This summer has seen one of the most incredible transfer window’s in UAE Pro League history. A huge number of talented players from across Europe and further afield have joined up with new teams as the season gets underway.
Big players making big moves
Al Ain initiated the summer transfer madness with the signing of Ukrainian star Andriy Yarmolenko, signed on a permanent deal from West Ham United. He was swiftly followed by Sharjah, who secured names like ex-Barcelona players Paco Alcacer and Miralem Pjanic, which added to the anticipation and the excitement of the league.
Sharjah also set new standards by reeling in the Greek centre-back, Kostas Manolas. His nickname of “Remotanda” – following his late Champions League equaliser for Roma in 2017 – put him on the map as one of the most sought-after defenders in Europe.
محـارب الإِغريـق ينضـم لقلعـة المـ👑ـلك
— Sharjah نادي الشارقة (@SharjahFC) September 23, 2022
Possibly the biggest deal of the window was made by Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club, with ex-Lyon centre-back Jason Denayer, who holds genuine ambitions of making the Belgium World Cup team in 2022.
Al-Jazira reacted to an injury to Serbian central defender Milos Kosanovic’s, who underwent fibula surgery, to sign Czech defender Filip Novak from Fenerbahçe.
A history of incoming talent
For a few years, the UAE’s top-flight was devoid of names like these. During the midpoint of the previous decade, the arrival of Ghana superstar Asamoah Gyan, Brazilian striker Grafite, and Montenegro’s Mirko Vucinic all confirmed a gilded age in the Pro League.
This celebrated cohort preceded the World Cup winners Fabio Cannavaro, David Trezeguet and Luca Toni.
But in recent years, some stellar names had disembarked to other leagues, like the Saudi League and the Qatar Stars League. More and more Emirati teams were struggling to compete in the AFC Champions League. The 2015 and 2016 championship matches saw defeats for Al-Ahli and Al-Ain. Additionally, none of their contingent made the final eight from 2018 until Wahda in 2021.
But the tide is turning, and the influx of new signings means that the UAE Pro League is back on the map as one of the most exciting leagues in the region.
The impact on the title race
The arrival of new players means that a hotly-contested title race is almost guaranteed to unfold as the season develops.
With seven points after four games, holders Al-Ain have showed early on why they’re champions. Having Matias Palacios, a 2022 Golden Boy candidate, Serhiy Rebrov, the head coach, and Yarmolenko’s signature have all helped to keep the standards high.
The addition of Moroccan winger Achraf Bencharki and attacker Florin Tanase from Romania gives the 2020–21 champions Al–Jazira new life. In 305 minutes, Ali Mabkhout, a legend for club and nation, has recorded seven goals.
Manolas, Pjanic, and Alcacer together could hardly make Sharjah’s backbone any stronger. The fact that they have Cosmin Olaroiu, who is perhaps the best strategist on the continent, as well as a wealth of UAE talent, enhances the runners-up from the previous season even more.
At Wahda – who also signed former Napoli and Everton midfielder Allan – Carlos Carvalhal is expected to succeed. At Shabab Al-Ahli, the résumé of Leonardo Jardim, Denayer, and 2017 AFC Player of the Year Omar Khrbin speaks for itself.
Beyond the huge impact on the league itself, the defining qualities of these signings’ long-lasting legacy cannot be limited to only social media interactions, ticket revenue, or entertainment value on the field.
This investment will be worthwhile if lessons can be learned from these seasoned pros, turning the possibility of sending a team from the region to the World Cup in 2026.
We’ll be watching closely, covering all the action from the UAE Pro League each week here, on The Playbook.