Al Ain superstar Asamoah Gyan has credited the lesser lights in the squad for their dominant run to the Arabian Gulf League crown.
The Boss secured the title with three games to spare on April 17 after second-placed Al Jazira stumbled towards the finishing post.
They currently sit eight points clear after Monday night’s goalless draw at Al Wahda, the final whistle at Al Nahyan Stadium seeing the players celebrate wildly in front of the boisterous travelling support.
The club’s third top-flight success in four seasons has been claimed despite injury-ravaged campaigns for prized assets Gyan and standout playmaker Omar Abdulrahman.
Only four matches have been logged thus far with the pair starting, meaning others had to step up.
The Ghana striker highlighted his stand-in Jires Kembo Ekoko and a pair of UAE defenders when discussing Al Ain’s success.
He said: “We have a lot of players who have stood up. Ismail Ahmed and Mohamed Ahmed, a lot of players. It is good when you have an all-round team, who can cope when you have a lot of players out.
“There also is Jires Kembo Ekoko. When I have been injured, he has stood in for me and scored a lot of goals for the club and helped Miroslav Stoch.”
The triumph has seen coach Zlatko Dalic continue the rehabilitation job he began upon arrival.
He was an unheralded appointment in March 2014, but has overseen President’s Cup and AGL successes as well as a run to the 2014 AFC Champions League semi-finals.
“This season has been very difficult for the coach to choose his players, because of injuries,” Gyan said.
“Me and Omar, especially. He put in other players and they did their job. It was not easy. He has done an incredible job this season.”
Al Ain were down in eighth when Dalic joined, Jorge Fossati and Quique Sanchez Flores failing to fill in following Cosmin Olaroiu’s painful summer defection to Al Ahli.
Gyan declined to pinpoint anyone for the failure that immediately preceded the Croatian’s selection.
He said: “No disrespect to anybody, but I think we have played better football. We won the title for two years in a row and the third season was really bad.
“This can happen in football, no-one is to be blamed.”
The high-profile Premier League lifestyle with Sunderland was ditched by Gyan to join the Boss, initially on loan, in 2011.
The switch to the Middle East was denounced in certain quarters, but Gyan – who signed a contract extension until 2018 last July – believes his continued triumphs justified the “best move I have ever made”.
“Career-wise, it has been great,” he said. “There were a lot of criticisms when I left England.
“At international and club level, it has been tremendous for me. It has been the best move I have ever made in my career.”
As ever when the nominees are released for the end-of-season Arabian Gulf League Awards, the names that are not on there are just as enlightening as those that made the shortlists.
Al Ahli dominated last year’s ceremony in Abu Dhabi just as they did on the football pitch.
Their Arabian Gulf League, Arabian Gulf Super Cup and Arabian Gulf Cup treble was reflected in Grafite and Ismail Al Hammadi’s successes as the Foreign Player of the Year and Emirati Player of the Year.
This time the latter is the only Red Knight found in the 27 stars up for the premier individual prizes, reflecting the degradation caused by their drop to distant fifth in the top flight and their sole Super Cup victory.
For 2014/15, purple is the colour. Newly-crowned champions Al Ain boast the higher number of candidates with five on the afforementioned lists, coach Zlatko Dalic and goalkeeper Khalid Essa also set to triumph in their sections.
Champions, Mabrook Ainawi!!! pic.twitter.com/VUpmOPCD6F
— Zlatko Dalic (@DalicZlatko) April 17, 2015
Yet the Boss are more than likely to be denied the glamorous Emirati and Foreign Player prizes when the 14 AGL clubs and local media representatives cast their ballots.
UAE centre-back Mohanad Salem has been a talisman for them, also arguably the finest defender at January’s Asian Cup.
But a sizable weight stands behind international team-mate and Al Jazira front man Ali Mabkhout.
The 24-year-old’s development has been incredible this term, scoring 14 goals from a wide-forward position and top scoring at the Asian Cup and Gulf Cup for the Whites.
He has blossomed since the summer arrival of 25-goal leading marksman Mirko Vucinic from Juventus, the Montenegro striker’s unbelievable debut campaign surely setting him on course to be awarded the Foreign Player title.
The Pride of Abu Dhabi are currently eight points behind Al Ain, battling Al Shabab and Al Wahda for second while rumours swirl about coach Eric Gerets’ job security.
That Al Ain could have a quiet night at their expense when the AGL Awards ceremony takes place, at a date yet to be confirmed, is illustrative of the team effort that has put the former on top.
Three-time successive top scorer Asamoah Gyan and resident superstar Omar Abdulrahman – both absent from this season’s Awards – have started together only four times because of consistent injury problems, although the effect of their absences have been negated by sound management.
Traditionally, the Foreign Player and Emirati Player sections garner the most interest.
This time around, Dalic’s role in dealing with the regular loss of his two star players and the draining effect of AFC Champions League participation, unlike closest rivals Jazira, should receive superior acclaim.
A visionary summer injection of youth, pace and aggression through Stoch and defensive midfielder Lee Myung-joo – a staggering omission for Foreign Player – set a perfect platform to compete on all fronts.
Step by step pic.twitter.com/938a69gBSU
— Zlatko Dalic (@DalicZlatko) April 23, 2015
Any failure to find solutions to the necessary squad rotation and different tactical plans to combat opposition without your biggest weapons would have seen the club finish the campaign potless.
Dalic refreshed a stale side that was an unflattering sixth when he arrived in March 2014.
His triumphant 2014/15 should see this coach, who always stresses the collective, embrace his time in the spotlight when the great and good of UAE football celebrate the elite amongst them.
The Pro League Committee has sent ballot papers to all 14 Arabian Gulf League clubs as well as representatives of the Media in order to cast their votes ahead of the 2014/15 Arabian Gulf League Awards.
The industry voting process requires the head coach, manager and captain of each club, as well as selected representatives of the media, to cast their votes by ranking players and coaches on the pre-selected shortlists determined by the PLC’s Technical Committee from 1-5 – 1 being the best – in the categories of Emirati Player of the Year, Foreign Player of the Year, Goalkeeper of the Year, Coach of the Year, and Rookie of the Year.
In each category, the player or coach ranked 1 by the voter will be awarded 5 points, 2 will be awarded 4 points, 3 will be awarded 3 points, 4 will be awarded 2 points, and 5 will be awarded 1 point.
Once all ballot papers are submitted and the points are tallied for each candidate, the Technical Committee will deduct 1 point for each yellow card, 2 points for each red card and 2 points for each game missed through suspension for each player.
Whereas for coaches, points will be added based on the number of games won under the direction of the coach, whilst 2 points will be deducted for each penalty or fine issued against the coach.
Please follow the voting instructions: “player name + club name +#AGLAwards“. Otherwise, the vote will not be counted
— Arabian Gulf League (@AGLeague) April 28, 2015
The shortlisted candidates for the industry voting process were selected by the PLC’s Technical Committee based upon statistical data and technical performance throughout the 2014/15 Arabian Gulf League season, and the shortlisted names are as follows:
EMIRATI PLAYER OF THE YEAR (14 candidates)
Mohanad Salem (Al Ain), Mohammed Abdulrahman (Al Ain), Mohammed Fayez (Al Ain), Ibrahim Diaky (Al Ain), Ali Mabkhout (Al Jazira), Khamis Esmail (Al Jazira), Mahmoud Khamis (Al Nasr), Tariq Ahmed (Al Nasr), Dawood Ali (Al Shabab), Mohammed Ayed (Al Shabab), Amer Omar (Al Wahda), Ismail Al Hammadi (Al Ahli), Salem Abdulla (Al Wasl), Hazza Salem (Al Wasl).
FOREIGN PLAYER OF THE YEAR (13 candidates)
Miroslav Stoch (Al Ain), Mirko Vucinic (Al Jazira), Manuel Lanzini (Al Jazira), Sebastian Tagliabue (Al Wahda), Makhete Diop (Al Dhafra), Carlos Villanueva (Al Shabab), Edgar Bruno (Al Shabab), Fabio de Lima (Al Wasl), Caio Canedo (Al Wasl), Hassan Maatouk (Fujairah), Brett Holman (Al Nasr), Luiz Henrique (Emirates), Wanderley Santos (Sharjah).
GOALKEEPER OF THE YEAR (5 candidates)
Khalid Essa (Al Ain), Adel Alhosani (Al Wahda), Ahmad Shambieh (Al Nasr), Abdulla Sultan (Al Dhafra), Salem Abdulla (Al Shabab).
COACH OF THE YEAR (5 candidates)
Zlatko Dalic (Al Ain), Caio Junior (Al Shabab), Gabriel Calderon (Al Wasl), Eric Gerets (Al Jazira), Ivan Jovanovic (Al Nasr).
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR (5 candidates)
Ahmed Rashid (Al Wahda), Saeed Jassim (Al Ahli), Jassim Yaqoob (Al Nasr), Hussain Abbas Juma (Al Nasr), Hamad Yaaqoob (Al Dhafra).