Henk ten Cate is incredibly proud of Al Jazira’s transformation under his stewardship and says UAE striker Ali Mabkhout’s lethal form perfectly encapsulates the club’s philosophy since he took over.
The Dutchman replaced fallen Pride of Abu Dhabi idol Abel Braga in December 2015, who was sacked after his second spell at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium came to a sad end following a dreadful opening to the 2015/16 campaign.
Jazira were 13th at the time and in real danger of entering into a relegation dog-fight, but the turnaround under Ten Cate has been truly spectacular.
The former Ajax coach steadied the ship and steered Jazira to the safety of a seventh-placed Arabian Gulf League finish, while they also ended last season on a high by claiming the President’s Cup with a dramatic penalty shootout victory against Al Ain.
Jazira have been revitalised this term and, as they stand on the cusp of a first AGL title since Braga’s first reign ended in 2010/11, the club is set to dominate this season’s Arabian Gulf League awards which will take place on May 15 – with nominees in five categories revealed yesterday.
Ten Cate, who has won an incredible 26 of the 36 league games he has presided over since his arrival, is favourite for the coach of the year accolade, while star striker Mabkhout is also the frontrunner for the Best Emirati Player award.
Youngster Khalfan Mubarak has also had a breakout year and is considered one of the favourites for Best Young Player, while with 14 clean sheets and just 15 goals conceded in 23 games, goalkeeper Ali Khaseif is also in line for the Golden Glove accolade.
“Very proud. Very proud,” Ten Cate said when asked how he feels about overseeing a revolution at the Abu Dhabi giants.
“Not only the staff but the players. They do it, not us. We help them during the week but they are doing it.
“They came from almost the second division when I took over last year. They were 13th in the league and at the end of the season we had the President’s Cup in our hands. And this season, probably, we are going to have another trophy.”
If Jazira’s progress has been refreshing under Ten Cate, the development of Mabkhout under the former Barcelona and Chelsea assistant’s guidance has been stunning.
The 26-year-old has always had talent, but it is under the watchful eye of Ten Cate and his staff that the UAE forward has truly blossomed.
He stands top of the AGL scoring charts with an incredible 28 goals in 22 games in 2016/17 and has 51 in 45 games over the course of the last two seasons in the league – his previous highest mark was 16 from 24 games in 2014/15 – while he has scored 47 Jazira goals in 45 games under Ten Cate.
“I think the best example of our philosophy in the way we work is Ali Mabkhout,” added Ten Cate.
“Before we worked with him he scored six or seven goals per season. With this staff he has already scored 52 (five for the UAE) in a season and a half.
“It’s a lot and I think a local striker finishing top of the goalscoring charts doesn’t happen too often. It’s never happened in the professional era. His goals per game is incredible, it’s really special.”
Mabkhout is five goals ahead of Al Wasl’s Fabio De Lima this season with three games to go. If he manages to maintain his lead and top the individual charts, it will be some feat.
Do so and he will be the first Emirati player to finish top goalscorer in the AGL’s professional era, which started in 2008/09.
Al Ahli’s Faisal Khalil finished joint top in the final season of the amateur era the previous year with Sharjah’s Anderson Barbosa. The last time a local player topped the list outright was Ali Thani for Sharjah almost 20 years ago in the 1997/98 campaign.