As Al Nasr celebrated their shootout victory over Al Ahli in June’s President’s Cup final, a veteran from the losing side cut a lonely, dejected figure. Ahli captain Luis Jimenez was on his way out of the club he had served for four seasons, and potentially out of the UAE.
Move forward a few months and the club that heaped misery on him that hot, humid day at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain have thrown him an Arabian Gulf League lifeline.
Both Nasr and Jimenez are reaping the benefits from what looks like one of the best signings of the summer.
Nasr, having achieved cup successes in the past two seasons, sit atop the AGL table after winning their opening three fixtures, with the former Chile international netting four goals.
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Coach Ivan Jovanovic deserves a large part of the credit for his methods. Taking previous club Apoel of Cyprus to the Uefa Champions League quarter- finals, among winning many other domestic trophies, showed a forward-thinking coach whose teams can punch above their weight.
Having won the GCC Champions League two years ago, last season’s success in the Arabian Gulf Cup and President’s Cup continued the Serbian coach’s run of success. Now, his team look set to challenge for the crown that Nasr fans crave the most – the league title.
While other clubs have looked abroad to fill their foreign quota, Jovanovic has secured the signatures of three players who had become, if not exactly outcasts, at least surplus to requirements at their former clubs in the UAE.
In came Jires Kembo Ekoko from Al Ain, Jonathan Pitroipa from Al Jazira and Jimenez.
The three have been complemented by former Villarreal and Brazil international Nilmar. With the underrated Emirati midfielder Tariq Ahmed also excelling, it looks like a Jovanovic team will once again be greater than the sum of its parts.
For Jimenez, the short move across Dubai brought a fresh start. He scored 40 goals for Al Ahli, but he increasingly played a more withdrawn role in the past few years. In his first two seasons at the club he scored 13 and 12 league goals, respectively. Since then, he has not appeared among the league’s leading scorers.
It is early in the season, but Jimenez has taken a more advanced role with Nasr and shown he has not lost his touch.
In Week 1, his two goals turned around a match Nasr were in danger of losing to Emirates, who led at half time. He followed up with another double in the 3-1 away win to Al Dhafra.
His presence goes beyond scoring goals, however. On and off the pitch, Jimenez is a leader. His experience could be a major factor in turning Nasr from a team that can beat the best on their day to one consistently challenging at the top of the table.
His success is one of the feel-good stories of the season. In a league that has in the past been accused of attracting mercenaries, Jimenez has proven one of the most enduring and beloved foreigners to play on these shores, worthy of being mentioned alongside the likes of Grafite and Asamoah Gyan as one of the league’s finest players.
On Sunday, Nasr travel to meet a Sharjah team who have yet to register a point this season. An expected win, coupled with a Jimenez goal or two, and the early form will start to have a more permanent look to it.
After years of underachievement, recent cup success has put the country’s oldest club back in the spotlight. This season could turn out to be the one when they challenge for the league title again.
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