Nejmeh made a major splash in the local transfer market Monday, luring Lebanon captain Hasan Maaouk back to his homeland after five years in the Gulf. The 29-year-old – whose time in the UAE includes stints at Ajman Club and more recently Fujairah – will be expected, at the very least, to transform Nejmeh from also-rans to title challengers in the coming season.
The Beirut club have toiled in recent campaigns, failing to add to their eight league titles, the last of which coming in 2014.
And this season was especially galling as Nejmeh could only finish third, a woeful 16 points behind champions Ahed who continue to go from strength to strength.
Despite conceding a league-best 14 goals en route to their fifth league title, Ahed almost exclusively bolstered their backline with Safa standouts Ali al-Saade and Mehdi Khalil further augmenting their ranks.
It followed a footballing trope for the club as the past two years have seen them plunder their crosstown rivals for their best players with the aforementioned pair reuniting with former teammates Mohammad Haidar and Nour Mansour.
Maatouk’s arrival will add some much-needed quality and cachet to a patently stale Nejmeh squad, not to mention the local league, which has struggled for years to keep its best players.
Moreover, his repatriation threatens Ahed’s supremacy at the top of the domestic game.
Ironic, somewhat, that the man drafted in to dislodge the champions, cut his teeth at the club before his big-money move to the Gulf.
The former Ahed youth product is the latest addition to a raft of signings Nejmeh have made this offseason.
Ali Bazzi and Hamza Abboud joined from Al-Nabi Sheet and Ansar respectively last month while Lebanon goalkeeper Abbas Hasan swapped Sweden for Beirut Saturday.
The club have also managed to hold onto their best players, with Syrian forward Abdelrazaq Al Hussain putting pen to paper on a new deal.
Despite the coup of snaring one of Lebanese football’s foremost players, Nejmeh remain markedly top-heavy and threadbare at the back.
Unless more defense-oriented recruits are brought in to complement the forward line, it’s a bit of a stretch to think they can truly compete with a far more balanced side in Ahed.
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