x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Arabian Gulf League: Al Nasr on the hunt after recruitment drive stalls

Maxi Lopez deal dead but club could still land Peter Odemwingie and Al Ain's Fossati is a fitness fanatic. John McAuley reports.

West Bromwich Albion’s Peter Odemwingie may yet sign for Al Nasr.
West Bromwich Albion’s Peter Odemwingie may yet sign for Al Nasr.

DUBAI // Al Nasr remain convinced they will be able to augment the squad with a couple of quality additions, following the collapse of the deal to buy Maxi Lopez.

The Argentine, currently employed by Italian side Catania, agreed to terms with the Dubai club last week before arriving in the Emirates to undergo a medical exam to complete his move.

However, test results highlighted a potential problem in Lopez's knee, with Nasr then requesting permission from Catania to send the player to the Aspire Academy in Qatar for a more extensive evaluation.

The Italians refused, putting an end to the transfer and leaving Nasr still two foreign players short ahead of the 2013/14 Arabian Gulf League season. The club already have on their roster Leonardo Lima and Brett Holman, but they are in the market for a striker and a winger.

Reports resurfaced on Sunday that Nasr have again approached Ibrahima Toure, the Monaco forward, and Peter Odemwingie, his counterpart, at West Bromich Albion. A club source, though, confirmed they have ended their interest in Toure after the Senegalese made known his desire to stay in Europe.

Yet Odemwingie could still happen after Nasr increased an initial £850,000 (Dh4.8 million) bid for the Nigerian. The striker, 32, has several other offers to remain in England.

"Whether the deal is closed, it's not clear from West Brom," said the Nasr official.

"We're trying to negotiate with the club about the price and other terms but until now, the deal hasn't gone through.

"We feel if the player gets a good offer from Nasr, he will come. He's training now with the West Brom reserves, so I don't think he has any future with them. But from our side, he's a very good player."

While Nasr conceded their disappointment in failing to push through the Lopez transfer, they are investigating other possibilities beyond Odemwingie.

Nasr want to replace Giuseppe Mascara, the Italian who was released last week, and Bruno Correa, the Brazilian striker, who top-scored for the club last season.

At present, Correa is training with his teammates, although he will be allowed to leave should a suitable offer be forthcoming.

Nasr do, however, realise the importance of finalising soon Ivan Jovanovic's squad for next season, as the new manager bids to improve on last term's disappointing sixth-place league finish.

"Our technical team is studying some alternative strikers and we're just waiting for a final answer," said the official. "We're close to finishing some deals, but I'm not sure how close, exactly. We hope that maybe in the next two days we'll have something solid.

"We're confident we can get players that'll be good signings for the club and that the fans will be happy. The technical team is doing a great job they are searching for the best."

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Jorge Fossati has praised the commitment level of his players at Al Ain during his first two weeks in charge, however he insists only extra effort at their European training camp will ready them for the season ahead.

The UAE champions left on Sunday for a two-week programme in Austria, as they put in place their final preparations for the Arabian Gulf League season.

Al Ain begin their 2013/14 campaign on August 30 with the Super Cup clash against Al Ahli.

“I’m happy with the players’ performance so far,” Fossati told Al Ain’s official website.

“They’re not where they are used to be in terms of fitness, which is expected given the lack of time.

“But we will work on doubling efforts during the camp to reach the right level.

“[The Al Ain fans] should know we’re not in Austria for tourism, and that the work here demands extra application so we can show our best when we return.”

Al Ain hope to continue the domestic success achieved under Fossati’s predecessor, Cosmin Olaroiu, who guided the Garden City club to consecutive top-flight titles.

Yet Ismail Ahmed, the Garden City club’s centre-back, concedes their quest for another championship crown could be their toughest, especially as Al Ain represent very much the team to beat.

“We know well that our task is difficult this season, because we won back-to-back league titles and to defend it will require us to show more power as others will try their best against us,” Ahmed said.

“But we should be ready and work intensively to honour our club.”

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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