x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Brazilian striker Grafite joins Al Ahli

The striker, who was top scorer in Wolfsburg's 2009 Bundesliga winning season, signs a two-year deal with the Dubai club.

Grafite scored 59 goals in 107 Bundesliga appearances for Wolfsburg.
Grafite scored 59 goals in 107 Bundesliga appearances for Wolfsburg.

DUBAI // Al Ahli believe they have pulled of a major coup by signing Grafite, the Brazilian striker, on a two-year deal from the German side Wolfsburg.

Grafite, 32, arrives on a free transfer from the 2008/09 Bundesliga champions and will link up with the Khalil brothers, Faisal and Ahmed, in the Ahli attack as the Dubai club look to turn around their fortunes after two eighth-place finishes since winning the Pro League in 2009.

“When we sign a new player, we are always looking at improving our performance on the pitch and Grafite will be one of our top cards on the pitch next season,” Ahmed Khalifa Hammad, Al Ahli’s chief executive, said.

Hammad refused to discuss the financial details of the deal or speculate over the future of Fabio Cannavaro, the 37-year-old Italy defender, at the club and the identity of their new coach.

“Everything will be announced in time,” he said.

The National revealed last week that Ivan Hasek, the Czech coach who led Ahli to the 2008/09 title, is in pole position to return to the club as manager. Grafite arrives with a fine pedigree after helping Wolfsburg, who are funded by carmakers Volkswagen, to their first league title three seasons ago.

The Brazilian was the Bundesliga’s top scorer in Wolfsburg’s title-winning season, with 28 goals from 25 games, and became only the third foreign player to be named Football of the Year in Germany.

Along with Edin Dzeko, Manchester City's Bosnian striker, he formed the best strike partnership in Bundesliga history, with the pair combining for 54 goals in 2008/09, bettering the 53 of the great Gerd Muller and Uli Hoeness in 1971/72.

During his 107-game career in Germany the Brazilian scored 59 goals for his club. Grafite, who has four Brazil caps, also scored a hat-trick on his Champions League debut and averaged more than a goal every two games in the Bundesliga, but his form last season tailed off as his side narrowly avoided relegation.

Ahli are hoping that his arrival will spark their misfiring attack into life. Despite boasting the talents of Ahmed Khalil, the forward who looks certain to spearhead the national team’s strike force for years to come, Ahli managed just 30 goals from 22 games last season, the second-lowest total in the league ahead of relegated Al Dhafra’s 27.

Grafite, whose first job was a door-to-door salesman for bin bags, confirmed Ahli’s offer was too good to turn down so late in his career.

“At my age it is time to think of my family, which is close to my heart, and discover something new,” he was quoted as saying on Wolfsburg’s official website.

“I want to take a step forward and also prepare my family particularly well for my life after football. “I would like to thank Wolfsburg for four brilliant years in a fantastic country and at a wonderful club.

“I have had many successes here – I was German player of the year, I won the league title and I was the league’s top goalscorer. Now, at the age of 32, it is time for me and my family to try something new.”

Felix Magath, the coach of the German club, paid his tributes to the departing striker. “Grafite will always be a part of Wolfsburg’s history and his name will always be associated with the championship win,” Magath said.

“I wish him all the best for his new challenge.”

arizvi@thenational.ae