All-conquering Al Ahli swept the boards at the glittering Arabian Gulf League Awards 2013-14 yesterday as their domestic dominance was reflected in the prizes.
Held under the Patronage of Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Pro League Committee hosted the glamorous event at the St Regis Abu Dhabi Corniche to celebrate the stars of the season.
And with the Red Knights claiming the championship by an enormous 16 points, the majority of the 10 trophies presented by Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan went to them.
Ahli forward Ismail Al Hammadi beat off strong competition to win the prestigious Emirati Player of the Year title, with striker Grafite named Foreign Player of the Year for the second successive year.
Cosmin Olaroiu was Coach of the Year, in a season where victory in today’s President’s Cup final against Al Ain will complete a historic clean sweep of the domestic titles.
Further accolades went to Ahli when Saif Yousif was adjudged Goalkeeper of the Year, and Majed Hassan the .Fans' Player of the Year.
When asked about his foreign player crown, 19-goal Brazilian Grafite, who edged stars such as Al Ain’s Asamoah Gyan and Al Wahda’s Sebastian Tagliabue, was quick to acknowledge those who had supported him.
He said: “I feel very well, very happy and proud to win this trophy. Last year I won as well, and even though I have several trophies like this, always when you win the feeling is very special.
“This proves my work, about my team, myself and my team-mates. This trophy is for everybody who helped me, and especially my family.
“This season was very great for us. I hope to finish this season like we started it.”
The accolade for Olaroiu caps a memorable season, serving half of a six-month touchline ban in the stands following his controversial summer exit from Al Ain.
Despite that distraction, Ahli have already lifted the Super Cup, Arabian Gulf Cup and the Arabian Gulf League under his control prior to today’s showpiece clash with the Boss.
The stocky Romanian deflected the praise when asked about the award won for his work in the top flight.
“My trophy belongs to the team and my staff,” Olaroiu said. “They led the team for a big part of the season.
“I thank my players, as without them our work is nothing. Also, Al Ahli for making it possible to work in this club.
“It is an appreciation of the work they have done this season. When you work hard, the rewards are
“When I came I talked to them about this, and I am glad what I said at the time happened.”
Elsewhere, Al Jazira were named Professional Club of the Year, Sharjah attacker Yousif Saeed Rookie of the Year, Gyan Top Scorer of the Year and Hamad Al Hammadi Fantasy Football Manager of the Year.
The Best XI contained five Ahli players (Yousif, Basheer Saeed, Hassan, Al Hammadi and Grafite), with Al Wahda right-back Eissa Santo, Al Shabab centre-back Walid Abbas, Al Nasr left-back Mahmoud Khamis, Sharjah’s on loan midfielder Kim Jung Woo, plus Al Ain playmaker Omar Abdulrahman and striker Gyan, rounding it off.
Half of the trophies were voted for by the Pro League Technical Committee, industry experts, head coaches, club captains and media representatives.
Top scorer was decided by the AGL statistics, club of the year by Club Licensing rankings, the Best XI by the technical committee, Fantasy Football by the highest-scoring user of the
online Fantasy.AGLeague.ae platform and the fans’ player through thousands of votes submitted via SMS, Facebook, and the official Arabian Gulf League Twitter and Instagram accounts @AGLeague, using the #AGLAwards hashtag.
Al Ain star and Ghana skipper Asamoah Gyan will play a big role as the Black Stars aim to improve on a quarter-final finish from the last World Cup.
Gyan is one of Africah's most prolific strikers with 39 goals from 77 internationals – one goal shy of the country's all-time record.
The 28-year-old is also a part-time music star who goes by the nickname 'Baby Jet', a boxing promoter as well as martial arts fighter and classic car collector.
Former Ghana captain CK Akunnor said Gyan is as much a talisman for the Black Stars as Didier Drogba for Ivory Coast.
"His leadership qualities are there for all to see and his influence on the team is like that of Didier Drogba on the Ivorian team," said Akunnor.
"His form is imperious with the Stars and will again play a key role if we are to have a good World Cup campaign."
Four years ago, Ghana became only the third African team to reach the last eight of the World Cup when they lost after a penalty shootout to Uruguay.
Gyan missed a late penalty in extra-time that would have catapulted the Black Stars to the semi-finals.
"We left the last competition with a bang, although under strange circumstances," said Gyan. "And the fans have still not forgotten about it, so I believe that they will still be waiting to see what we can do again this time."
"The team have been waiting a long time since the 2010 World Cup in which we reached the quarter-finals.
"Being so close to becoming the first African team to reach the semi-final was a great triumph but painful at the same time and we are really motivated to come back and achieve an even better result.
"I believe that we can only get better this time at the World Cup."
Gyan also missed from 12 yards in the semi-final of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations against Zambia. He was heavily criticised by the fans as a result and quit the national team but his mother begged him to reconsider his position — and no longer take penalties.
Gyan will be a familiar face to most of his opponents fans, having turned out for French side Rennes, English Premier League club Sunderland and Udinese of Italy before heading to the United Arab Emirates.
He finished top scorer in the Arabian Gulf league for a third straight season with 29 goals and was the team's standout player during a highly disappointing season for Al Ain.
Al Ahli target history tomorrow when they take on Al Ain in the President’s Cup final attempting to become the first team to complete a domestic treble.
The Red Knights finally lifted the Arabian Gulf League trophy last Sunday, having already beaten Al Jazira last month to capture the Arabian Gulf Cup.
Ahli kicked off the season by snatching the Super Cup, UAE football’s curtain-raiser, from Al Ain, who now stand in the way between them and a clean sweep of the country’s domestic trophies.
Victory would also see the Red Knights successfully defend the President’s Cup title they won against Al Shabab 12 months ago, replicating what the club achieved in 1977 and 1978.
Ahli assistant coach Fabio Cannavaro insists the players, who won the league at a canter, have not taken their eye off the ball just yet and still have one more push left to make as the season draws to a close when they take on Al Ain.
“It’s the last step. We know it will be very difficult because Al Ain is a tough team with very good players. We want to win because we want to make history. It will be very tough,” he said.
“We know the value of Al Ain. We need to prepare the team with a lot of concentration because they have very good players.
“They have the best scorer for the league, (Asamoah) Gyan, they have the best local player (Omar Abdulrahman). They have too many important players.”
Ahli can draw some confidence from the fact that they have already beaten Al Ain in three encounters this season, with their Super Cup success being followed by a 1-0 win in Dubai and 3-2 triumph in the Garden City.
But both coach Cosmin Olaroiu and Cannavaro agree that those victories have no bearing on tomorrow’s final.
“Al Ain is a very big team, you can’t think that you beat them before,” said Olaroiu of the club he coached to back-to-back league
titles in 2012 and 2013.
“They’re always getting better and better.”
Cannavaro added: “The final is the final. You start the game with a 50-50 chance. It will be tough for us but also tough for them.”