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Question marks hang over the future of Abderrazak Hamdallah as Al-Nassr eye SPL title challenge

Al-Nassr, and their strikers in particular, had a Thursday night to remember.

Talisca scored two spectacular goals and the game ended with Vincent Aboubakar adding a third to make it 3-1 for the Riyadh giants against Abha in the Saudi Pro League (SPL).

It was both a win that lifted the team right into the middle of the title race and a fine display of attacking talent for the fans to savour. There is a question that lingers behind the cheers and applause, however: What’s the deal with Abderrazak Hamdallah?

The Moroccan marksman was not in the squad. He was reported to have declared himself injured earlier in the week. According to rumors, he “picked up” the muscle knock after discovering that he was not in the starting line-up with Aboubakar getting the nod.

There is speculation that he won’t be wearing that famous yellow shirt for much longer. Adding fuel to the fire is talk of interest from the UAE’s Al-Nasr, teams in Qatar keeping tabs on the situation and other clubs started to elbow their way into a line waiting to talk to the hotshot. With Hamdallah’s contract set to end next summer, he can start chatting early in 2022 and there will be no shortage of options.

It would be a blow for Al-Nassr. The 30-year-old has scored 77 league goals in 72 games in the Saudi Professional League, a phenomenal strike rate. He was also the top scorer in the 2020 AFC Champions League. Hamdallah has been one of the best strikers in Saudi Arabia, and Asia as a whole, since arriving in August 2018. This season, however, he has been in and out of the team.

That happened last season, too, but that was down to various injuries, as well as catching COVID-19. This season, however, there has been criticism of his performances.

Fans were unhappy last month as he missed a penalty against Al-Ittihad. It was not just that it was a chance to level the score at 2-2 — the best players in the world can miss from the spot — but some felt that his attempted Panenka-style penalty was casual to the point of arrogance as it just looped into the arms of a disbelieving but grateful goalkeeper. It could be one of the defining moments of the season.

It was not only a turning point in a huge game, but had the ball hit the back of the net it may have saved the job of Mano Menezes. The Brazilian boss recognized Hamdallah’s talents and it was noticeable that even though the striker was banned from the second round Champions League game against Tractor of Iran, he was still one of the three non-Asian foreigners registered.

The club is ready to start negotiations to offer the Moroccan a new contract. There have been behind-the-scenes discussions as to whether to increase a salary that is thought to be around $5.9 million (SAR 22 million) a year. If, as seems likely, there is no increase in the offer, it also seems likely that the player will turn it down.

It needs work from both sides. Hamdallah guarantees goals, a lot of goals, and while Aboubakar has started life in Saudi Arabia well, he has a long way to go to match Hamdallah’s consistency. A club looking for titles at home and abroad should not give up such a contribution easily.

Hamdallah has to work hard, too. Much has been said this season that Al-Nassr, while possessing significant individual talent, are not yet a fully functioning team. After his brilliant brace on Thursday, Talisca was at pains to emphasise the need to work together.

“We knew that it was going to be a difficult game and that we would have to work hard to get the three points,” said the Brazilian. “If we continue to play collectively then we will be the tough team to beat and that will come in time.”

There may still be some hope. After all, Al-Nassr are about to get a new Portuguese coach, Pedro Emanuel, and he should take advantage of the situation to hand Hamdallah a new start. The North African may not be happy at the moment playing second fiddle to Aboubakar but he has to fight for his place. Stiff competition can spur the best teams and nobody knows whether the new boss will want to do a Leonardo Jardim or not.

Jardim, the new Al-Hilal boss, has been going with both Moussa Marega and Bafetimbi Gomis up front, and Emanuel will not want to lose one of the best strikers currently playing in Asia. It is in the interests of the club to keep the star, and in the interests of the star to stay. With the quarter-finals of the AFC Champions League coming in mid-October (and a winnable tie against Al-Wahda of the UAE in Riyadh) and the looming title challenge in the Saudi Professional League, it is still a relationship that has much to offer both parties.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by WC Times staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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