x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Luca Toni can give Al Nasr vital edge in Pro League title chase

What better time to take a chance with a bold move which just might bring that first championship in 26 years?

Luca Toni is moving to Al Nasr in the UAE Pro League.
Luca Toni is moving to Al Nasr in the UAE Pro League.

Within sight of the summit, Al Nasr have committed to a potentially risky push for the top.

They cannot be blamed for their ambition. When your club have not won a league championship since 1986 … when they are only three points off the lead with 10 matches left in the season … what better time to take a chance with a bold move which just might bring that first championship in 26 years?

This bold move pivots on one of Italy's most famous footballers, the towering forward Luca Toni, who has scored as many as 39 goals in a season - but who has not played a match in the current one.

Toni no doubt was the choice of Walter Zenga, Nasr's Italian coach, who has enjoyed so much production this season from Mark Bresciano, another veteran of Seria A.

Zenga's decisions have, so far, been nearly unassailable. He certainly has earned the indulgence of Nasr administrators, who reeled in Toni from Juventus in a deal finalised yesterday.

Nasr are particularly dependent on their expatriates; their Emirati players have not been in great demand by the senior national or Olympic teams. Only one, Habib Fardad, is currently with the Olympic team; one more, Ali Abbas, who yesterday joined Al Jazira in exchange for Ali Salem Al Amri, is in the national side. Some clubs have four or five in each.

Foreigners have scored 17 of Nasr's 25 league goals, with Bresciano accounting for seven and Amare Diane, the Ivorian, another four.

If Toni can fire in a few more …

Given the club's run of results, seven victories and two draws in their past nine league matches, Nasr fans can be forgiven for being a bit giddy.

Ahmad Aldarwish, 26, is a supporter who tweets at @AlNasrBlues, where he describes himself as "Al Nasr Biggest Fan". He concedes it has been a long dry spell for the country's oldest club (founded 1945), who have not won a trophy since 2002, when they captured the forerunner of the Etisalat Cup.

"We are actually shooting for the title," Aldarwish wrote in an e-mail. "It is not that far away. We can win big this season … and I am very happy."

Nasr of late have been arguably the most poorly supported of the country's "big" clubs. In 2010, they finished only one slot above relegation, the final chapter in a period of mediocrity, or worse. "That's when we lost many, many fans," Aldarwish said.

The club have not broken records for spending on prominent foreigners, instead generally preferring to trawl in the bargain bin for their expatriates. Until this season.

After a late surge to third place in the league last year, and a 2012 berth in the increasingly prominent Asian Champions League, Bresciano was brought in from Lazio for a reported £3.4 million (Dh19.6m). Now comes Toni, and the deal for him must be pricey, even if he hasn't played a match in almost a year.

Aldarwish, the supporter, believes in Zenga and is confident his latest acquisition can be decisive. "He knows what we need and knows the player very well," Aldarwish said. "I believe that he will become our scoring machine. In my opinion this move is calling for the title."

A more cynical analysis grasps the risk here.

One is in tweaking a side who have been on a sensational run. To make room in the team for Toni, Brazilian Careca will be exiting.

The bigger risk is taking on a player who is 34 years old. The Pro League has no history of players of that age thriving. Fabio Cannavaro was 37, and looked every bit of it, in his season at Al Ahli. David Trezeguet, 34, at Baniyas, Phillip Cocu, 37 at Jazira, did little or nothing.

But Nasr can see the top of the mountain. They will chance Luca Toni being able to help carry them to the top.