Ahmed Khalil, right, alongside fellow AFC Player of the Year nominee Zheng Zhi. Sajjad Hussain / AFP
Ahmed Khalil, right, alongside fellow AFC Player of the Year nominee Zheng Zhi. Sajjad Hussain / AFP

Al Ahli’s Ahmed Khalil wants to win AFC Player of the Year award for ‘whole of the UAE’



Ahmed Khalil says being crowned the AFC Asian player of the year will be a victory not just for him, but for the whole of the UAE.

The Al Ahli striker, part of a three-man shortlist alongside compatriot Omar Abdulrahman and China's Zheng Zhi, will discover at a ceremony in New Delhi on Sunday if he has won the prestigious individual award.

No Emirati has ever been named Asian’s best player, although Khalil won the young player gong in 2008.

This year’s main award seems a straight shootout between the UAE captain and Zheng, since both players contested this month’s Asian Champions League final. Zheng, voted best player two years ago, captained Guangzhou Evergrande to the title.

Khalil, however, has still enjoyed a superb 2015. At January’s Asian Cup, he scored four goals as the UAE finished third — their best performance on foreign soil. He also has 10 goals in the second round of joint qualification for the 2018 Fifa World Cup and the 2019 Asian Cup, while he found the net six times in the Champions League. That tally was bettered only by Guangzhou’s Ricardo Goulart.

[UAE coach Mahdi Ali on the shortlist for 2015 AFC Coach of the Year]

Abdulrahman, meanwhile, played an integral role in the UAE’s Asian Cup run, but his Al Ain side were eliminated from the Champions League by Ahli at the last-16 stage.

Speaking before the ceremony in India, Khalil said: “Everyone has done their part in the competition this year and many players deserve to be nominated and competing for the player of the year award.

“Of course, I hope I can win and I also hope the other nominees are also striving to achieve this target. I wish all the others the very best of luck.

“Whether I win or lose the award, it will be another motivation for me to do better in the future. If I win, it is not for me, but for the whole of the Emirates and Al Ahli club.”

Cosmin Olaroiu, the Ahli coach, said a victory for Khalil would cap a remarkable 11 months for the forward and represent a huge achievement for UAE football.

Khalil, 24, has been with Ahli since age seven, but in the past few seasons has spent most of his time with the first team confined to the bench. Yet Ahli’s striker crisis meant he was promoted to the starting line-up halfway through last season. Khalil now typically wears the captain’s armband.

[John McAuley: 2016 Asian Champions League will seem a poorer place without high-flying Al Ahli]

“This is the first year he plays regularly, only from the beginning of this year,” Olaroiu said. “He was always a substitute, playing 20 minutes, 30 minutes; we fight with him, prepare him, treat him different. He made different preparations than the other players because he has different body with his problems.

“Now he arrives to be the best player in Asia, a player who’s been on the bench almost his whole life. This is a huge performance for him and I hope he will get it. But in my opinion, it’s Zheng Zhi to win.

“We hope that at least we have this personal satisfaction because I know that nobody likes to see Al Ahli or Ahmed Khalil win, but we’d like him to win.”

Olaroiu added: “Everything we do, and everything we have to do — this team, other teams, referees, players — it’s for UAE people and UAE supporters. At this moment, our job and our duty is to bring people to the stadiums.

“A player from the Emirates, like Ahmed Khalil and Omar Abdulrahman, to be the best player in Asia is something huge. And a team like Ahli to win the Champions League, it’s something nobody can imagine.

“Ahmed talked with me, I let him go because I hope there exists the chance for him to win this trophy. It is something that I don’t have words to say what this would mean for a player from Emirates to win.”

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