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Thursday 21 September 2017

Dubai's dirhams attract Keane

Robbie Keane is pictured in training for Dubai team Al Ahli recently
Robbie Keane is pictured in training for Dubai team Al Ahli recently

Robbie Keane will take a step into the unknown but still earn a pile of cash if he decides to head east, and snub the English club scene, for his next move as he has been training with UAE side Al Ahli.

Keane, who left LA Galaxy last year, had been heavily linked with a move to the Championship as clubs like Preston and Fulham expressed an interest in signing the former Ireland captain, if they could afford his wages.

But Keane, whose last spell in English football was a loan stint at Aston Villa in 2012, could possibly have a change of heart, and direction, if the UAE link becomes stronger, though as a free agent Keane is still free to sign for an English team even though the transfer window has closed.

Joining Preston would have seen Keane play in front of 10,000 passionate home fans every second Saturday, while in Dubai a gate of 1,500 dispassionate fans would be expected to watch Keane but, to paraphrase Mrs Merton: what was it that attracted you to the millionaires' playground of Dubai? Al Ahli released pictures of Keane in training on their website yesterday and while formal contract talks have not taken place the fact that Keane has trained indicates that he would at least consider a move which would offer the 36-year-old one last big payday.

Keane, who revelled in the hero-status afforded him by Celtic fans in his time there, knows that a stint with a Championship side would mean more than the relative obscurity of football in the UAE.

But cash is the main attraction for players heading to the UAE as games are played there in, admittedly attractive and state of the art stadiums but in front of attendances which are below League of Ireland levels, a weekly average of 2,500.

A recent feature in the local newspaper The National pointed out some of the problems with football in the region, such as competition from China for players and coaches, as well as small crowds and lack of interest.

"We lack in terms of fans and have no culture of attendance in the UAE," says Abdullah Al Naboodah, the former chairman of Al Ahli. "Big matches are well attended, but it's not week-in, week-out. Fans simply won't attend if we play against lower-ranked teams."

Best known in these parts as the former club of David O'Leary, who was Al Alhi manager from 2010-11, Al Ahli (currently led by Romanian coach Cosmin Olaroiu) are fourth in the 14-team Arabian Gulf League and need to finish in the top three to qualify for the Champions League.

With no more than four imports allowed, their playing squad is obviously made up mainly of locals, though there are some foreigners such as former Sunderland man Asamoah Gyan and Brazilian import Lima.

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