Asamoah Gyan, Amer Abdulrahman, Al Jazira: The big questions before the AGL season
As the Arabian Gulf League prepares to return on Friday night, John McAuley assesses some of the talking points ahead of the start of the action.
Can Gyan recapture Al Ain form with Al Ahli?
The summer’s biggest surprise arrived right at its conclusion. Asamoah Gyan, the goal-guarantor Ghanaian who was a hero for Al Ain, rocked up at bitter rivals Al Ahli on a season-long loan from Chinese Super League side Shanghai SIPG. Dust now settled, it remains unclear if he can rediscover his old touch.
In four seasons at Al Ain, Gyan scored 128 goals in 123 matches, including 95 in 83 Arabian Gulf Leagues (AGL) games to shoot the club to three league titles. He also secured three Golden Boot awards.
However, Gyan struggled in his final season, then again in China, where injuries restricted him to seven goals in 20 appearances.
Already off the mark at Ahli – ironically against Al Ain in the Arabian Gulf Cup – how Gyan fares will be one of the campaign’s most intriguing storylines.
Which Amer Abdulrahman have Al Ain signed?
If Asamoah Gyan was the off-season’s major foreign recruit, then Amer Abdulrahman’s switch from Baniyas to Al Ain represented its Emirati equivalent.
Yet the midfielder, long considered one of the UAE’s prized assets, now faces a significant test of his talent.
In recent seasons, Abdulrahman has failed to live up to his billing, his previously typical poise in possession not as obvious.
It is hoped a transfer to one of the league’s heavyweight clubs can stop the stagnation, although initial signs have not been great.
Abdulrahman was poor in both legs of the Asian Champions League quarter-final against Lokomotiv Tashkent, while he was a shadow of his former self in the World Cup qualifier with Australia. Vast improvement is required.
What Al Jazira will we see this year?
Tipped for a title challenge last season after finishing runners-up the previous campaign, Jazira were nowhere near that.
Undercooked and ill prepared by the returning Abel Braga, by the time Henk ten Cate was appointed in December to replace the dismissed Brazilian, the Abu Dhabi club were staring at a relegation battle.
However, Ten Cate lifted standards and morale for the club to finish seventh and also clinch the President’s Cup crown.
This season they need to make good on last summer’s target. Yet there remain real question marks regarding their foreign contingent, with only Jefferson Farfan and new signing Mbark Boussoufa guaranteed a place.
Al Hilal’s Salman Al Faraj is close to joining, while a replacement for the still-absent Mirko Vucinic would spark them.
Who can upset the ‘Big Two’?
Should Al Jazira sort their squad, then they could perhaps be considered a realistic rival to champions Al Ahli and last year’s runners-up Al Ain.
Those two represent easily the country’s most talented sides, stocked with UAE internationals and some of the league’s best foreign players.
It is difficult to see past either winning another title – they have shared the past five – but other clubs have strengthened astutely.
Chief among those are Al Wahda and Al Nasr. The former finished third last season and have added Hungary captain Balazs Dzsudzsak and Tariq Ahmed to a squad that includes Jorge Valdivia and Sebastian Tagliabue, last season’s AGL top scorer.
Nasr, meanwhile, have acquired Abdelaziz Barrada and hotshot Wanderley, theoretically the missing piece to their title-chasing puzzle – AFC suspension pending.
How will the new boys fare?
Reassuringly for promoted sides Hatta and Kalba, when it comes to the AGL, what goes up does not always necessarily come back down. In the professional era, half of the new boys have survived. For either club, that would constitute success. Hatta interest most, since they return to the top flight after an eight-year absence, have kept manager Walid Obaid, released the trio of Brazilians that helped win last season’s Division One and recruited 14 players. Getting that squad to gel, and fast, is their biggest concern. Kalba, meanwhile, are the proverbial yo-yo club, they dismissed manager Mourad Okbi late last month, replaced him with the relatively untested Fabio Viviani and have signed foreign players only to then change their minds. All said, Hatta look more likely to remain.
Published: September 16, 2016 04:00 AM