UAE football team Al-Ain ponders replacing Asamoah Gyan
Gyan was named three successive times as AGL’s season-end top scorer
Perhaps only in light of his departure will the impact of Asamoah Gyan on the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) be truly appreciated.
The Ghanaian was always recognized as one of the league’s best players, but with reflection on his three-year stint with Al-Ain, it becomes clear just how good he was.
Three successive times he was named the AGL’s season-end top scorer, netting an astonishing 95 goals in just 83 appearances. There are only two players in world football who can boast such numbers: Lionel Messi and Cristiano. Gyan was a giant of the Arabian game.
However, the 29-year-old is embarking on a new career in China, having signed for Shanghai SIPG on a monster £163,000 contract, leaving Al-Ain - and by extension the AGL - significantly worse off. The problem with giants is that you notice when they are gone.
However, Al-Ain have already found their replacement, or at least they hope so. Nigerian striker Emmanuel Emenike has arrived in Abu Dhabi on loan from Fenerbahce, with Al-Ain holding the option to complete a permanent transfer at the end of the season. Naturally, Emenike’s record from now on will be compared to Gyan’s.
On the face of it, Al-Ain’s capture of Emenike is something of a coup. It is not so long since the Nigerian was the subject of transfer speculation linking him to some of the biggest and best clubs in Europe. Arsenal and Liverpool were both tipped to be interested following his impressive display at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. He was a man in demand.
Eventually, Emenike swapped Spartak Moscow for Fenerbahce, making a strong impression in his debut season in Turkey. The 2013/14 season saw him score 12 goals in 28 league matches for the Istanbul side, giving a respectable goal-scoring ratio in a new and unfamiliar league.
However, Emenike followed that up by netting just four times despite making only one less league appearance, marking a dramatic downturn in form. His decline has been rather alarming on the international stage too, with the 28-year-old without a goal in his last 15 games for the Super Eagles. Manager Stephen Keshi has axed Emenike - the country’s brightest star just 12 months ago - from his squad altogether.
All this perhaps explains why Fenerbahce were willing to offload the striker to Al-Ain, with Robin Van Persie’s arrival in Istanbul from Manchester United also undoubtedly a factor. It might also provide rationale as to why Al-Ain have only committed to an initial year-long loan for Emenike. If the Nigerian cannot rediscover his former quality, his stay in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) could be a short one.
However, despite his recent struggles in Turkey, Emenike’s stock has remained high on the basis of his previous prowess. He was even linked with a move to Premier League champions Chelsea just a few short months ago, with Jose Mourinho on the search for a back-up to Diego Costa. Emenike was on his shortlist of possible targets.
Questions were asked of his commitment to the cause at Fenerbahce, with Emenike eventually becoming somewhat unpopular with the club’s fans. Yet the striker has always been a streaky player, thriving on momentum and confidence, the latter of which he will surely be flooded with upon his arrival at Al-Ain.
In the post-Gyan age, Emenike takes on the mantel for one of the AGL’s most prominent clubs. He will be embraced by a team desperate to find itself a player to carry their goal-scoring burden. For all that UAE football has developed over the past decade, a player of Emenike’s quality might find the AGL a more accommodating level for him to succeed at.
Al-Ain’s move for Emenike is a gamble in some ways - they must make up the goals they have lost with the departure of Gyan - but in a wider sense could prove decidedly shrewd. The Nigerian has shown enough throughout his career to suggest that the past year has been a mere digression. To hold Gyan’s record against him as the yardstick of success or failure would be unfair.
It might be some time before the AGL sees that kind of achievement again.