x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Hard work is paying off for Ali Mabkhout

The Emirati striker has been in impressive form, establishing himself in Al Jazira's first XI, but there is one player he would love to play alongside, he tells Omar Al Raisi

Ali Mabkhout, right, alongside his international teammate Saeed Al Kathiri. The two are likely to face each other today in the Abu Dhabi derby between Al Jazira and Al Wahda. Pawan Singh / The National
Ali Mabkhout, right, alongside his international teammate Saeed Al Kathiri. The two are likely to face each other today in the Abu Dhabi derby between Al Jazira and Al Wahda. Pawan Singh / The National

These are heady times for Ali Mabkhout. The Emirati has five goals in his past four Pro League games, his illustrious teammate Ricardo Oliveira has declared he "will be the best striker in the UAE", he has displaced a Brazilian to move into Al Jazira's first XI and a chance exists that he might soon be playing with David Beckham, a concept he supports enthusiastically.

Asked if he would like to play alongside the former England captain, Mabkhout said: "Who wouldn't?"

He added: "I love Beckham as a player and I have the utmost respect for him. He played for Real Madrid, I'm a huge fan of Real Madrid and I appreciate his contributions over the years with all the clubs he has played for. He is one of the greats of all time."

Of course, he is not privy to the intentions of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed, the Al Jazira chairman, who conversed with Beckham in the capital this week.

"I don't know anything about Beckham being offered a contract with Al Jazira or any other club in the Pro League," Mabkhout said. "But if Sheikh Mansour calls me up to take my advice I would say, 'Yes, sign him without even thinking'."

He has no doubt Beckham mould make a major impact on domestic football.

"If he plays for any club in the Pro League, it will change the Pro League for the good. He has fans all over the world and everyone here has seen him on TV and if he plays here, they will for sure want to come and see him live. Fans will queue up to see him," the 22 year old said.

"The UAE is an attractive place not only for footballers but any business. I know Beckham chooses where to play not only considering his footballing career but his modelling career and his wife's work, as well, and Dubai and Abu Dhabi are emerging markets and I feel it is the perfect fit for him and his family."

Mabkhout could be a prime beneficiary of scoring chances created by Beckham, who this year helped his LA Galaxy teammate Robbie Keane, at age 32, to score 16 goals in 28 Major League Soccer matches.

Mabkhout already has a mutual-admiration relationship with Oliveira, the Brazilian who remains the Pro League's most expensive acquisition, at Dh72.5 million, from the La Liga club Real Betis. He was flattered when Oliveira this week said he was on pace to become the nation's top striker, and he returns the compliment by insisting the Brazilian ranks among the top three forwards in the Pro League.

"Oliveira has been great to me," he said. "He has taught me a lot on and off the field. He always advises me, he is a great person and I've learned a lot from him.

"For me, its an honour that he said I have the potential to be the best striker in the UAE and, yes, I feel I can give much more and be the best striker in the country."

Mabkhout was a member of the UAE Olympic team which qualified for London 2012, but he played only 25 minutes, in the third and final match. Mahdi Ali, the Olympic coach and now the senior-team coach, preferred to use in attack Ahmed Khalil of Al Ahli and Ahmed Ali of Baniyas, along with Ismail Matar, the Al Wahda veteran.

"I played only 25 minutes because I wasn't a starter for Al Jazira," Mabkhout said. "I am not saying I deserved it more than any of the other starting 11 at the Olympics, but I feel I deserved more minutes. But at the end of the day its Mahdi Ali's decision and he put out the players he felt were tactically fit for those particular games."

He realises that his previous status as a back-up at Jazira to Oliveira and Bare damaged his chances to impress Mahdi Ali.

He said: "I didn't get into the first team last season with Al Jazira. I worked hard on myself in training and focused on improving myself physically and mentally and I am pleased that I am getting to play more this season and I'm in the starting 11", having displaced Fernandinho.

Mabkhout knows he also had acquired a reputation for being a forward who found great chances but could not turn them into goals. "I have been training hard on my finishing and that's the reason why I have been scoring more this season," he said. "All strikers in the world cannot finish all the chances they get, so I have missed some and I have scored some."

Given recent form, with Mabkhout scoring goals and Khalil rarely playing, the Jazira man looms as a strong candidate to lead the line in the upcoming Gulf Cup of Nations, next month in Bahrain.

"Ahmed Khalil is a great guy and I am disappointed to see him not playing much this season," Mabkhout said. "I know him well and we have a good friendship and we all know he will be back to scoring goals soon and back in the starting 11.

"Whoever is in the best form at the moment will start. I want to play and start in the Gulf Cup but that is Mahdi Ali's decision. All we want is the team to win; it's not important who starts."

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