x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Etisalat Cup in mind for Ajman's Boris Kabi

A proven and prolific goal scorer in the UAE, the Ivorian has designs on leading the UAE Pro League side to cup glory, writes John McAuley.

Boris Kabi, left, hopes to avenge the 2010 Etisala Cup final defeat to Al Jazira this season, with his Ajman team currently top of Group C ahead of Sunday's final round of group games. Al Ittihad
Boris Kabi, left, hopes to avenge the 2010 Etisala Cup final defeat to Al Jazira this season, with his Ajman team currently top of Group C ahead of Sunday's final round of group games. Al Ittihad

No wonder opposition defences have such a hard time keeping tabs on Boris Kabi. The Ajman striker, currently third in the Pro League scoring charts, has upped sticks 11 times in 11 years as a professional.

While he has collected clubs – seven in all, including two spells with Ajman – at a pretty rapid rate, it is only beaten by the breakneck accumulation of goals. His talent, evidenced by 43 strikes in 64 UAE top-flight matches, remains indisputable.

"It's not me, it's my agent," Kabi says when asked to explain his permanently itchy feet. "He tells me there's a team interested and, if the contract's good, I'll go."

The willingness to wander should not be mistaken for mercenary desires. As he relaxes into his chair at the Coral Beach Resort, Kabi does not display the typical trappings of a modern-day footballer.

Indeed, the only "bling" he bears is the gold cross dangling from his neck, more confirmation of a devotion to his religion than to exploiting his ability. He drives a modest saloon, and stays in a simple apartment five minutes from Ajman's Rashid bin Saeed Stadium.

He is humble – quick apologies are made for his limited English – yet educated, having studied science and economics for two years at his hometown university in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, before football became his vocation. In truth, it always would have been if it were not for his mother.

"I didn't like university much but she put a lot of pressure on me," Kabi says.

"She's a strong woman; very, very strong. When I told her I wanted to play football she said: 'No, you have to finish school and be a doctor.'

"But now she's happy because I wanted to be a footballer and did it. In the Ivory Coast, if you finish school and become a teacher, you can't buy much. But if you play football well, you have a good chance to have money and a good life for you and your family. You can look after them."

Since growing up in Abidjan, Kabi has seen his immediate family extend from his parents and three siblings – he is second oldest – to include his wife and two children.

He married his school sweetheart in 2006, and talks effusively about his four-year-old daughter, Erica, and son Otaniel, two years her junior. He has come far since he was a 17-year-old striker with aspirations of "making it", a scorer who impressed for his college team and was whisked to Italy to chase his dream.

Unsuccessful spells followed at two Serie B sides on the slide: Perugia – one year – and Treviso – 19 months.

"I was suited to Italy because I've power, am very fast and score goals," Kabi, now 28, says.

"But it was difficult for me because I was still young. I'd speak sometimes to my family by phone and they would say to take responsibility for myself and take care. So I did."

However, a disagreement between agent and club meant Kabi returned to Abidjan, where he waited six months for a call to continue his career. It never arrived and another agent, sensing an opportunity, offered a move to Morocco.

Kabi spent six months with Olympic Safi in 2007, until a contract with Al Raed, a Saudi Arabia side, was thrust under his nose. Yet within a year he was packing his bags again, this time for Ajman.

"Saudi was a very competitive league, but to live there, it's too closed," he says of his time in Buraidah, a relatively robust city in Al Qassim Province.

"It was only training, my house, training. It was just me, speaking to my family on Skype.

"Before Saudi, I didn't know it was different. For me, it was just like any other country, but I went there and decided it wasn't a problem, it was my job. I always think of my job. When I finish football I have more time to enjoy with my family but, for now, football's my job."

Although a football fan – he is an avid viewer of the English Premier League, Serie A and German Bundesliga – at times the sport has seemed simply a trade, his allegiance tested.

There was relegation with Ajman in 2010, again with Al Dhafra a season later and then a runner-up finish in the AFC Cup during six months in Kuwait.

Yet one experience particularly gnaws. Kabi had the chance to secure silverware with Ajman at the 2010 Etisalat Cup final, yet Al Jazira scored two late goals and rode off into the desert with the trophy. What was worse, Ajman, despite their league struggles, could claim to have been the better side.

"I forget this game because we lost the chance to lift a title," Kabi says. "I felt very hurt, didn't sleep the night of the final and even weeks later my wife was telling me to forget about it.

"We were relegated so I wanted to take the cup to the club president, who always helped me and my family, and say: 'This is a gift for you. We are in the second division now but we have this memory.' I gave everything."

Banishing that memory now occupies his thoughts. Currently top of Group C going into this weekend's final round of Etisalat Cup matches, Ajman have cup glory in their sights.

Kabi, revelling in the added responsibility of team captain, has played a large part in putting his side in that position, taking his overall tally in the competition to 13 goals in 25 appearances. He is a man firmly on a mission.

"The Etisalat Cup is revenge for me," he says.

"I tell my players staying in the league is our priority but to put the cup in their minds because we have a big chance.

"I want to take this trophy. And if God gives me the chance, I think I can."

Kabi's inclination to place his fate in superior hands is a contact refrain. A Roman Catholic, he prays twice a day, his chest and arm are tattooed with elaborate crosses and he credits his current career to his faith.

His second calling, though, could yet see him maintain the role of a footballing vagabond. Ajman may be "like my family", but Kabi has loftier ambitions.

"I want to play for a big team," he says before revealing rumours of past interest from Al Ain, and top teams in Saudi.

"To finish my career with a championship and lift a cup. I still dream of that."


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