x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

A striker's tour of duty from Senegal to Ajman

Ibrahima Toure, the 'one-touch player', signed by the promoted club has enjoyed a prolific start to the UAE football season.

Ibrahima Toure was born in Senegal, trained in a French academy, and played in Morocco and Iran before moving to the UAE.
Ibrahima Toure was born in Senegal, trained in a French academy, and played in Morocco and Iran before moving to the UAE.

In the spring, when Ajman had secured promotion to the Pro League for the 2011/12 season, it was clear that the little northern Emirates side would need reinforcements. It is one matter to escape Division One, quite another to avoid returning to it.

Ajman's investigations soon turned their eye north, to Iran, where a prolific scorer was out of contract with the big Iran club Sepahan. Interest led to contact, and a deal, and a huge dividend for Ajman: no one has scored more goals in the UAE this term than Ibrahima Toure.

"He has become our most important player, and his absence in one game was ample proof of the impact he makes on the pitch," said Abdul Wahab Abdul Kader, Ajman's Iraqi coach, referring to a 1-0 Ajman loss at Al Wahda, a game that Toure missed.

The 26-year-old Senegalese has 10 goals in nine matches so far, seven in the Etisalat Cup. Ricardo Oliveira of Al Jazira also has 10 goals, five in each competition.

Toure has registered at least one goal in eight of his nine matches; Ajman lost the other, and also fell in the one game, the league match at Al Wahda, when Toure was suspended.

"He is a natural goalscorer in the box," Dr Saad Abrahim, the assistant coach, said. "In training we work on getting the ball inside to him, so he doesn't have to make too many touches. His first touch is super, and so is his second, but after that he is not as good."

Thus, supplying Toure is vital, and Karim Kerkar, the French-Algerian midfielder, has excelled in that role. "They make a very good partnership," Dr Abrahim said. "Both are African, and both speak French, and that seems to help a lot."

That Toure would score in bunches comes as no surprise to Ajman. He scored 60 top-flight league goals in only four seasons in Iran, the final two with Sepahan, and is the No 6 all-time goalscorer in the 10-year history of Iran's professional league.

He registered 20 goals in all competitions in 2009/10, when Sepahan won the league, and added 24 last season, seven of them in the Asian Champions League - including three in two group stage matches with Jazira, the eventual Pro League champion.

Toure, 26, was born in Dakar, Senegal's capital, but was bought up in the well-regarded FC Metz academy in France.

The Moroccan club Wydad Casablanca gave him a two-year contract in 2005, but he played sparingly, and by 2007 he was with Paykan FC, in Iran. He scored 13 goals in 21 appearances, and added another 11 in 24 appearances with the big Iran club Persepolis in 2008/09.

If Ajman's research included YouTube video from Toure's time with Sepahan, they would have seen a 10-minute clip showing the striker scoring again and again: a toe-tap volley in a snowstorm, a header, a side-foot shot from near the goal-line, a breakaway, another header, a whistling shot from 30 yards into the corner of the net, a juggling, three-touch-in-mid-air turn, pivot and volley.

"He is very good in the air, heading," Dr Abrahim said. "He's fast, has long legs, accelerates quickly.

"He is not a powerful player, and he avoids physical contact, but he's very agile and he can escape marking easily."

Toure had scored in all seven of Ajman's matches in the current term when the Asian Football Confederation issued a surprise, two-match ban for an incident from May, when the player was still with Sepahan.

Playing without him, Ajman lost 1-0 to Wahda; Toure finished out his suspension during a reserve division game, and he is expected to be available tomorrow when Ajman play host to Al Jazira.

Josef Hickersberger, the Wahda coach, expressed relief that Toure was unavailable for their match.

"We were fortunate that Toure wasn't in the line-up," the Austrian said. "Had he been present in their attack it certainly could have made a lot of difference, and possibly Ajman would have scored from the chances they created in the first half."

Hickersberger also paid tribute to Toure's finishing talents. "He is a one-touch player with excellent technical skills and is tall and very effective on the high ball. And, more importantly, he is a confident player, having scored in almost every game."

Toure is known for colourful dances after his goals, which he celebrates at the nearest corner flag, and for scant trouble with his clubs. One of the few demerits on his CV: he left Iran to visit his family, while with Persepolis, and reportedly did not return on time and was fined.

At Ajman, the biggest concern is diversifying the attack beyond Toure, who has all but four of the 14 goals the club have scored in all competitions. "We're working on getting others to score, and not just him," Dr Abrahim said.

Ajman holds out hope for goals from Olivier Tia, a striker from Ivory Coast, as well as Haasan Maatouk, the Lebanon international midfielder.

Meantime, the Orange Brigade, as the club is sometimes known, have demonstrated that their discovery of Toure makes them a handful for any UAE opponent.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae