Fabio De Lima arrived as a nobody at Al Wasl five years and transformed himself into an Arabian Gulf League legend.
De Lima, 25, has netted 93 times in 116 top-flight matches since an initial two-year loan was inked from Atletico Goianiense.
These supreme performances have not gone unnoticed. Sport360 talked to the forward about enduring links to Saudi Arabia, representing the UAE and life at Al Wasl:
Tell us about your beginnings with football, surely there were many odds?
My beginning in soccer was a little bit difficult, like many Brazilian players. My family was lower middle class, with a few opportunities.
But I became a professional footballer at age 16. I left Brazil at 20-years old and I am still in the UAE at 25. I’m very proud to have reached these objectives.
You are the best foreign scorer in the history of Al Wasl, what does this mean to you?
It is an honour to have achieved that number of goals in a club of the greatness of Al Wasl. Many good players worked here and this makes this achievement even bigger. There have been five seasons with more than 120 goals – and I hope that many others will come next season.
Why did you refuse to leave when Saudi clubs negotiated for you?
I had some proposals last summer and during the season, but I chose to stay for a few reasons.
There was a proposal in which I thought it was not the time to leave, because the club [Wasl] was not doing very well in the league and I wanted to help.
In the other case, Al Wasl, themselves, did not even consider accepting the offer.
If Al Hilal or Al Nassr make offers for you, which would you choose?
They are big clubs, the largest in Saudi Arabia, in my opinion. But, I’m an Al Wasl player, my focus is working here while wearing that yellow shirt.
Why did Al Wasl fall in comparison to previous seasons? Did ex-coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena’s departure affect the team?
The departure of the coach affected the team a little, because he had the group in hand and we trusted him a lot. These exchanges did not work very well, but we will continue working for the best results.
Who was the best local and foreign player in the UAE league last season?
In my opinion, the best local player was Majed (Hassan), of Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club, and the best foreigner was Igor (Coronado) from Sharjah.
Some are talking about the fact that you will get UAE nationality and play for the team in the coming period. What is your comment on this?
This comment has been made for years, but I didn’t receive any invitation. I know the players well and the local soccer, because I’ve spent almost six years in the country. It would be an honour to naturalise me in the UAE and play for the national team.
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Veteran Greek goalkeeper Dimitrios ‘Dimi’ Konstantopoulos is being linked with a move to a Dubai club after leaving Championship side Middlesbrough.
The 40-year-old, capped once by his nation in 2011, is believed to be mulling over a lucrative 12-month deal with an as yet unnamed Arabian Gulf League club.
However, it might be in a coaching capacity as AGL rules prohibit clubs buying foreign keepers. UAE sides previously were able to include four foreign players in a matchday squad, with one being of Asian ethnicity or with an Asian qualified passport.
But rules were changed last summer allowing clubs to include up to five other players who are either UAE passport holders, players born to Emirati women, or UAE residents.
But rules remain in place stating goalkeepers must be Emirati, lending weight to the possibility that Konstantopoulos could be set for a coaching role, like former Arsenal stopper Manuel Almunia, who is a goalkeeping coach at Al Jazira.
The former AEK Athens custodian has spoken with former Boro team-mate Alvaro Negredo who is with Dubai-based Al Nasr and admitted he is already planning for when he does finally hang up his gloves.
“My plan is that I want to coach after I retire but I have not set a date for when that is,” he told the Northern Echo.
“I have done my B Licence and now I am working towards my A.”
Jumaa, a highly-decorated icon of UAE football, has returned to the club he spent 19 years at to take on the role of team manager, where he will work closely with new Dutch coach Maurice Steijn.
The former ADO Den Haag and VVV-Venlo manager was announced as compatriot Henk ten Cate’s replacement on June 24, when Jumaa’s celebrated return to Al Nahyan Stadium was also confirmed following his exit as a player 12 years ago.
“First of all I am so happy to be again in my club, and my home,” Juma, 42, told Sport360.
“I started my career here and I have to return something for this club. I hope that I can do something. It’s a new challenge for me as team manager.”
The 49-times capped UAE international spent a decade in the Wahda first team from 1997-2007, having emerged through the youth ranks, before leaving for capital city rivals Al Jazira, where he spent five more years.
The former defensive midfielder wrapped up his playing career at another Abu Dhabi-affiliated club, Al Dhafra, with whom he finally brought the curtain down on his illustrious playing days in 2016, aged 39.
He then immediately jumped into the Western Knights dugout as team manager, but is now back where it all began.
And he has one key goal above all others – to win the AGL title, something the Clarets have not been able to do since 2009/10. Jumaa was part of that championship-winning side nine years ago; it was one of three he lifted while with his boyhood club (also in 1998/99 and 2000/01).
He also lifted the 2000 President’s Cup with Wahda, while another league (2010/11) and two more President’s Cup (2011 and 12) successes followed with Jazira.
“Al Wahda have not been a champion for too long so we are going to work for that,” added Jumaa.
“Me, the technical staff, the players, the medical staff, the administration, we will start to work for that.
“It was too long, but this is a new challenge for me. I was a player here and won a lot of things and I hope as team manager to win a lot of things again.”
Another goal for both Jumaa and the club is a crack at the continent and the AFC Champions League crown. The Clarets face Al Nassr, champions of Saudi Arabia, in the opening knockout round of this year’s competition next month.
The first leg of the round-of-16 clash takes place at Riyadh’s King Fahd International Stadium on August 5, with the return leg in Abu Dhabi a week later.
The Champions League is also a competition Wahda hope to reassert themselves in. They will be rewriting history next month, the Nassr tie will be the first time they are playing in a knockout game in the competition for over a decade, since they lost 3-1 on aggregate to Iran’s Sepahan in 2007.
Jumaa was part of the squad back then and is keen for the Clarets to make an impression.
“It’s very important for Al Wahda. We are looking forward to the Asia Cup,” he added.
“We know it will not be easy, it will be difficult because we are going to play a strong team that are champions in their league. But we have to not forget ourselves that we are a big team and a good team, so I hope that we will work hard in the camp to prepare ourselves for this match.”
Jumaa and the club are currently preparing for that Nassr tie in the Netherlands, where they are in the midst of a three-week training camp.
Jumaa is the oldest of three brothers, with both Abdulraheem and Ahmed having also represented the UAE.
When Jumaa left for Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in 2007, Ahmed, the youngest of the three brothers, followed him a year later and they were joined by Abdulraheem in 2011.