History has been made in the Arabian Gulf League after Al Nasr made Dia Saba the first Israeli signing in 47 years since the competition’s founding.
The UAE last month formally agreed to become the opening Gulf nation to normalise relations, via the globally heralded Abraham Accords. This remarkable diplomatic breakthrough – signed alongside United States President Donald Trump at the White House on September 15, with Bahrain – opened up cooperation on a wide range of areas.
A transfer valued at €5 million by Al Bayan newspaper from China’s Guangzhou R&F is the latest reflection of the peace deal’s extensive reach. Saba, 27, landed in Dubai on Saturday and subsequently inked a two-year contract on a move considered impossible until recent events.
The diminutive 10-times-capped playmaker – born in Majd al-Krum to a Muslim-Arab family – is expected to add an injection of creativity into a side who were on course for a sixth-placed finish, before coronavirus’ spread forced March’s cessation and the ultimate cancellation of 2019/20. The Blue Wave lifted last season’s Arabian Gulf Cup in January, but haven’t been crowned top-flight champions since 1985/86 despite having star names such as Alvaro Negredo and Yohan Cabaye in their ranks during recent campaigns.
A statement released by the Blue Wave late on Sunday night declared “the player’s recruitment came from a purely artistic perspective and was chosen due to his many talents and technical capabilities”. Chairman Abdul Rahman Abu Al Shawarib added to this sentiment, by stating: “The new player [Saba] will be welcome by all club employees and all football fans in the country.
“The football club has succeeded in adding a new element which will show a distinguished level with the rest of the players. This will help raise the banner of Al Nasr and lead them to achieve the desired goals in the new season.”
Saba moved to the Chinese Super League from Hapoel Be’er Sheva in February 2019 to link-up with compatriot Eran Zahavi. He recorded 18 goals and nine assists from 37 appearances in the Far East.
A standout 2017/18 at Maccabi Netanya witnessed him become the Israeli Premier League’s top scorer (24 goals) and be named Israel Football Players Organisation’s Player of the Season.
His senior international debut came in March 2018’s 2-1 friendly defeat to Romania. A trio of strikes have followed.
The UAE and Israel agreed to normalise relations in return for a halt to annexation of occupied Palestinian territories on the West Bank. This surprise development witnessed the Emirates become the third Arab state to establish active diplomatic ties, following Egypt and Jordan.
A fresh start date for the 2020/21 AGL has yet to be revealed. The UAE Football Association announced a postponement “until next October” on September 2, a day before the AG Cup was set to begin.
Saba’s arrival completes Nasr’s foreign quartet. Cape Verde winger Ryan Mendes was recruited from Sharjah in July, with Portuguese attacking midfielder Toze and Curacao playmaker Brandley Kuwas retained.
Argentina-born centre forward Sebastian Tagliabue, brought in on a free transfer during May after seven prolific years at Al Wahda, is considered a domestic player after he gained UAE citizenship.
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