x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Onwards and upwards for champions Al Ain

Certainly, contract posturing could be in play, ahead of negotiations, but Al Ain officials seem to be shifting into a post-Gyan mindset.

Asamoah Gyan is yet to decide where his future lies.
Asamoah Gyan is yet to decide where his future lies.

With their 10th league championship secure, Al Ain are already looking ahead. Both to the joy of a victory celebration on the final night of the season and to what may be significant changes in their squad for 2012/13.

The biggest development is what now looks like the looming departure of Asamoah Gyan, whose remarks during his session with reporters on Tuesday had a curiously valedictory tone to them.

Al Ain have exercised their right to purchase Gyan from the English Premier League side Sunderland, but the rosy optimism of two weeks ago that he and Al Ain would agree to a contract seems to have evaporated. On both sides.

The Gyan we had thought was more than content in the Garden City conceded that he had suffered two months of culture shock when he first arrived in the UAE, and that he rarely gets around town except for occasional trips to the mall.

He mentioned that the musician half of him had composed a song about Al Ain, and that he had been singing it on the pitch, but that teammates, of course, could not understand it, and he finds Arabic to be "very, very difficult" to learn.

Also telling was his declaration that he would play "anywhere" if the conditions were right. Al Ain fall under the "anywhere" heading, but so too do hundreds of clubs worldwide who would be interested in a man who scored 10 goals in 34 games in England in 2010/11.

Certainly, contract posturing could be in play, ahead of negotiations, but Al Ain officials seem to be shifting into a post-Gyan mindset.

The Ghana international striker would not be the only noteworthy departure from the club. It is assumed in Al Ain that Ignacio Scocco, the Argentine winger/forward will not be with the club next season, even if he remains in contract.

He is said to have confided to officials that issues off the pitch are pushing him to request a sale or loan back to Europe, if not Argentina.

Also in play is the reality that Scocco has come unmoored since the return of Omar Abdulrahman, whose best positions - on the left side of a 4-2-3-1 formation or serving as the link to the target man in a 4-4-2 - are also where Scocco is best used.

He has been on the substitute's bench frequently of late, and that is a sure sign of an expatriate on his way out.

The current second forward, Yasser Al Qahtani, came on loan from the Saudi Arabia side Al Hilal. He is often entertaining to watch; even when he does not score goals he carries himself with the cool arrogance of someone certain he soon will.

The former captain of the Saudi senior team is considered a national football treasure back home, and that makes it unlikely that Al Hilal will sell him, or even loan him out again - even were Al Ain interested, and they are ambivalent, at best.

The champions are also likely to be in the market for a goalkeeper. Despite conceding the fewest goals in the league, the sense seems to be that the dominance of the defensive midfielders Mirel Radoi and Helal Saeed, has been so complete that Al Ain's goalkeepers were rarely tested. The club will want better next term, when they will carry a target on their backs domestically and also face the heady challenge of the Asian Champions League.

Even Saeed, the hard-working Emirati, may be someone the club will look to replace. He turns 35 on Saturday, and it is fair to wonder how many more seasons of running 12.5 kilometres per game he has in him.

What at first blush seems like cavalier treatment of the players who won a championship perhaps more adequately conveys the confidence that has returned to the league's most decorated side.

To put it in words, it would go like this: "Sure, we won the league, but we aim higher and we plan to be better."


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