And the winner is ... The National's 2019/20 Arabian Gulf League Awards
The Arabian Gulf League Awards usually take place this week, but in light of the competition's shut down, we're putting together our own.
Typically, at this time of year, the great and the good of the Arabian Gulf League come together for the season’s annual awards.
However, with the coronavirus prompting a suspension of play back in March, the ceremony most probably won't take place until the final seven rounds are complete - with a provisional date for the league's return set for August.
That said, The National has decided to hand out the prizes now, choosing our winners from the various categories based on the campaign thus far.
Best Emirati player: Bandar Al Ahbabi (Al Ain)
No other candidate comes close. In fact, the Al Ain full-back-cum-winger is most probably the league’s standout player of the season, period. Just ask Kodjo Laba. The Togolese striker has been the chief profiteer of Al Ahbabi’s deadeye delivery, with eight of his 19 goals set up by the Emirati. Al Ahbabi, who mixes pace on the flank with precision in his crossing, leads the league with 12 assists from 17 league matches. Thanks in large part to the Al Ahbabi-Laba tandem, Al Ain sit second in the standings.
Honorable mention: Khalid Bawazir (Al Dhafra)
Best foreign player: Kodjo Laba (Al Ain)
What a debut season it’s been for the Al Ain frontman. Having arrived on a free transfer last June from Morocco’s RS Berkane, Laba has gone on to score 19 times in 18 league matches (four came in one outing, against Fujairah). Subsequently, the Togo international leads the race for the Golden Boot, four clear of his closest challenger, last season’s head marksman Sebastian Tagliabue. Finally, Al Ain appear to have a worthy replacement for the fabled Asamoah Gyan, five long years after the Ghanaian’s departure.
Honorable mention: Peniel Mlapa (Galba)
Best coach: Rodolfo Arruabarrena (Shabab Al Ahli)
OK, so this one’s a little strange: the award goes to a manager no longer employed by his club. Arruabarrena was dismissed by Shabab Al Ahli Dubai in early March, much to everyone’s surprise, since his side sat pretty at the summit. At the time, the Dubai club held a three-point advantage, while also boasting the league’s best defence. However, a run of poor results in all competitions culminated in the 2-2 league draw with Al Nasr, and Arruabarrena was gone. In a not-surprising development, the Argentine has since attracted interest from a number of clubs.
Honorable mention: Vuk Rasovic (Al Dhafra)
Best young player: Khalifa Al Hammadi (Al Jazira)
A tough category to judge, but the UAE international just about edges it. Al Hammadi’s burgeoning reputation has continued to swell at the heart of the Jazira defence. Still only 21, the centre-back has started 16 matches in the league – he was an almost ever-present last season - and contributes to a formidable backline that boasts the division’s second-best defence (17 goals conceded). Now a regular with the national team, too. Al Hammadi is quick and intelligent and, crucially, still has considerable room for improvement.
Honorable mention: Majed Rashid (Kalba)
Best young foreign-born player: Glauber (Al Nasr)
A new element to the league this season has been the broadening of the “resident” category, which allows for the inclusion of foreign players aged 23 and under. Al Nasr have been a major beneficiary of that, with Brazilian defender Glauber proving an astute addition among a wealth of South American youngsters flooding the division. Joining from Botafogo, the 19-year-old has been a steady and sturdy figure in defence, displaying both his tenacity and technical ability through 18 league appearances. An accomplished centre-back with a bright future.
Honorable mention: George Dwubeng (Al Wasl)
Best goalkeeper: Khalid Al Senani (Al Dhafra)
A long-time understudy to Ali Kasheif at Al Jazira, the Emirati stopper has become one of the league’s most consistent performers between the posts. Al Senani leads the league’s stats for saves made (80), from a competition-high 103 attempts at him, while his resolve and reflexes indicate how integral role a role he has played in the club’s relatively healthy current placing of eighth. What is more, Al Senani captains the side. At 30, he has built on last season’s strong debut campaign in the Western Region.
Honorable mention: Majed Naser (Shabab Al Ahli)
Goal of the season: Khalfan Mubarak (Al Jazira v Shabab Al Ahli)
While there have been more spectacular strikes this season, this sweeping move and expert finish deservedly lands the award. A hotly contested match between league leaders Shabab Al Ahli and Jazira was decided at the death, when the visitors sprung an 88th-minute counter-attack. With the score at 1-1, Omar Abdulrahman’s searching reverse pass from deep found Ali Mabkhout in space, who then centred first time to Mubarak. The midfielder took a few touches, composed himself, then cheekily scooped the ball over Majed Naser in the home goal. Jazira had snatched the points in emphatic fashion.
Honorable mention: Amer Abdulrahman (Al Jazira v Al Wahda)
Updated: May 19, 2020 01:53 PM