Omar Al Raisi concludes his countdown of the 10 greatest overseas players to have graced UAE football.
[ Click here for part I to find out players 10-6 ]
5. Anderson de Carvalho Barbosa, Brazil
One of the most prolific scorers in the history of UAE football, Anderson was a vulture in the penalty box: he could sense danger like no other.
His impact, when he arrived at Sharjah for the 2002/03 season, was immediate. He scored Sharjah’s goal in the President’s Cup final, a match the club won in a shootout. That record eighth President’s Cup remains Sharjah’s most recent domestic trophy.
Anderson is the only man to lead the league in scoring four consecutive seasons, from the 2004/05 campaign to the 2006/07 season.
He spent five seasons with Sharjah, with one on loan to Al Wasl, 2006/07, in which he was particularly influential. He led the league with 19 goals as Wasl accomplished a league and President’s Cup double. His partnership with the creative Farhad Majidi in midfield was compelling.
Anderson is the highest-scoring foreigner in the history of UAE football with 99 league goals and 160 goals in all competitions.
4. Ali Karimi, Iran
Widely considered one of the greatest Asian and Iranian players, the midfielder spent four seasons with Al Ahli. He was a first-rate technician, a dribbler of peerless ability who puzzled defenders of his era with a particularly fine touch on the ball.
He had something of an aura to him, a charisma, characteristics that, combined with his organisational skills, prompted fans to call him “The Magician”.
“There was something special about him, the way he played,” said Younus Abdul Ghafoor, former Ahli supporters club organiser/supervisor. “He used to go past players easily. It came naturally to him and the fans loved his style of play.
“He is perhaps the second-best-ever Iranian player, though some consider him better than Ali Daei. If you judge him on football skills, he was definitely better.”
Karimi joined Ahli in 2001. They won the President’s Cup later in that season. He led them to another in 2003/04, when he was the top scorer in the league as well as the Asian Champions League, an impressive feat for a midfielder. He was named the 2004 Asian Footballer of the Year by the Asian Football Confederation.
In 69 league appearances for Ahli, he scored 45 goals. Bayern Munich came calling in 2005 and he played two seasons with Germany’s biggest club and contributed to their league and league cup double in 2006.
3. Boubacar Sanogo, Ivory Coast
In the great Al Ain side of 2003 who conquered Asia, Sanogo was the forward intelligence. The big Ivorian was a powerful and skilful striker who terrorised local and Asian football.
At a time when UAE football was starting to get more technical and professional, Sanogo brought swagger to country’s footballing culture. He joined Al Ain in 2002 and quickly established himself as a household name and a fan favourite. He scored 43 league goals for Al Ain in 54 appearances and more than 85 goals in all competitions.
“Sanogo was one of the most important players in Al Ain’s history, without a doubt,” said Ahmed Sagar Al Baloushi, a former Al Ain youth player. “I trained with him a few times with the first team when I was at the academy as a youth player.
“He was a very nice and friendly guy, everyone at the club loved him. I once asked him if he would come and play with us, the youth team, I was with the U18 team back then. He promised and he came and we had a five-a-side game.”
Sanogo spent three seasons at Al Ain, winning a second league title, a President’s Cup and the big one, the Asian Champions League in 2003. He was the highest scorer in the league in 2003.
He moved to the German club Kaiserslautern for the 2005/06 season, and it took Al Ain years to replace him. His fighting spirit, heart and character were missed up front from the day he departed.
2. Al Fadhel Santo, Sudan
The Sudanese forward joined Al Nasr in 1975 and was part of the great Nasr sides who won back-to-back league titles in 1978 and 1979, when the Dubai side dominated UAE football.
Scoring was, for him, innate. His incredible technique helped him lead the league in scoring with 10 goals in his first season at the club.
“He was a very respectful man, a leader in the dressing room,” said Abu Talal Al Kos, Nasr captain at the time. “He had everyone’s respect.
“There are lots of good players but Santo was best goalscorer in UAE league’s history, without a doubt. I have many great memories with him, especially when we dominated the league and won two championships consecutively.
“Many disagree, but for me he was the best Sudanese footballer ever. I truly believe that.”
Santo played six seasons at Nasr, scoring more than 70 goals and was one of the first foreign superstars of UAE football.
He was a world-class centre forward and, arguably, Sudan’s finest footballing export. He was adored at Nasr and is still revered by fans and club management.
1. Asamoah Gyan, Ghana
When the Ghanaian forward joined Al Ain on loan from English Premier League club Sunderland in 2011, it marked a turning point for the Arabian Gulf League, where a reputation for hiring fading foreign players had become widespread. In Gyan, Al Ain had an elite player in his prime, at age 25.
The move inspired other clubs in the AGL to seek top talents, changing the image of the league.
When Gyan was joined by Omar Abdulrahman in midfield, Al Ain had perhaps the most potent partnership in UAE history.
Gyan didn’t need time to settle; he scored in almost every game he played for Al Ain. He led the league in scoring for three consecutive seasons, breaking the single-season mark for goals in 2012/13, when he scored 31. The following season, he had 44 goals in 40 games in all competitions.
In his four seasons with Al-Ain, he scored 116 goals in 126 matches.
Al Ain won three league championships with Gyan in the side, and a President’s Cup. In his last season with Al-Ain, 2014/15, he finished top scorer in the Asian Champions League, finding the net 12 times. He is gone now, to Shanghai SIGP, but not forgotten.