Some losses have wider repercussions than others.
Defeats can shatter pride, end dreams, turn whole seasons sour or – in special circumstances – bring chapters to a close. This is the stark outcome Omar Al Somah could be freshly contemplating after Al Ahli Jeddah’s one-sided 2-0 reversal to Al Nassr in Wednesday’s AFC Champions League quarter-finals.
Late August’s rumours about a desire to exit by @DawryWaleed sent reverberations across the Middle East. Okaz newspaper increased momentum surrounding these reports when they stated the statuesque centre forward responded to continental elimination by insisting premium domestic and foreign talents are added, or else he’ll seek a switch away.
Without a club trophy since 2016’s triple haul, should, arguably, Asia’s finest striker look elsewhere to realise his ambitions before it’s too late? Or can Ahli, who picked him up from Kuwait’s Al Qadsiah in July 2014, still compete at the highest level?
At 31-years old, and with his contract expiring in June 2021, there is little time left to make mistakes. The clock is ticking…
Vladan Milojevic’s vanquished side struggled to threaten against the West Zone favourites, despite edging possession by 53 per cent-47 per cent. A chasm between rivals who finished second and third in the 2019/20 Saudi Professional League was exemplified by an artful opener for Argentina magician Pity Martinez, plus an attempts count clocked at 15-6 in the Jeddah giants’ favour.
An isolated Al Somah was left to feed on scraps by the baying Nassr hordes. Wyscout recorded two off-target attempts and, a paltry, four touches in the opposition penalty box.
An emphatic second-half spot-kick in the previous round – a first goal in three continental appearances during 2020 – drew his employers level versus Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club in an eventual shootout triumph.
In the SPL, Al Somah’s 19 strikes were enough to finish third in the scoring charts behind Al Hilal’s Bafetimbi Gomis (27) and Nassr’s Abderrazak Hamdallah (29). The Syrian’s nearest team-mate was Djaniny on eight, yet his absence for a chaotic few months casts a, glaring, light on why a departure may be sought.
The Cape Verde forward, AWOL Algeria winger Youcef Belaili and now Besiktas defensive midfielder Josef De Souza have all been in dispute with the club. Serbia’s Telegraf were among several publications to report last month that a frustrated Milojevic handed in his resignation, only to be convinced to make a U-turn.
Wednesday’s second goal for Nassr was also struck by Abdulfattah Asiri, an inventive Saudi Arabia schemer persuaded to quit Ahli in July.
Such a febrile atmosphere is not conducive to success. This is highlighted by growing arrears to the SPL champions.
A one-point deficit to 2017/18 conquerors Hilal has been followed up by a 15-point gap in 2018/19 to Nassr and, gaping, 22-point differential to Hilal last term.
All the while, Al Somah keeps smashing in goals. Even in an injury ravaged 2017/18 which contained only 14 SPL run-outs, he still sat top of the club’s scorers list with 11.
An immediate exit to Europe, for a player denied a switch to England’s Nottingham Forest in July 2012 because of work-permit issues, is improbable – if not, impossible.
Tax-free wages in the Kingdom put him out of reach for potential suitors, especially when age is considered. Plus, most registration periods end there on Monday.
Shabab Al Ahli seemed an obvious suitor after their raid on Hilal for Carlos Eduardo, yet this route is now blocked off prior to the UAE’s transfer window closing on October 6 after Cape Verde winger Heldon was recruited from Al Taawoun and ex-Argentina Under-20 attacker Fede Cartabia was welcomed back from Deportivo La Coruna. Persistent links to Egyptian giants Zamalek and Al Ahly have never reached fruition, or looked likely.
And there the trail runs dry…
Al Somah attributes and acumen are without question. A possible destination, though, is hard to pick out – whether in the summer market or the next.
Hilal with Gomis and Nassr with Hamdallah are set for the foreseeable future. Al Ittihad, the Kingdom’s other heavyweight, are both cross-town rivals and an outfit in even-graver disorder.
Saudi Arabia’s transfer window stretching to November 6 will make no difference.
Across the border in the UAE, Al Jazira with Ali Mabkhout and Al Ain with Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba will not be looking for an elite centre forward. Shabab Al Ahli and Al Nasr are only likely to become viable in the winter – if at all.
The 2018/19 Arabian Gulf League champions Sharjah appear to have their striking situation sorted out for the long-term with Welliton in for 2020/21 and the seriously injured Jonathas integrated for 2021/22.
A move to Qatar with Al Duhail, of course, presents its own immense difficulties.
There are few certainties, however, in football. Injury or form could dictate a sea change in strategy from any of these aforementioned outfits.
Could there be any reticence to invest enormous wages in an ageing Al Somah?
The player, himself, spoke before the ACL’s round of 16 about the influence of Ahli’s enduring instability – they’ve had nine permanent managers since May 31, 2016 – and nagging medical issues.
He said: “I had suffered a lot of injuries at the end of last season, and this season as well, which had a slight impact on my level, in addition to constant changes in the team line-up and lack of stability.
“There are also circumstances that the team suffered, including injuries and absences in the team.”
It is now three seasons since the last of three-successive SPL Golden Boots. The 2016/17 campaign was also the last time he struck more than 20 times in the top flight.
But in the SPL alone, returns of 19 goals from 24, and 25, appearances since 2017/2018’s kick-off show his senses have stayed sharp – and consistent. He even won a greater percentage of aerial duels in 2019/20 (49.1) when compared to 2018/19 (39.3), plus averages more touches in the area per game (5.42/4.67).
The towering Al Somah has never been the most mobile, yet his progressive runs per match sharply increased from 2019/20 (0.74) to 2018/19 (0.27). There is plenty of gas in the engine.
Positives can also be found at Ahli.
Milojevic was a serial silverware winner in Serbia and has, seemingly, been assured about the project’s long-term viability.
Last month’s capture of compatriot Ljubomir Fejsa on a free transfer for two seasons after the expiration of the defensive midfielder’s Benfica contract is a strong statement of intent. This calibre of signing would, surely, meet Al Somah’s demands.
More captures should follow in the weeks ahead, with 2020/21 set to kick-off on October 17.
Al Somah’s status will remain a subject of intense interest until the day he retires.
His potency remains undimmed. So, too, his star power.
Yet, there is no glaring path away from King Abdullah Sports City. The majority of Middle Eastern behemoths are already stacked with striking might.
Al Somah’s stint at Ahli is, almost certainly, likely to have peaked in 2016. A marriage of convenience, rather than of ambition, defines the current relationship between unsettled player and erratic club.
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