Al Ahli and UAE striker Ahmed Khalil set for big-money move to AGL rivals Al Jazira
UAE striker Ahmed Khalil looks set to join Al Jazira this summer on a free transfer, ending his long affiliation with Al Ahli, although as of Wednesday night there had been no official confirmation from either club.
The forward, whose contract with the UAE champions has entered its final few months and thus makes him a free agent, has reportedly accepted a four-year deal with the Abu Dhabi club, worth an estimated Dh18m per year. It would make him one of the highest paid footballers in the UAE.
No matter the figures involved, Khalil’s move to Jazira represents a significant coup for the current Arabian Gulf League leaders. The frontman, 25, is a leading player for the national team, while he was voted Asian player of the year in 2015, becoming the first Emirati to win the continent’s premier individual award.
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Khalil had been discussing renewing his contact with Ahli, his boyhood club whom he has served since making his debut in 2006, but the package offered by Jazira is considerably more attractive. Cosmin Olaroiu, the Ahli manager, initially denied the news following his side’s 2-0 victory at Al Dhafra on Wednesday’s, which Khalil missed through injury, but the Romanian did suggest his striker had received a better proposal elsewhere.
“I refuse even believe that Ahmed Khalil is leaving to Al Jazira,” Olaroiu said. “When I first came to the club Ahmed wasn’t even starting. But we worked together and he became the best player in Asia. Personally, if I performed well and I wasn’t appreciated I would prefer to go.”
Henk ten Cate, Olaroiu’s opposite number at Jazira, was later asked about signing Khalil, but said: “I heard the same rumour. I don’t know, I haven’t spoken to the player. I think if he would’ve signed I would have at least spoken to him, and I didn’t speak to him. It’s a rumour. I don’t react to rumours.”
Nevertheless, Khalil’s appeal is obvious. In 163 league appearances for Ahli in the professional era, he has scored 56 goals. During that time, he has three UAE top-flight titles, one President’s Cup and the Arabian Gulf Cup twice, while in 2015 he played an integral role in Ahli’s run to the Asian Champions League final.
Khalil has also become one of the UAE’s most influential stars. He scored the goals to seal a first appearance at the Olympics, in 2012, and was a key part of the side that won the 2013 Gulf Cup and finished third at the 2015 Asian Cup – the country’s best performance on foreign soil. His 15 goals thus far in qualification for the 2018 World Cup make him the competition’s top scorer.
As his impact and profile has increased, so too has Khalil’s standing both inside and outside the UAE. He has often captained club and country, and has in the recent past been subject of interest from Spain’s Primera Liga, Italy’s Serie A and the Portuguese top flight. Al Ain have also been linked.
At Jazira, Khalil would line up alongside compatriot Ali Mabkhout, the 2016/17 AGL’s current leading goalscorer. Ahli, meanwhile, began the season with Khalil, Rodrigo Lima and Asamoah Gyan on their books, but with Lima injured and Gyan struggling for form and fitness, it leaves the Dubai side with much work to do this summer.
Editor’s note: Story updated from earlier version to reflect clubs’ comments from Wednesday night.
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Updated: March 8, 2017 04:00 AM