DUBAI // When Carlos Villanueva takes the field as the newest attraction of the Pro League next season, the Chilean knows he will invite comparisons with his gifted compatriot Jorge Valdivia. Nicknamed The Magician, Valdivia was one of the biggest stars of the 2008/09 season, helping Al Ain win the President's and Etisalat cup trophies. He scored 13 goals, including some stunners, and made numerous assists.
Villanueva hopes he can make the same impact for Al Shabab after being unveiled as their new No 10 yesterday. "I am very happy that Valdivia is doing well and I wish him all the best," said the 23-year-old Chile international, who plays in the same creative midfield position as Valdivia. "I will try my best to match the success he has achieved. I will try to find my best form because I have not played much in the last season. Hopefully, I will be able to help the team win some tournaments. This is the target, not just for me, but everyone at the club.
"I can't wait for the league to start and show my quality. I want to start playing and enjoy football again." Villanueva joins Shabab on a four-deal after spending a season on loan from Chile's Audax Italiano with English Premier League side Blackburn Rovers. He made just eight Premier League starts, one of the reasons for him to decide on a move to the UAE, where he is assured of regular football.
"All the players want to play in every game and not be on the bench," said Villanueva. "So that was an important consideration in coming here. Every player loves to play in England because it is one of the best leagues in the world. I played there, but not so much. It was a good experience, but now I have a new life and I am looking forward to it. I will try to play every week; that is very important for me."
Villanueva, admits he does not know much about UAE football. The chance to experience something different convinced him to pen the deal, which will earn him $1.2 million (Dh4.4m) per year. He said. "I know a little bit because Valdivia is playing here and papers in Chile were writing a bit about him. But I am very excited to be here. I do know that the league is improving every year and I am happy to get this chance to be a part of it."
Villanueva is likely to be the first of four new foreigners for Shabab. The current set, Marcos Assuncao, Mehrdad Oladi, Carlos Renato and Musawengosi Mguni, will not continue next season. Oladi, Shabab's player of the season, has finished his two-year contract and is in talks with Al Wasl and Al Nasr. Assuncao is also out of contract and is looking for offers. Mguni still has two years left on his three-year deal with Shabab, but he has offers from clubs in Iran, Ukraine and Scotland, while Renato could be heading back home for Brazil.
Abdulkader Hassan, a member of the club's interim committee said: "We are in talks with some players, negotiations are at an early stage." firstname.lastname@example.org