Unstoppable Brazilian forward Fabio De Lima has humbly pinpointed the summer arrival of coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena for inspiring a superb campaign which ended with the cherished gong for best foreign player at the 2016/17 Arabian Gulf League Awards.
Fuelled by the 25 goals of second-top scorer De Lima, 23, the Cheetahs recorded their highest finish of the professional era with second. Success which also gained them entry to the AFC Champions League in 2018 for the first time in a decade, which seemed unthinkable during the fractious two-year reign of Gabriel Calderon.
Arruabarrena, 41, was plucked from the sidelines last June after he had been sacked by boyhood club Boca Juniors. Redoubtable team spirit and inspired football followed, facets which his star attacker was quick to praise and hoped resulted in a first top-flight crown since 2006/07 next term.
“I’m very happy, this is very important for my career,” said De Lima, who has now scored 61 times in 76 top-flight games since a July 2014 move from Atletico Goianiense.
“I say thank you to my colleagues, to my coach, to the club’s staff.
“It was a good season because the coach came and everyone changed mentality. The coach put a tactic that was very good for me, Caio [Canedo] and Ronaldo [Mendes].
“Thankfully, he now continues here [Arruabarrena signed a contract extension last month] and tries next season to go to Asia and have some competition for Al Wasl to become champions, because it’s been a long time since they have been champions.”
De Lima – who edged team-mate Caio and Al Ahli striker Makhete Diop – was one of few non-Al Jazira winners at the annual ceremony.
The title winners also dominated the Best XI Team, which included six of their players. Their UAE international Mohammed Fawzi, 27, took up the right-back slot, and he thanked the club for having the faith to buy him from Al Ain last summer despite two injury-ravaged campaigns.
He said: “First, I want to say thank you to all my brothers at Al Jazira. They helped me a lot.
“For two years in Al Ain, I never played more than 10 games maybe [in a row]. It means a lot to me and I am so happy about what I am now.
“We take the championship of the league and I am in the Dream Team.
“This means a lot to me because I had a big challenge to be good and show all the people I am still on the stage, still on the field.
“Hamdullah, God helped me a lot, the players helped me a lot.”
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.”
Al Shabab are expected to unveil the man who almost kept yo-yo club Ittihad Kalba in the Arabian Gulf League, Goran Tufegdzic, when they announce their new coach on Tuesday afternoon.
The Hawks started strongly under Fred Rutten in the opening months of 2016/17, but a terminal decline cost the Dutchman his job in January and then saw them limp home eighth under doomed successor Miroslav Djukic. The Serbian’s appalling record of seven defeats, one win and three draws in all competitions meant his short-term deal was never going to be renewed.
His countrymen should now take the reins for next season. The ex-Kuwait tactician, 45, came within minutes on Saturday of halting a yo-yo run of instant promotion and relegation dating back to 2009/10 for Kalba.
The combination of Nasser Al Shamrani’s late winner for Al Ain on the final day and Emirates Club’s advantage of one away goal in a head-to-head record caused the Tigers to drop down, once again, to First Division League.
Tufegdzic took over from Italian Fabio Viviani in December. He went on to earn 10 of their 19 total points, with wins being recorded against Dibba Al Fujairah and prospective employers Shabab.
Kalba seemed poised to stay up in early March, before a ruinous run of one point from their last five matches dragged them back into Emirates’ reach.
Hasek plays it cool
Joyous Emirates boss Ivan Hasek wants to revel in his club’s miraculous survival rather than jump into a decision about the future.
Hasek, 53, revitalised the floundering Falcons following his December appointment on a five-month contract and helped them to narrowly extend their four-year AGL residency. The ex-Al Ahli and Al Wasl supremo was asked about his plans in the aftermath of the weekend’s 1-0 win against Al Nasr, but declined to state anything definitive.
He said: “Now in this moment, I do not speak. I am happy here and it is one of the most serious clubs in the UAE.
“I am happy to stay. We speak about this in the future.”