Abu Dhabi: Brazilian playmaker Lucas Caio has become the first of what will surely be many Al Ain players to catch the eye of international clubs for his performances in this year’s Fifa Club World Cup.
The man who got the equaliser against River Plate to take them to penalties, and again converted the first from the spot as they beat the Argentines in one of football’s greatest upsets, has been courted by Benfica.
The Portuguese side have reportedly offered the player a four-year deal worth €1.2 million a year. And given that his contract with Al Ain expires in the summer, he can let that run down and join Benfica on a free.
Caio is only 24 years old and despite a youth career in Brazil with America and Sao Paulo before moving to high school in Japan, he has only ever played his senior career outside his country of birth in Japan and the UAE.
Before Al Ain he was with Japan’s Kashima Antlers for two years between 2014 and 2016. Should he move to Portugal it could be a way of putting himself even more in the shop window with either Brazilian or even bigger European clubs for that hallowed homecoming that all Brazilians dream of: a possible national team call-up.
His honours so far include one Japanese league and cup title apiece achieved in 2015 and 2016 respectively. He also won the league and cup double with Al Ain last season and was J-League Rookie of the Year in 2014. Kashima, who are also playing in this year’s Club World Cup, remember him fondly and he even popped in to the Antlers hotel to meet up with all his old teammates with whom he can converse in fluent Japanese. Not many foreigners playing the UAE have got a deal with European clubs in the past, the most high profile is probably Argentine midfielder Manuel Lanzini who joined West Ham from Al Jazira.
Another Al Ain player that may attract interest is keeper Khaled Eisa who is on for player of the tournament having already one two man of the match awards for winning saves in shoot-outs against Wellington in the play-off and River Plate in the semi. An Emirati player has never earned a permanent contract in Europe.