x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

World football stars kick off first annual awards in capital

The capital made its debut on the international football awards stage on Tuesday night.

Emmanuel Adebayor holds the African Footballer of the Year award at the Emirates Palace.
Emmanuel Adebayor holds the African Footballer of the Year award at the Emirates Palace.

ABU DHABI // The capital made its debut on the international football awards stage on Tuesday night with a glittering gala at the Emirates Palace hotel. The first annual Super Awards, organised by the Arabic sport magazine Super, brought together some of the sport's biggest international names to honour the best Arabic, Asian and African players.

Park Ji Sung, the South Korea winger, won the Asian award after a year in which he helped Manchester United in the English Premier League, European Champions League and Fifa Club World Cup. Park was unable to attend because of United's Carling Cup match tonight, but said in a video message to the 500-strong audience: "Sorry I can't be here to collect the award but I am honoured to win it and thanks to everyone who has voted for me. I hope to continue to do my best to help Asian football and footballers to progress and thanks for the award."

The Egyptian Mohammed Aboutrika won the award for best Arab player. He led his club Al Ahly to victory in the African Champions League last year and, just as importantly, was an integral part of the Egypt side which won the African Cup of Nations a year ago. The Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor was the only one of the three award winners to be able to attend the ceremony. His goals have helped Arsenal to remain near the top of the Premier League, despite the inconsistent form of his teammates. After being presented with his award Adebayor said: "It is a special day for me. I always dreamed of visiting this country, so to come here and collect this trophy is extra special. "We have to represent African people, Arabic people and Asian people, and keep on enjoying ourselves."

Big football names at the event included Mohammed bin Hammam, the president of the Asian Football Confederation, Gennaro Gattuso, the AC Milan midfielder, and Chelsea's Michael Essien. The awards were run under the patronage of Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council, and organised by a board of trustees led by Pierluigi Collina, the Italian who refereed the 2002 World Cup final.

Other board members include the former players Hidetoshi Nakata, Sami al Jaber, Abedi Pele and the former UAE coach Bruno Metsu. Osama El Sheikh, the general secretary of the awards and editor-in-chief of Super, said: "Because we are in our first year we refused all temptations to organise an award for the best player in the world. But we promise that this will be our next step - our ambition has no limit."

The awards were officially established on July 26, and the list of contenders for each title was drawn up by 121 journalists from 73 countries. Some 43 players were put forward for best Asian player, 26 for best Arab player and 24 for the best African. On Nov 18, the Super Awards Technical Committee whittled down each list to 10 players. The vote for the ultimate winner of each category was divided between 40 per cent experts and coaches; 40 per cent journalists; 10 per cent national teams captains and 10 per cent fans, via the Super website and postal voting.The awards were totally transparent with every vote being accounted for.

Gerry Cox, the managing director of Inforstrada Hayters sports agency, was brought in after organising several Football Writers' Player of the Year awards in England. He said: "This is a bold move because the awards field is becoming increasingly competitive. But what Super has done is bring in people with experience and expertise from all over the world to make it work. "You can see from the quality of people here tonight just how seriously these awards are being taken." Collina echoed those sentiments. "I'm sure this award will become a milestone for players in the Asian, African and Arab world," he said.

The UAE striker Ismail Matar, who is currently playing in the Gulf Cup, was nominated for both the Asian and Arab awards. It is planned that in future years the awards will be expanded to include awards for the best players from Europe and the Americas, as well as a global award. akunawicz@thenational.ae