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.”