Transfers and tribulations: This week in Middle East football

Transfers and tribulations: This week in Middle East football
Blog: What impact will the Gulf blockade have on Qatar's World Cup? Rumours of demands made of FIFA, as well as usual transfer speculation, has fuelled headlines, writes Uri Levy.
4 min read
19 Jul, 2017
Ali al-Habsi will move from the English Premier League to Saudi Arabia [Getty]
The Qatari crisis remains at the forefront of Middle Eastern football news. Fans in the region are captivated as new reports emerge - some reliable, some less so.

On Saturday night, a story broke on Twitter, saying that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Yemen and Mauritania had handed in a joint request to FIFA, demanding the cancellation of the 2022 Qatar World Cup.

The news was published on The Local website, went viral and major news companies followed up on the story. Twenty-four hours later, the BBC indicated that the story was bogus, and FIFA itself dismissed reports over the alleged demand.

The Gulf conflict remains a major source of conflicting news and contradictions - and football is playing a central role within it.

The 2022 World Cup is at the centre of concern both for Qatar and its rivals, as the clock ticks towards the mega-global event taking place in the tiny Gulf country.

Despite FIFA's rejections of the reports, there has been no denial from any of the five Arab countries' domestic football associations over the demand to strip Qatar of the world's biggest tournament.

Sudanese in and out

Earlier this month, FIFA suspended Sudan due to governmental intervention in the election process of its FA president. The decision directly and immediately hit Al-Merreikh and Hilal Obeid clubs who were due to play in the African Champions League and the Confederation Cup, respectively.

Both teams withdrew from the knockout stages immediately, making room for other teams to take their place.

When this was revealed, sparking a huge outcry, the Sudanese government decided to withdraw from its interference in its national football association, and FIFA has lifted the ban.

But it all came too late for the teams and fans at Al-Merreikh and Hilal Obeid. They lost their chance at sporting glory, financial income and prestige. Hilal Obeid had already qualified for the next stage of the Champions League - and there are now contradicting reports whether CAF will be able to bring them back into the competition's knock-out rounds after handing Angola's Deportivo Libolo their spot.

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The CAF and FIFA have until the African continental competitions restart in September to decide the destiny of Hilal Obeid. 

El Merreikh, Hilal Obeid and El Hilal have indicated that they are prepared to go to CAS, the sporting world's international arbitration body, if the African confederation refuses to allow them back into the competitions.

Boiling transfers

The Middle Eastern transfer window is always a time full of rumour and speculation, but in this summer heat there are some mega-transfers justifying the buzz and the fans' excitement.

In the region's biggest transfer so far, Reading star and Oman international Ali al-Habsi has joined Saudi champions Al-Hilal.

Al-Habsi has played the past decade in England, and only the new rule in Saudi Arabia allowing foreign goalkeepers has made his arrival possible.

OGC Nice, the team that finished third in French Ligue 1, qualifying for the highly lucrative UEFA Champions League have also been in contact with Al-Ain in the past week, trying to get Omar "Amoory" Abdulrahman on a one-season loan, with a potential purchase option thereafter.

As expected, Al-Ain refused, and Amoory - probably the region's biggest football star - kept quiet about the offer.

Ashraf Nu'man, the Palestinian star who left Shabab Al-Khaleel, has changed his mind over signing again at Al-Wehdat, and put pen to paper at his mother club, Taraji Wad a-Nes.

Taraji come from village of just 900 people near Bethlehem, and the last time Nu'man was directing the team's front row they won the Palestinian title.

The UAE's Al-Jazira squad is meanwhile refreshing its attacking force. After selling Leonardo to Saudi Al-Nassr, the Islanders have signed Ahmed Khalil from Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai. The 2015 Asian player of the year will join his national teammate Ali Mabkhout, and together they will form a serious striking force for the Emirati champions, who are eyeing the Asian Champions League in 2018.

Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here