, who scored 20 second-tier goals in England last season, was mooted last month.
The division’s other new boys moved relatively quickly to install Egyptian coach Tarek El Ashry as Eid Baroot’s successor. He will want to stamp his authority on the side. For now, top scorer Michael N’dri of France remains at the club for a fourth season following his role in helping seal promotion. However, the vastly experienced Simon Feindouno has been released, which could prove ill-advised.
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Published: June 25, 2015 04:00 AM