Al-Nasr may have lost their Saudi Pro League title to Al Hilal but are spending big in an attempt to snatch the AFC Champions League crown from their Riyadh rivals.
Just days after signing South Korean international full-back Kim Jin-su from Jeonbuk Motors, Al Nasr have had an $18 million bid for Argentine star Pity Martinez accepted by Atlanta United. All that remains is for the 2018 South American Player of the Year, who has made two appearances for Argentina, to agree personal terms and pass a medical.
The impending transfer, as well as rumored interest in Arsenal star Mesut Ozil, has given Al-Nasr fans plenty to cheer despite seeing the team lose their championship to Al Hilal last weekend.
Focus is now very much on the resumption of the AFC Champions League group stage on Sept. 15, more than six months after the competition was suspended due to the spread of COVID-19, when Al-Nasr take on Sepahan of Iran in Qatar.
With two games in Group D played, the nine-time Saudi champions who were runners-up in Asia in 1995, are in a good position with four points after a draw with Al Sadd of Qatar and a win over United Arab Emirates powerhouse Al Ain, and are looking good for a place in the knockout stage.
“The Champions League is our immediate priority now,” an Al-Nasr official told Arab News. “We could have waited until January to sign Kim on a free transfer but we moved quickly so he could play in Asia. We want to do the same with Martinez and ensure that we get out of the group and into the knockout stage and we feel we will then have as good a chance as anyone.”
Al-Hilal won their third Asian crown in 2019 and will be viewing Al-Nasr as a major threat to a successful defense especially after the latest acquisition.
Martinez has plenty of experience in winning continental club competitions with Argentine giants River Plate. He has two Copa Libertadores medals in his collection, winning South America's premier prize in 2015 and 2018 when he made headlines around the world by scoring in the final against Boca Juniors in Madrid.
Soon after he was off to Atlanta United. The fee of $14 million that was paid to River Plate in January 2019 made the 27 year-old the second most expensive player in MLS history, a star of the league and a crucial member of Atlanta’s team.
The American club could do little however in the face of Al-Nasr’s interest.
“It was something the player wanted,” Atlanta president Darren Eales said. “It was a chance for him, and he wanted to make that move. In an ideal world, we’d want to do our business at the end of the season.
But, for us, this was the right move for the club and the player. You have to be ready to move when this opportunity takes place.”
Martinez was left out of Atlanta’s 0-0 with Inter Miami on Wednesday as news of his impending move broke and shook team-mates who were suddenly faced with the prospect of losing one of the best players outside Europe.
"The team didn’t expect it," Atlanta manager Stephan Glass said of Martinez's exit. "And when you expect a player, it’s going to be a disappointment when he’s not part of your group...In terms mentally, I don’t think there was too much effect other than players obviously wanting him to be in the group."
Former Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan was also surprised but added that Martinez’s transfer was not an excuse for the team's failure to win.
"If you want to look at the preparation standpoint, yeah, OK, you can say that he was in the team and then he’s not in the team," said Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan. "But it is what it is. This is the business that we’re in. And I don’t think anybody looked at it saying,
'Oh c***, what are we going to do now?'"
Al-Nasr however seem to know exactly what they are doing and Asia may find out very soon.
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