190319 Alvaro Negredo
Alvaro Negredo is eager to take on his former coach Unai Emery when Al Nasr face Arsenal in a friendly on March 26. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: Former Spain, Manchester City and Almeria striker Alvaro Negredo is looking forward to a meeting with his “special one” as Al Nasr prepare for their friendly with Premier League giants Arsenal at the Al Maktoum Stadium on March 26.

As a budding 22-year-old, Negredo was given the crucial break at the Andalusian side Almeria by current Arsenal coach Unai Emery. This has not been lost on the 33-year-old Spanish striker, who went on to play for top clubs including Sevilla and City, while also being part of the Spanish team that won Euro 2012.

“To me, he is the special one as there has been no other coach like him in my career,” Negredo told Gulf News. “He played such a crucial role to make me the player I am today. He is simply too special for me, and meeting him and playing against his team would also be special for me.

“I hope I can score against Arsenal, but the more important thing will be the experience and exposure for our team especially after a run of losses in the domestic season. May be we will win or may be we will lose, but the important thing for our team would be to stay together especially at this time. It’s a friendly game no doubt, but it is going to very important for the spirit of Al Nasr.”

Emery, who led Almeria earn promotion to La Liga for the first time in the club’s history, signed Negredo on a three-year contract with the club from 2007 to 2009. At the end of his first season, and with Emery as coach, Negredo emerged as Almeria’s topscorer with 13 goals. After a couple of seasons with the club from Andalusia, both coach and player parted company with Negredo heading back to his parent club Real Madrid [through a buy-back option] and Emery landing a plum job with La Liga heavyweights, Valencia.

But none of those early career memories with Emery have been lost on Negredo. “He is completely different from all the coaches I have played under,” he said. “I always found him encouraging and helping me to be the best I could be. That’s what makes him so, so special to me.”

After successful stints at Sevilla, City, Valencia, Middlesbrough and Besiktas, Negredo signed a two-year contract with Al Nasr in September 2018. The last few weeks of the current season have not been the best in the history of the 74-year history of the club as they remain in 11th place with 17 points after 17 rounds of the Arabian Gulf League (AGL).

Negredo is now left hoping that the friendly against Arsenal will help change things for his club. “Honestly, I don’t know why we are in this situation,” he said. “Perhaps, we just need that one spark that can come from a win. It’s just that we have not been lucky. At this moment we are not in a good position on the league table, but the main thing is that we have stayed together with the hope that we can change this situation for ourselves.

“I hope and I know this team will work hard together and change the current situation. We could have done with more favourable results, and perhaps this friendly will help us bond together and start winning the points when we restart in April. I can never be happy with where we are at the moment. If one is happy after such losses, then one has to change one’s sport.”

Arsenal’s friendly against Al Nasr is at 6pm on March 26 with tickets, priced from Dh100-150, are on sale on Platinum List and at the new stadium in Oud Metha, Bur Dubai. Arsenal are due to land in Dubai on Thursday and spend a week here on a mid-season training camp before their final push in the Premier League, starting with a match against Newcastle United on April 1.