Four signings who have lit up West Asian leagues this season - GulfToday

Four signings who have lit up West Asian leagues this season


Kodjo Laba scored 18 league goals this season for Al Ain, which mean averaging a goal per game.

With well over half the season gone across West Asian leagues, UAE Al Ain’s Kodjo Laba stands among some of the signings from the summer of 2019 who have made the biggest impact this season.

Ever since the departure of Ghanaian legend Asamoah Gyan to Shanghai SIPG in 2015, Al Ain have struggled to find a replacement of similar quality. Four years on, the Boss finally landed their man, and the answer came from West Africa again, but this time from Togo.

The 2018-19 season saw the rise of Moroccan side RS Berkane, who reached the CAF Confederation Cup final.

Leading their charge was a 27-year-old forward by the name of Laba. The Togolese international topped the competition’s scoring charts with eight goals, earning himself a move across the red sea to UAE giants Al Ain.

Wasting no time to settle in his new surroundings, Laba needed just eight minutes to introduce himself to the fans at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium with a goal on his league debut, helping Al Ain to a 3-2 win over Ittihad Kalba.

From there on, the goals just kept coming and Laba developed a telepathic connection with flying winger Bandar Al Ahbabi.

The Togolese forward’s 18 league goals mean he is averaging a goal per game, and a whopping total of 10 of his goals were assisted by Al Ahbabi’s crosses from the right.

While the likes of Driss Fettouhi at Al Hazem SC, Brandley Kuwas at Al Nasr SC and Karim Ansarifard at Al Sailiyah all deserve honorary mentions in this category, here are the four new arrivals who have stood out this campaign.

Arguably the best piece of business conducted in the 2019 summer transfer window in the Saudi Pro League. Prior to his arrival to Mecca, Niakate had never played top-flight football. The 27-year-old striker had spent his entire career in the lower divisions of the French and Belgian leagues.

A pacey and clinical forward, Niakate’s 15 minutes of fame came in 2018, when he scored a magnificent backheeled goal while playing for Union Saint-Gilloise in the Belgian second division. A few days later, he bagged a hat-trick as his team stunned Belgian powerhouse Anderlecht in the domestic cup.

Upon arrival at King Abdulaziz Stadium, Niakate initially struggled to adapt, soon after he developed a lethal partnership with Brazilian playmaker Anselmo, and the goals started to flow for the France-born striker.

Now with 22 league games gone, Niakate has fired Al Wehda into third place in the table, on track to book a place in the 2021 AFC Champions League.

The striker’s 12 goals scored put him fourth amongst the league’s top scorers so far.

The highest profile name on this list, Yacine Brahimi enjoyed a decade-long career in European football, before swapping Portugal for Qatar in the summer of 2019, joining Al Rayyan on a free transfer after the end of his contract at FC Porto.

The mercurial winger represented France in all age groups but switched allegiances to his parents’ birthplace, Algeria, going on to win 49 caps and starring at the 2014 FIFA World Cup as Les Verts reached the Round of 16 and were eliminated by eventual champions Germany in extra time.

Brahimi’s start to life in Doha has been bright, the 30-year-old is his side’s top scorer with 11 goals. Only Al Sadd’s Baghdad Bounedjah and Akram Afif have more goals than him in the Qatar Stars League this season.

The Algerian’s contribution is not limited to goals, his five assists in 17 matches has helped Al Rayyan make a serious attempt at breaking the Al Duhail – Al Sadd duopoly.

They currently sit second in the table, four points behind leaders Al Duhail and six ahead of Al Sadd.

The only player of the four to have already experienced Asian football before this season. Cheick Diabate came through the famous Salif Keita Academy in his native Mali before joining French side Bordeaux at the age of 18. There, he spent a decade, making over 120 appearances and scoring 50 goals.

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