Two-goal hero Makhete Diop has blasted a lack of “respect” which took him out of Al Ain’s clutches and into the grateful hands of Arabian Gulf Cup champions Al Ahli.
Diop, 28, was highly coveted in December once minnows Al Dhafra finally put him on the market after a stellar stint which included 101 strikes in 137 Arabian Gulf League appearances from January 2011. The Boss were the first to register interest, but a perplexing last-minute decision to scrap a permanent deal and offer just a six-month loan saw the prolific Senegal centre forward end up instead at Rashid Stadium on a three-year contract.
The Red Knights have reaped the rewards of their faith since, his double in Saturday’s showpiece against Al Shabab taking him onto an outstanding 11 goals in 14 run-outs.
“Of course, I chose the correct club because they show me love,” said Diop. “They showed me I must come, because one team needed me just for six months.
“They didn’t respect me. So Al Ahli gave me respect and take me for three years.”
Numerous offers from clubs such as Al Jazira and Al Nasr were rejected out of hand by Dhafra throughout his supreme – but trophyless – six-year stint in the Western Region. They finally relented this winter, a stance Diop was grateful for.
He said: “When I left Al Dhafra, in my mind I must go on to take trophies. I am very happy and I thank everyone at Dhafra to let me move, and take another step.”
Ahli are blessed with attacking options. Alongside Diop in the 4-4-2 formation, UAE forward Ahmed Khalil is enjoying the most-prolific season of his career with 12 efforts in 17 top-flight games.
The pair’s output has kept legendary Ghana target man Asamoah Gyan on the sidelines.
“I am very happy, as everyone knows they are big players,” said Diop of his esteemed team-mates. “They have all the respect of people from around the world.
“I take so many things from Gyan and Khalil. They show in training that they are big players.”
Diop will hope to continue his fine form on Thursday when the AGL champions aim to maintain slim hopes of retaining their crown against high-flying Al Wasl.
Al Ahli needed only five minutes to set course for the season’s first major domestic silverware as they predictably saw off a depleted and downcast Al Shabab in Saturday night’s Arabian Gulf Cup showpiece.
Indomitable Senegal centre forward Makhete Diop was the star, doubling up to make it 11 goals in 14 games since his December arrival. An early first ricocheted through Salem Abdulla’s legs, before he carefully tapped the second past the advancing goalkeeper late on.
Without absent attackers Henrique Luvannor – the competition’s top scorer with 10 strikes – and Tomas De Vincenti, plus having suffered a harrowing run of two wins from 16 preceding matches, last term’s beaten finalists failed to mount a concerted comeback.
The win provided a fillip to the Red Knights’ eight-strong UAE contingent after a harrowing international break caused their World Cup 2018 dreams to lie in tatters and forced the resignation of Mahdi Ali.
With a retention of the Arabian Gulf League unlikely after a campaign stained by internal discord, Cosmin Olaroiu welcomed a 10th trophy during six years in the Emirates. He said: “It is a new opportunity for me to thank the players.
“We created enough opportunities with Ahmed Khalil and Everton Ribeiro. We controlled more in the second half and we deserved the victory and the trophy.”
شكراً لكم .... انتم الابطال pic.twitter.com/gU7fRE0MdZ— النـــادي الاهــــلي (@AlAhliClub) April 1, 2017
For opposite number Miroslav Djukic, a reign which contains five losses and one draw doesn’t get any easier.
He said: “I’ve been here just two months. Now we need to work on things and maybe a win round the corner will change things.”
An incongruous Rio Carnival-inspired pre-match ceremony seemed to inspire Brazil playmaker Everton Ribeiro. His throughball put dead-eyed Diop in the gap between centre-back and full-back to open the scoring with a low shot.
This represented an improvement for Shabab, who fell behind within 13 seconds to Al Wahda in the previous edition’s decider.
Khalil, hamstrung by a calf injury for the Whites, then came within inches of doubling the lead as he headed against the post.
The interval did not herald a change of course as this repeat of 2011/12’s final continued to be a procession for Ahli.
It was Diop who sealed his club’s third AG Cup, artfully stroking home UAE winger Ismail Al Hammadi’s lofted first-time pass.
The UAE is unlikely to be impacted by FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s ambitious future plans for an expansion of the Club World Cup, according to a spokesperson for the governing body.
In December 2017 and 2018, the event which brings together the champions of Europe, Asia, South America, Africa, The Americas, Oceania and the local competition – Arabian Gulf League in this case – will return to the Emirates after a seven-year break. Inspections at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City on Wednesday and Al Ain’s Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Thursday are under way to gauge readiness ahead of this year’s running.
But Rhiannon Martin, group leader, FIFA tournaments, has stated Infantino’s proposal to grow the event to 32 teams will not at this moment have an impact on the next two runnings, with the existing seven-team format set to stay in place.
She said: “It is still in the discussion stage to know when these changes will be made, but certainly with the 2017 and we think 2018 editions, they will stay the same.
“These discussions are still going on at FIFA headquarters.”
The current checks have centred on everything from camera positions to the media zone, as well as VIP areas and security perimeters.
“We’re here now doing inspections of the stadiums, training sites and the team hotel,” said Martin. “On the whole, everything is looking very much on track.
“We haven’t faced any big issues. But if we do, we’ll work with the Local Organising Committee.”
The match schedule and the official emblem will be announced next month. After that, the draw is set to be undertaken in October.