UAE football’s top flight will be known as the Arabian Gulf League from next season, the division’s governing body announced on Sunday night.
Speaking at the Pro League Awards in Abu Dhabi PLC chairman Mohammed Thani Al Rumaithi revealed the name change was intended to acknowledge the role played by the stretch of water, and the Emiratis who fished on it, in establishing the country.
“Why the name was chosen was because my great-great-grandfather who lived here, and not only mine, everybody’s who lived here in this country were surviving and eating, and all they had came from the sea,” Al Rumaithi told Sport360°.
The name change comes six years after the Pro League was initially launched and Al Rumaithi added: “As appreciation for that sea which has allowed so many generations to live here because of it, as appreciation we are giving the name of our league.”
Meanwhile, Al Ain and UAE playmaker Omar Abdulrahman netted an awards double on the night as he scampered off with the Fans' Player of the Year and the Emirati Player of the Year accolades.
Al Ahli striker Grafite beat off competition from Al Ain counterpart Asamoah Gyan to the International Player of the Year despite the latter becoming the first player in history to net more than 30 goals in a single season.
Edinaldo Batista Libânio has achieved a great deal in his globetrotting career. Known the world over more commonly as Grafite, the powerful Brazilian striker has taken his talents to France, Germany, and South Korea since departing his homeland seven years ago.
Now in the UAE having moved to Dubai-based club Al Ahli in the summer of 2011, Grafite is proving to be one of the stand-out stars of the ever-improving Pro League.
While some high-profile players in their twilight years have headed to the region for an easy life and the lure of one final payday, 33-year-old Grafite is not one of them.
“I was asked by many journalists when I first moved to Dubai what I thought about the foreign players that move here just for the lifestyle and to collect the money,” he said.
“I told them that I couldn’t answer that because I am here to play football. I am here for a new challenge in my career. I understand that many players do come here for that, but that is not me.
“I come into training every day and work as hard as I can and it is the same on match days.
“People may think that because I scored lots of goals in Germany then I can come here and work 50 per cent and still score 25 goals, but that is simply not the case.
“If you don’t work hard and have the right mentality then you will struggle here no matter how much talent you may have or what you have achieved in the past.”
And Grafite is a player who has certainly achieved. In Brazil he helped Sao Paulo to a Campeonato Paulista, Copa Libertadores and Club World Cup treble in 2005 before heading to France with Le Mans.
Following a season in Ligue 1, Germany beckoned and it was there where he enjoyed arguably the finest spell of his career. Grafite’s league-high 28 goals in his second season with Wolfsburg in 2008-09 helped fire the club to their first ever league title and earned him the accolade of Bundesliga Player of the Year.
However, all was not well off the pitch. “My time in Germany was very successful for me professionally, but in my private life there were many problems,” Grafite explained.
“My wife and my children were not as happy as they could have been so the most important feeling I had when thinking about the next club I would join was for my family.
“And my wife and my children love it here,” he added. “My eldest daughter is 14 and she has lots of friends, takes part in lots of clubs and activities at school and it’s the same with my middle girl.
“This is the most important thing to me now; the happiness of my family.
“It also helps me professionally as I can come to training and the stadiums for games and focus on doing a good job knowing my family is happy and safe.”
Grafite’s contentment off the pitch is clearly paying dividends on it. After a solid first season that produced 16 league goals and an Etisalat Cup winner’s medal, Grafite has found a new level this term. Second only behind Al Ain’s Asamoah Gyan in the scoring stakes, he has netted 19 times in just 13 league games.
And while he has found the back of the net with stunning regularity this season to hoist Ahli into title contention, Grafite is not resting on his laurels.
“Yes I am having a good season and as a club we are doing well, but you can always be better and I always try to better what I have already done,” he continued.
“Whenever I score two or three goals in a game, people approach me on the street and will say ‘Graffa, next time we want four goals or five goals’.
“I guess that is normal when you score as many as myself and Asamoah have done this season, but I try to tell them, sometimes it is not that easy!”
Grafite has been a huge hit since his arrival, but it could all come to an end if Ahli fail to offer him an extension on the contract due to expire next July.
“My first wish is to stay here in Dubai with Al Ahli. If that is not possible then I could return to Europe or look at other places in the Middle East like Qatar,” he said.
“I feel fit enough and strong enough to play here for another three or four years, but I cannot predict what will happen tomorrow. It all depends on what is best of me, my family and the club.
“But my first priority, for sure, is to remain at Al Ahli.”