Another season has passed in the Arabian Gulf League and the time has come to pore over the last seven months of action.
Al Ain’s charge to a record-extending 13th title stole the headlines, with the club winding up their dominant campaign on Sunday with a memorable coronation.
But it is not only the Boss who impressed throughout. Promoted Ajman defied their yo-yo reputation to stick around for 2018/19, while UAE coach Alberto Zaccheroni will be pleased to see several fresh options emerging ahead of the Asian Cup on home soil in January.
Here are the winners – and one loser – from Sport360’s annual awards.
TEAM OF THE SEASON
There is only one place to start and that is Al Ain – the Boss truly lived up to their nickname.
They bought superbly with Sweden No9 Marcus Berg and Egypt revelation Hussein El Shahat, remained undefeated until February and scored 15 more goals than anyone else. Coach Zoran Mamic must be fulsomely praised for landing the club’s first silverware since August 2015, with a game to spare.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
Several pretenders have come and gone for Al Ain since the departure of legendary striker Asamoah Gyan in July 2015.
In Marcus Berg, they’ve finally got an appropriate replacement. The €3.3 million (Dh14.7m) summer buy from Panathinaikos won the Golden Boot with 25 goals in 21 matches, plus became the top assist maker with 10.
EMIRATI OF THE SEASON
The monopoly held by Al Ain playmaker Omar Abdulrahman and Al Jazira hot shot Ali Mabkhout was broken by Al Nasr warrior Khalifa Mubarak.
The giant centre-back, 24, came into his own for club and country this season. His worth at the heart of the third-meanest defence became truly apparent when mentor Ivan Jovanovic was rehired in January – six clean sheets from nine games were then registered.
COACH OF THE SEASON
For all the success of Mamic, the greatest cheer must be reserved for Ajman’s Ayman Elramady.
Few held any hope for the Orange Brigade when their return to the top flight after two seasons away began with four successive defeats. But their Egyptian supremo engendered a belief that carried them all the way to eighth place – a second-best finish of the professional era.
SIGNING OF THE SEASON
It is no stretch of the imagination to say that January’s decision to ditch Brazilian striker Douglas in the final days of the transfer window and capture Egypt utility man Hussein El Shahat defined Al Ain’s campaign.
With the 26-year-old in their ranks, the Boss won nine out of 11 engagements. This run from him included seven goals and nine assists.
GAME OF THE SEASON
Al Ain 6-2 Al Wahda will live long in the collective memory of UAE football. An increasingly bitter and tense rivalry was played out in full technicolour at a raucous Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on March 1.
It featured Wahda reversing a 2-0 deficit by 70 minutes, before a pair of red cards and four further goals sent the baying hosts into ecstasy.
REVELATION OF THE SEASON
Before 2017/18 began, Rayan Yaslam had started just two games for Al Ain in six seasons among the first team.
He ended a breakthrough campaign with 20 appearances, 16 starts, four assists, four goals and a prominent role earned for both club and country. This helped limit the damage caused by a mundane campaign from Abdulrahman.
DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE SEASON
Al Jazira’s summer recruitment drive unfortunately provides a plethora of contenders, but Lassana Diarra is first in line.
The ex-France and Real Madrid anchorman was meant to add gravitas ahead of a Club World Cup run on home soil. Instead, a contractual dispute meant the last of five forgettable top-flight run-outs came in early November.
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