Historic top scorer Ali Mabkhout led the way as champions Al Jazira predictably dominated the 2016/17 Arabian Gulf League Awards, but their miracle-working Dutchman Henk ten Cate was stunningly denied the top coach prize by serial winner Cosmin Olaroiu of Al Ahli.
Unsurprisingly, after a record-breaking title win, the Pride of Abu Dhabi swept up five of the eight major prizes at the capital’s Etihad Towers on Monday night. These included goalkeeper Ali Khaseif winning the Golden Glove for a second time and 21-year-old playmaker Khalfan Mubarak taking home the Golden Boy Award.
There was no shock as Al Wasl’s brilliant 25-goal Brazilian forward Fabio De Lima collected the Golden Ball Award – Foreign Player. But there were gasps as Olaroiu’s name was pulled out of the envelope for a third Leader Award in five years after a campaign pockmarked by internal tumult and the concession of their top-flight crown.
Mabkhout, 26, made it a double of Golden Ball Awards for Emirati competitors as he edged successive AFC Players of the Year in Al Ahli forward Ahmed Khalil and Al Ain playmaker Omar Abdulrahman. This was reward for a landmark 33 goals in 25 games, breaking Asamoah Gyan’s record for the biggest season’s tally in the league’s history.
“I would like to thank God for this award and my colleagues in the team,” said Mabkhout, who further claimed the Golden Shoe Award and was a member of the Best XI Team. “I am upset because I think coach Henk ten Cate deserved to win the Leader Award because he is the best coach, but this is not to say that Cosmin is not a great coach.”
Jazira collected the most-ever points (68) and wins (22). But this did not stop Olaroiu from pipping Ten Cate and Wasl’s Rodolfo Arruabarrena, who gained the Cheetahs’ highest finish of the professional era with second and 2018 AFC Champions League qualification in a superb debut campaign.
For Olaroiu, a hat-trick of coach gongs after a third-placed league finish was due to the sterling efforts of his squad in the face of administerial adversity. “I get this award because of my players,” said the 47-year-old Romanian, who did lead the Red Knights to Arabian Gulf Cup and Super Cup glory. “I think I train the best players and it’s their performances on the pitch that I get rewarded.”