Among West Ham’s headline-grabbing summer signings, very few got overly excited by Manuel Lanzini.
An Argentine signed on loan from a Middle Eastern club? He’ll be useless, some may have thought. However, such a view couldn’t not be further wide of the truth, with the 21-year-old having been so good so far that the Hammers are already attempting to thrash out a deal with Al-Jazira to make his stay a permanent one in January in a bid to ensure they beat other interested parties to the punch.
Nicknamed ‘The Jewel’ thanks to his classy approach, is Lanzini an anomaly? Or are there more players waiting to be discovered in nations such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE?
Although these countries are associated with handing big pay cheques to ageing stars, many younger players are heading to the region, with it quickly becoming a gateway to European action for South Americans and second chance destination for other players whose times at big sides haven’t quite worked out.
With all of this in mind, here are SEVEN potential jewels from the region for West Ham to consider…
It was a bit of a shock to see the six-cap Brazil international head to Dubai outfit Al-Ahli earlier this year, especially as clubs of Manchester United and Liverpool’s ilk had been, reportedly at least, chasing his signature.
It’s easy to see why big sides were keen on the 26-year-old, as he had shone with Cruzeiro to the point that he was being lauded as one of the best players in his homeland’s top tier.
Like Lanzini, Ribeiro is a neat attacking midfielder able to play all across the line of three behind a striker, so he could compliment the Argentine, or potentially replace him should the club be unable to lure him from Al-Jazira.
Widely considered to be one of the very best players hailing from the Middle Eastern region, Abdulrahman has been linked with Premier League clubs such as Manchester City, Barcelona and Arsenal in recent years.
Although he’s now 24 and a ‘top’ side is yet to gamble on the UAE international, the attacking midfielder is still a talent worth considering, and could help to boost West Ham’s profile within the his region, where football’s profile is growing larger and larger.
Aside from a cynical marketing view, Abdulrahman has averaged close to a goal every three games for Al-Ain in league action since his debut way back in 2008, so he’s a threat in the final third.
One of the losers of Parma’s much-publicised financial collapse earlier this year, Belfodil found himself without a club and eventually opted for UAE Pro League side Bani Yas.
A youth star for France, the ex-Lyon man pursued his senior international career with Algeria – his birth nation – and at the age of 23 he has already won 13 caps, netting twice in the process. At his age it’s certain that Belfodil has a future back in European football, and a move could allow him to mirror Lanzini’s instant impact in east London.
Standing at almost 6ft. 4”, the ex-Inter Milan man certainly his the stature to succeed in the Premier League, and could be a more mobile, less injury prone Andy Carroll.
Although he’s only played one match for Al-Ahli since making a summer move from Fenerbahce, it’s hard to see the Senegalese striker hanging around in the United Arab Emirates for too long.
Long linked with big sides from across Europe after shining in France with Lille and Turkey with Fener, the now 29-year-old still has miles left in the tank, and appears ideally suited to Premier League football given his pace, power and clinical finishing ability.
His salary in Dubai may be hard for West Ham to match, but he might be willing to take a cut before too long if playing out of the limelight erodes his standing.
At 24, Bahoui is a player to have moved to the Middle East at an early stage of his career, leaving Sweden earlier this year after impressing with AIK to join Saudi Arabian outfit Al-Ahli.
A winger with decent pace and good feet, his eight caps at a senior level for his Scandinavian home nation illustrate his quality, and with Victor Moses only on loan and Michail Antonio yet to prove he’s a Premier League quality option, Bahoui could mirror the impact of Lanzini.
Physically imposing and quick across the turf, Digao has been in Saudi Arabia with Al-Hilal since 2014 and is one of few truly impressive defenders playing his trade in the region – sides tend to spend their money on headline-gabbing attacking players.
With James Collins being linked with Sunderland, Slaven Bilic may need to look for another centre-back at some stage, and although the 27-year-old is largely unproven – he’s only played in Brazil and for his current side – he could make an impact.
The former Arsenal man has somewhat dipped off the radar since leaving the Gunners in 2013, and for those who haven’t been following his journey, he’s now plying his trade with Al-Wahda, whom he joined earlier this year from Sao Paulo.
Although he eventually failed to make the grade at the Emirates Stadium, the 27-year-old made over 100 appearances for the Gunners all-told, showing that he does have the ability to play in English football, while it’s worth remembering that he was once thought of as one of Brazilian football’s most promising holding midfielders.