Al Shaab grab Zemmama

The standard of domestic football in the UAE increases in credibility as the Moroccan Merouane Zemmama may join the country's new professional league.

Football - Stock 06/07 , 1/4/07
Merouane Zemmama - Hibernian 
Mandatory Credit: Action Images / Lee Smith
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The standard of domestic football in the UAE increased its stockpile of credibility yesterday when it emerged that the Brazil striker Rafael Sobis is likely to be joined by Morocco's Merouane Zemmama in the country's new professional league. Sobis, who has won 10 caps and a bronze medal at the Beijing Olympic Games, arrived in Abu Dhabi yesterday morning to finalise his Dh65m move from Spanish side Real Betis. He is understood to have passed a medical yesterday.

The Betis sporting director Manolo Momparlet said no transfer had been agreed yesterday, despite Sobis's arrival in the UAE. He is expected to sign a five-year contract with Jazira, and could train with his new teammates for the first time tonight. Sobis joins Fernando Baiano in the Jazira squad after being enticed to the club by their Brazilian head coach Abel Braga, who coached the player at Internacional before Sobis joined Betis.

Baiano scored as Al Jazira beat Bani Yas 3-2 in a low-key friendly on Wednesday. As Sobis arrived in Abu Dhabi, it also emerged that the young Moroccan attacking midfielder Zemmama is on his way to Sharjah to play for Al Shaab. Zemmama, 24, has been granted a year's loan by the Scottish Premier League club Hibernian on compassionate grounds after his pregnant wife was refused a visa to the UK due to her age.

The player's wife, Zineb, is 17, but will be 18 when his agreement with Al Shaab expires, allowing him to return to Hibs, where he has three years left of his present contract. A Hibernian spokesman has confirmed that a deal has been agreed with Al Shaab. "I am grateful to the manager and the board for what they are doing," Zemmama told the club's website. "I will give everyone my personal thanks on Monday. I know as well the support that is there for me from the Hibs fans.

"They have always been very good to me since I first came to Hibernian, and now they are being very understanding of my situation and we are both very grateful for the best wishes they are sending." Zemmama has been a prominent figure for Hibernian over the past two years, playing 52 times and scoring eight goals. He was suspended from playing for his country for two years after joining Hibs from Raja Casablanca in 2006.

Casablanca lodged a complaint with Fifa over the legality of the contract but, despite the transfer being ratified, the ban was enforced. The Hibernian manager Mixu Paatelainen hopes Zemmama can improve during his time in the UAE league. He said: "Merouane has three years of his contract to run with us but, because of his family situation, we did feel it best to allow him to move out on loan. We want to support our players on and off the field, and the situation Zouma finds himself in is quite a difficult one.

"It will be a chance for him to stay with his family and hopefully he and his family will come to Edinburgh later. I would of course rather have kept him here because he is a big player for us and a good footballer, but this I think is the best answer for everyone." UAE clubs have not been slow in signing a higher calibre of player over the close season with Mohammed Kallon also joining Shaab, and the Chilean striker Jorge Luis Valdivia has agreed a contract with Al Ain.

But Al Ain have released the Gambian striker Osman Jalo, who will relaunch his career in Europe with the Danish side Brondby. @Email:dkane@thenational.ae