Al-Taawoun are moving to bolster their strike force ahead of the next Saudi league season and the resumption of the 2020 AFC Champions League, with a move for Australia’s Mitchell Duke following Saturday’s signing of Abdoulaye Sane from Sochaux in France.
The Buraidah side are sitting comfortably in mid-table with six games of the Saudi Pro League season remaining, but have their eye on four games in 10 days in the continental competition, starting against Iran’s Persepolis on Sept. 15.
This season has been a disappointment for the club that finished third last time around. A lack of firepower has been identified as one reason for the relative slump, and with the refusal of Cameroonian striker Leandre Tawamba — top scorer last season with 27 goals — to extend his contract, Al-Taawoun have been in need of new signings.
If negotiations with Duke can be finalized in the coming days it will be something of a coup. The Western Sydney Wanderers captain has scored 11 goals in the 2019-20 A-League, despite the 2014 Asian Champions, who famously defeated Al-Hilal in the final, struggling.
“Talks have been ongoing,” an official from Al-Taawoun told Arab News. “Duke is experienced, can play in various positions in attack and is a competitive player. That’s why head coach Vitor Campelos likes him. He would be a very useful addition for us. He scores goals but also offers other things, too.”
The former Socceroos star is out of contract at the end of this month and available on a free transfer from the beginning of September. Coronavirus has hit Australian club finances and income from broadcasting is set to be reduced, meaning a number of A-League stars could head overseas.
“To be honest I have to assess my situation. I have a small family and with the difficult times, finance is an important factor,” Duke said. “So I’ll make my decision based on a few of those and we’ll see where it takes me.”
Duke added that “Asia is an exciting market” and the fact that Al-Taawoun are in the AFC Champions League and currently on top of Group C with two wins out of two games is another selling point.
The 29-year-old, who spent three years in Japan from 2015-18 with Shimizu S-Pulse, is on the shopping list of a number of European clubs, but the Wanderers are reluctant to lose their star even if they are powerless to stop his departure.
Coach Jean-Paul de Marigny knows it will be difficult to keep the in-demand player.
“Mitch Duke is a player that we want to retain, that’s very clear in our mind. He’s a big part of our plans and he represents us well. He’s a perfect fit for us in the football club and we’ll do our best to keep him here,” he said.
If Duke does arrive in Saudi Arabia at the start of September, he will link up with Sane, who joined Al-Taawoun on Saturday, signing a two-year deal — subject to a medical with the club. The Senegalese striker, 27, has spent his entire career in France with Rennes, Red Star and Sochaux.
The former international was out of contract after refusing to sign a new deal with Sochaux, where he scored 10 goals in the shortened French season.
“I would like Abdoulaye to stay with us,” said Sochaux sporting director Thomas Deniaud. “I can assure you that we would like him to stay. He wants to have a good contract at 27. We respect him. He is a good player and professional who is popular in the dressing room.”