x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Duelling duo have 30 goals in sight

Fourteen years after Albouri Lah acored 29 goals for AL Wahda, at least two players have positioned themselves to make a run at the record: Asamoah Gyan of Al Ain and Grafite of Al Ahli.

Grafite, centre, has scored 11 goals so far this season.
Grafite, centre, has scored 11 goals so far this season.

Ahead of the 1998/99 season a former Senegal international named Albouri Lah arrived in Abu Dhabi to join the Al Wahda club as a striker.

He was 32 when the season began, probably past his prime as an attacking player, but he had a fairly impressive background, certainly by the modest standards of UAE football back then.

He had spent four seasons under contract with Paris St-Germain, making six first-team appearances with the club. He had also been loaned to the Breton club Guingamp, and in 1992 played in the African Cup of Nations, which Senegal hosted, and had won a domestic championship with the Dakar side Diaraf.

Lah made an immediate and memorable impact on UAE football. In that 1998/99 season he led Wahda to their first league championship and scored 29 goals in the process, believed to be a record in the UAE top flight.

Fourteen years later, at least two players have positioned themselves to make a run at Lah's record: Asamoah Gyan of Al Ain and Grafite of Al Ahli.

The former enters the seventh round of Pro League play already on 12 goals, and the latter is right behind with 11, despite missing the Dubai match last week after picking up his third caution.

At their present pace, Gyan would break Lah's record in Round 15, if he keeps up his average of two goals per game, and Grafite would pass Lah in Round 17, even if he misses another game to suspension.

Their totals are remarkable particularly when considering recent seasons. Only two years ago Andre Senghor topped the league with 18 goals. In 2007/08, Faisal Khalil and Anderson shared top-scorer honours with only 16 each.

Several factors would suggest that Gyan and Grafite have very good chances to set a record.

These two have a history of putting balls in nets. Grafite led Germany in scoring in 2008/09 with 28 goals for the surprise Bundesliga champions Wolfsburg. A year later Gyan had 13 Ligue 1 goals for Rennes, and in 2010/11 he produced 10 for the Premier League side Sunderland. The Ghana international scored 22 for Al Ain last season, and the Brazilian produced 20 for Ahli.

ŸEach plays for a strong club and is surrounded by complementary players. At Al Ain, Gyan has Omar Abdulrahman, Mirel Radoi, Helal Saeed and Jires Kembo Ekoko to supply him. Grafite can expect service from Luis Jimenez, Achille Emana and Ismail Al Hammadi.

ŸGyan and Grafite have the further advantage of taking penalties for their sides. That can mean another four or five goals per season.

ŸAt age 26, Gyan is in his prime. At age 33, Grafite presumably is past his, but it would be difficult to discern from his successes thus far.

The biggest advantage the duo have in their record chase is the addition of two more teams to the Pro League.

Not only does that mean 26 league games, up from 22, it means four additional matches against what ought to be weaker clubs.

Each is already taking advantage. Gyan had two goals against Ajman, three versus Dhafra and two against Dibba Al Fujairah. In his side's only match against a side promoted this season or last, Grafite had two goals versus Kalba.

Grafite has an advantage in that he will not spend time playing for his national side, as Gyan will for Ghana at the African Cup of Nations in January. And both are deadly in front of the net, but Grafite seems slightly more adept at scoring without the help of others.

Also, Grafite has nine more matches against what appear to be the league's five weakest sides. Gyan has only seven.

Each could be the first to bag 30 league goals and displace Lah from the record books. Grafite seems a bit more likely to do so.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE