Everton Ribeiro’s beaming smile was a feature of Saturday’s 2015/16 Arabian Gulf League Awards ceremony – but it masks an inner thirst to succeed.
The event might have been a celebratory salute to the cream of the crop at the end of the AGL season, but the diminutive Brazilian is targeting further success with the Red Knights – starting with this year’s President’s Cup.
The gifted playmaker, 27, was named in the league’s Best XI at Emirates Palace. It was fully deserved following some mesmeric performances for Cosmin Olaroiu’s title winners.
The six-times capped Brazil international scored nine goals and recorded nine assists in a fine first full season in the Emirates, which, he says, will not be his last.
“I’m very happy, my family is with me and I really like it here, and I’m proud to play for Al Ahli,” said the former Corinthians and Cruzeiro man. “When I came here, I was thinking one thing: win the league, be champions. I’m very happy to make it to the best XI and now I continue for other things, because I like this… I like to win trophies.
“I’m so happy to take this trophy (AGL title). It’s very important to me because I fight with the team and it’s the first target. I want more. I want to win the President’s Cup. Last season, we were so close. Now we have a chance to finish the season well and we will try for that.
“After that, we’ll come back hungry for the league and the Champions League again.”
Although Ribeiro’s arrival in the Emirates last February cannot be heralded as Ahli’s defining saving grace in an otherwise trophyless domestic campaign, it did certainly coincide with an upturn in fortunes.
Ribeiro signed a few weeks before the Champions League group stages kicked off and was instrumental in their miraculous run to the final, where the Red Knights were only beaten 1-0 on aggregate by China’s Guangzhou Evergrande.
He notched four goals and three assists en-route to the final and the Brazilian admits becoming just the second UAE team to win the Champions League, after Al Ain in 2003, remains a key objective for him and the team.
“We talk every time about this because we went so close but we could not grab it,” said Ribeiro. “We will fight again for this championship because it’s very important for us. This is a big target. Now we have the experience and we go stronger for the next step.”
Olaroiu’s future at Rashid Stadium might be under the microscope at the moment, but Ribeiro insists the Romanian is key to any future success for the club.
He added: “Cosmin is the best coach. If he stays we will have more chance for next season.”
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The Red Knights’ 2015/16 title success has been somewhat dampened by speculation Olariou, 46, could exit Rashid Stadium this summer.
Aguirre believes the UAE is becoming a haven for the world’s top coaches and would be sad to see either Olaroiu or the Emirates.
“Cosmin is a top, top name. I would encourage him to stay at Ahli, of course,” said the 57-year-old former Atletico Madrid and Mexico boss.
“These two guys (Olaroiu and Dalic), sitting between these two guys is, for me, an honour. I’m really proud to be here alongside them and be among these big names in this league.
For me that’s a trophy.
“Both of them. They have to (stay).
“There are big names coming here. (Al Jazira coach Henk) Ten Cate also is a big, big name. It’s good for the league.”
The 32-year-old firebrand star-ted the season as the title winners’ No2 following his six-match continental ban for an altercation with a photographer during an AFC Champions League game against Tractor Sazi in March 2015.
Ahmed Dida stepped into the void left by the UAE international as the Red Knights reached the final of Asia’s premier club competition. It took until December for Nasser to wrestle back the No1 jersey, but his contribution was telling.
Nasser played in 17 of Ahli’s final 18 top-flight games, suffering just one defeat, while he kept a joint-high nine clean sheets.
“He’s the best goalkeeper without doubt,” said Olaroiu of Nasser, who also made the Best XI. “We have to not forget Majed didn’t start the season. Dida was the first goalkee-per for a long while with his suspension in the Champions League. He waited his turn, trained hard and when he got the chance he took it and became the best goalkeeper.”
Nasser’s team-mate Kwon Kyung-won was also named in the elite selecton and the defender paid tribute to his club-mates.
“I’m delighted with the award, it shows we had a good defence,” said the 24-year-old South Korean.
“I didn’t win it myself, it was the team and I want to say thanks to my team-mates.”
Al Wahda coach Javier Aguirre, meanwhile, was thrilled about Mohamed Al Akbari picking up Under-21 Player of the Year and the crop of exciting youngsters spearheaded by the 20-year-old.
“I’m happy with the awards for Tagliabue and Al Akbari,” said the Mexican. “I have a really good feeling with the young players next year. Three or four of them have to be big hits in the league. We have Khalil (Ibrahim), (Mohammad) Abdulbasit and Salem Sultan. They have to play 25 games next season.”