x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Lebanese striker signs for UAE Pro League side Emirates

Ras Al Khaimah club beat Ligue 1 clubs to Hassan Maatouk's signature.

Hassan Maatouk, left, has also been sought after by French clubs such as Marseille. Mike Young / The National
Hassan Maatouk, left, has also been sought after by French clubs such as Marseille. Mike Young / The National

DUBAI // Hassan Maatouk, the Lebanese striker, has signed a one-year deal with Emirates for next season.

Maatouk spent the last season on loan at Ajman and was one of their key performers as the promoted club retained their place in the Pro League, finishing seventh.

Abdul Wahab Abdul Qadir, the Ajman coach, was keen to retain the services of the 24 year old for next season, but the management failed to reach an agreement with Maatouk's Lebanese club Al Ahli, who were asking for US$500,000 (Dh1.835 million) to renew the loan deal. Ajman paid $180,000 for the first year.

Maatouk had also attracted the interest of the French clubs Marseille, Ajaccio and Nice, but Ahli eventually accepted the $800,000 offered by Emirates, who are looking to strengthen their squad ahead of September's four-team relegation play-offs.

The Ras Al Khaimah club have also retained the services of Modibo Diarra, their Ivory Coast striker, and are now looking for two more foreign players to replace the Uzbeks Alexander Geynrikh and Jasur Khasanov, who could spend a lot of time on international duty as their national team battle for 2014 World Cup qualifying.

"We had been negotiating with Maatouk for some time now and we are glad to finally close the deal," a spokesman for the club said.

"With Maatouk and Diarra in the side, we believe we have a great chance of winning back our position in the Pro League."

The dates for the play-offs have not yet been decided but after a draw held last week, Emirates will open their campaign against Al Shaab and meet Al Dhafra in the second game before playing Sharjah in their final match.

The top two teams from the play-offs will join the two promoted sides – Dibba Al Fujairah and Ittihad Kalba – in the expanded 14-team Pro League next season.

Ajman, meanwhile, have managed to keep their playmaker Karim Kerkar for next season. Kalba were keen on the Algerian midfielder, but the 35 year old eventually decided to stay.

Kerkar is the only foreign player to have been retained by Ajman for next season. Boris Kabi has returned to his club, Al Kuwait, after the end of the loan deal, while they have decided against renewing Olivier Tia's deal.

Instead, they have signed Founeke Sy, who scored 20 goals for Sanat Naft in the Iranian league last season.

"We have renewed our contract with Kerkar after his brilliant performance last season," said Khalifa Al Jarman, the chairman of Ajman's board of directors. "We would have liked to keep Maatouk as well, but his club exaggerated the player's value.

"Now we have Founeke and we are looking forward to him making the same kind of impact as he did last season in Iran. There have been other players offered to us, but we operate according to our financial ceilings."

Ajman will hope the Mali international will have the same impact as Ibrahima Toure, the Senegalese forward who was recruited from Iranian football last season and scored 15 times in 16 games in all competitions before signing for the French side Monaco.

On the domestic front, Ajman have signed Al Ain's Shehab Ahmed and are negotiating with the Al Ahli defender Mohammed Qassim, who has four offers on the table, including one from Sharjah.

"We are not interested in quantity, but quality," Al Jarman said. "We are not going to sign players just to add numbers to the squad because our ambition is to do better next season."

arizvi@thenational.ae

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