x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Arabian Gulf League: Clubs looking toward future during transfer window

Managers on the move once again as trend for most Arabian Gulf League clubs has been an investment in younger players, writes John McAuley.

Al Jazira’s Abdelaziz Barrada, left, seen here playing against Barcelona for Getafe last season, is the Arabian Gulf’s most expensive transfer. Albert Gea / Reuters
Al Jazira’s Abdelaziz Barrada, left, seen here playing against Barcelona for Getafe last season, is the Arabian Gulf’s most expensive transfer. Albert Gea / Reuters

OK, breathe. It may have been only 47 days since the 2012/13 Pro League expired, but even those familiar with the moody landscape of UAE football might look back at this manic stretch and wonder 'where have the past six-and-a-bit weeks gone?'

A ceaseless news-generating machine fuelled by players, managers, chairman, technical committees and agents.

Conjecture and completed contracts. Rumour and Ronaldinho. If the capricious managerial terrain of the top flight rightfully resembles a merry-go-round, then the funfair has come to town, too.

Whole foreign contingents have been remodelled, while backstage the turnover of Emiratis continues to discreetly gather pace.

Carry on like this and, by the time the rebranded Arabian Gulf League finally emerges on September 15, supporters could be looking at squad sheets with an unsettling sense of self-doubt.

"I'm nearly sure this is where Al Wahda used to play …"

For their part, Wahda have been one of the most active clubs in recruiting a fresh batch of foreign blood, quickly splurging on three new expatriates in Marco Estrada, Sebastian Tagliabue and Damian Diaz.

Al Wasl have retained from last season only Mariano Donda; Leonardo Lima could be the one recognisable face in Al Nasr's starting line-up; Dubai club, having been relatively quiet thus far this summer, took it upon themselves one morning to announce at once a trio of overseas signings.

And that is simply scratching the surface. The promoted sides, Sharjah and Emirates club, have understandably revamped their foreign rosters, with the former acquiring three Brazilians with wildly differing backgrounds. All roads lead to the UAE, apparently.

As frenzied as it has been, the early summer shopping spree has foundation in logic.

Get your business done as soon as possible, have the side you want to begin 2013/14 in place before pre-season is officially under way (July 15 for most clubs) and provide your team the best chance to launch into a successful campaign. Quick to act equals a rapid return, or so the theory goes. Of course, recruiting the right players is fundamental to those aspirations.

Yet a shift in the composition of signings is perhaps the most commendable, most refreshing, facet of this transfer market. Gone, in the majority, is the impulse to buy ageing "big names", players with their careers in the rear-view mirror but full beam trained on one, final pot of gold. Luca Toni, David Trezeguet, Fabio Cannavaro.

This term is different, though. Take a glance at the most newsworthy recent arrivals in UAE football and you will find Ahli's Hugo Viana is the oldest at 30 years, five months and 26 days. Estrada is a few months younger, Nasr's Brett Holman and Wasl's Milan Susak both 29, Tagliabue 28, Diaz 27 and Al Jazira's Abdelaziz Barrada 24.

At Baniyas, chairman Mubarak bin Mahroum, has spoken long and loud about "building the team for a continuous target" and a realisation that the club must not "take one step forward and two steps back" if they are to improve on an impressive last season and cosy into a seat at the top table.

Finally, it seems short-termism has given way to long-term investment.

If only that modus operandi extended to managers. By the time the Arabian Gulf League commences, only Abdulwahab Abdulqadir at Ajman and Al Shabab's Marcos Paqueta can claim to have endured full seasons at their present clubs.

Even the champions could not hold on to their main man, with confirmation last weekend that Cosmin Olaroiu had indeed defected to Al Ain's closest rivals. It did not command the same headlines as a certain baseline Scot at London's All England Club, but in securing a two-time UAE championship-winning coach Ahli had served an ace all of their own.

A rather fitting finale to a breathless six-and-a-bit weeks, don't you think?

The VITAL QUESTIONS: Who will do their talking on the pitch?

q - Will Al Ain’s new coach want to revamp their squad?

a - Cosmin Olaroiu’s departure has shaken the champions, who have reportedly drawn a shortlist that includes Abel Braga, Quique Sanchez Flores and Jorge Fossati. Whoever replaces the Romanian, they are sure to tweak the squad, although it remains to be seen by how much. And remember, Olaroiu enjoyed a close relationship with Omar Abdulrahman and Asamoah Gyan.

Who will Al Ahli choose as their final foreign player?

Luis Jimenez’s Palestinian passport means he now qualifies as Ahli’s Asian player, freeing up another slot for an overseas player and handing the club a huge advantage. Rumours suggest Mirel Radoi will again link up with Olaroiu, although The National has been told the Al Ain captain wants to remain in the Garden City.

Will there be a ‘superstar’ signing this summer?

Al Shabab’s recent attempts to recruit Ronaldinho – however genuine – generated headlines from Baniyas to Botafogo, yet the club have since given up on signing the Brazilian. Fans dream of a marquee name gracing the top flight, though, and Al Jazira appear ready to bankroll a title challenge. Wolfsburg’s former Juventus and Atheltic Madrid playmaker Diego has been linked.

Which new striker will push Gyan and Grafite closest for the Golden Boot?

When a club requires reinforcement, they first seek a player to guarantee goals. Only thing is, there are not many Asamoah Gyans or Grafites about. Emiliano Alfaro and Makhete Diop had fine debut seasons last year, now it is up to the fresh raft of forwards. Currently, Al Nasr’s Brett Holman is the most likely.

Will Sharjah’s Brazilian experiment prove a success?

There is so much Samba flavour spilling out of the newly promoted side that fans at Sharjah Stadium will have good reason to belt out “it’s just like watching Brazil”. Paulo Bonamigo is joined by compatriots Ze Carlos, Fellype Gabriel and Mauricio Ramos, but Brazilians here either delight or seriously disappoint. Sharjah’s chances of survival depend on them.

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