Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 9 August 2020

The 10 greatest foreign players to grace UAE football part I — 10-6

Omar Al Raisi begins his countdown of the 10 greatest overseas players to have ever graced UAE football. Click the arrows on the photos to make your way through the list.

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10. Ricardo Oliviera, Brazil

In 2009, an ambitious Al Jazira side without a trophy in their existence craved success. They needed an elite scorer to help them end a series of runners-up finishes and win a first league title.

The 29-year-old Brazilian Ricardo Oliviera, who cost €14 million (Dh72.5, at the time) from Spanish club Real Betis, was the answer.

One of Oliveira’s great moments in an Al Jazira shirt came in April 2011, when he scored a heavy shot against Al Ahli to seal the club’s first Arabian Gulf League title.

“Without a doubt, he was one of the best players to ever play in the UAE league,” said Ali Al Nuaimi, former media director at Jazira. “The great George Weah played for Al Jazira, but I have to say maybe Oliveira’s impact was very important, as we won many trophies.”

Oliveira helped Jazira turn a corner; he was in the side for the four trophies they won from 2010 to 2012, including two President’s Cups and a league cup. He can also be credited as having an important influence in the development of one of the UAE’s best forwards, Ali Mabkhout.

The former AC Milan striker scored 92 goals in 119 appearances in all competitions for Jazira and four goals in 11 appearances in half a season at Al Wasl. He won the Asian Champions League top scorer award in 2012.

A sign of his longevity is that, eight years after his last Brazil cap, he was recently recalled to the national team, at the age of 35.

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9. Grafite, Brazil

Picture the scene. Al Ahli and Al Jazira are in a 1-1 deadlock in an edge-of-the-seat game at Rashid Stadium, in 2013/14. In the 91st minute, Grafite gets the ball, under pressure from two defenders, he maintains possession on the byline, tricks his way past three defenders and slams home the winner. Ahli fans go wild for a man they nicknamed “the Beast”.

Grafite was that kind of player, a leader who stood up when the team needed him most.

“I think we lost a great attacker in Grafite,” said midfielder Habib Fardan, when Grafite’s contract was not extended at the end of last season, despite his wishes to stay at Ahli.

“We hope the next foreigner will be as good as him. Grafite was more like a brother to all players, he is such a great player who gives the team confidence on the field and it’s hard to find someone like him. I hope we get someone who can help the team as much as he did.”

Grafite did not have the flicks and tricks of a stereotypical Brazilian; he was more like a powerful English centre forward, hence the nickname.

He scored 86 goals in 112 matches and helped Ahli wrest the league title from Al Ain in the 2013/14 season. He also won a UAE Super Cup and the President’s Cup in 2013.

Despite moving on to Qatar, it is evident from his social media accounts that Ahli still has a place in his heart.

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8. Joel Tiehi, Ivory Coast

One of the most memorable games in the league’s history was between Jazira and Ahli in 2001. It ended 8-4 to Jazira, with Tiehi scoring four.

Tiehi was known for his speed, power and reliability in front of the goal. He had a powerful shot with either foot and his scoring instinct made him one of the greatest players for the Ivory Coast national team.

“He was a beautiful player, very strong and also a great guy, I remember,” said Amer Abdulwahhab, supervisor at Al Ain’s academy. “He used to come down to the academy school and talk to the youths and watch their games when he had off days sometimes.

“When he came to Al Ain, the team was just building a new era at the time of Mohammed Omar, Salem Johar and Subait Khater, he really helped take the team forward.”

Tiehl joined Jazira in 1998 before moving to Al Ain in 2001, where his goals helped the club win back-to-back league titles and the 2001 President’s Cup.

Tiehi scored over 82 goals in all competitions for both clubs.

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7. Farhad Majidi, Iran

Majidi was one Iran’s greatest talents and his ability on the pitch matched his leading-man looks off it; he was the creative hub of Al Wasl early this century.

As an attacking midfielder, Majidi was known for his ball control and technique. He could do just about anything with the ball at his feet and his dribbling skills set him apart.

Majidi joined Al Wasl in 2000 but was sent out on loan to Al Ain for the 2002/03 season, which turned out to be a career high. His goal in the semi-final against China’s Dalian Shide helped Al Ain reach the Asian Champions League final, where the club won the continental championship.

Majidi scored 120 goals in all competitions, a true veteran of UAE football, he played for six seasons at Al Wasl, a season on loan at Al Ain and a season each with Al Nasr and Al Ahli.

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6. Abedi Pele, Ghana

Considered one of Africa’s great footballers, Pele made a lasting impact in the UAE, as well. He was the complete player, possessing both technical and athletic skills, intelligence, speed, precise passing and a nose for the goal. On the field, he was an artist.

Pele was 34 when he came to the UAE after a career in Europe highlighted by a 1993 European Cup win with Marseille, playing with talents such as Rudi Voller, Marcel Desailly and Alen Boksic.

Despite his age when he arrived here, the man born Abedi Ayew lived up to his nickname.

“Abedi Pele was world-class,” said Amer Abdulwahhab, Al Ain academy’s supervisor. “I remember when he came to UAE, he was really popular among the fans, partly because of his performances and partly because he was nicknamed ‘Pele’.

“The 90s and early 2000 was a time when UAE produced some of the greatest Emirati players ever. Many foreign players came and went, but Pele was something else, an incredible player.”

Pele played for the Al Ain for two seasons, scored 28 goals in 31 league games, took the club to the semi-finals of the Asian Champions League in 1999 and won the league title and the President’s Cup in 1999.

Two of his sons now play in the English Premier League, Andre at Swansea and Jordan at Aston Villa.

Updated: November 10, 2015 04:00 AM

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