Words by Martin
Name: Ahmed Ali Mabkhout
Position: Wide Forward
United Arab Emirates’ Asian Cup campaign was met with plenty of compliments after they finally fulfilled what many had been predicting for a while as they broke the glass ceiling to join Asia’s top table. While the plaudits have predominantly rung round their immensely talented playmaker Omar Abdulrahman, striker Ahmed Ali Mabkhout has seen a quicker escalation in his form over the last two years, culminating in yet another Golden Boot performance.
Mabkhout has been in sensational scoring form of late which has seen him collect no fewer than three leading marksman awards in the last 12 months. Topping the charts in Asian Cup qualification, he devastatingly followed it up in November’s Gulf Cup, where he spearheaded the Emiratis to a third placed finish. Another Bronze medal was clinched in Australia where Mabkhout picked up six goals over five matches, widening his appeal ever further from a focused regional presence to a growing worldwide profile.
While others in the region have excelled in front of goal in the past, Mabkhout offers more to his game, something that could help him adapt quickly to European football if and (more likely) when he decides to move up the pyramid in his career. For so much of his early career, Mabkhout wasn’t necessarily seen as an out and out goal scorer, utilised in a more withdrawn role to link up play and pull defences around with his inventive movement in the final third.
It has only been in the last two years where he’s added regular goals to his game. Despite his impressive figures, many outsiders will be surprised to learn that the mobile attacker rarely starts in the furthest point of the attack. Usually he’s been deployed wide on the right or at times on the left, enabling him to cut in and link with the conventional number 9. His flexibility along the attacking line has worked wonders, especially with the national team, which can rely on him to work in tandem with his teammates to fluidly roll from a 442 to a 4231 formation, while flipping flanks if needed.
While his Emirati colleague Omar Abdulrahman has been criticised of sometimes playing on his own, often working on a different wave length to his colleagues, Mabkhout has blended in perfectly, fully utilising the ability of his striking partners to enable a side that continually exceeds the sum of their individual parts. He has an almost telepathic understanding with national team partner Ahmed Khalil, who may have less technical ability than Mabkhout, but has benefited from his skill set to collect an impressive number of goals himself, with four coming at the Asian Cup.
Mabkhout’s understanding isn’t restricted to just the national team, developing from an important squad player – come – impact substitute, into one of the league’s most impressive players while playing with Al-Jazira of UAE. Alongside illustrious company such as Burkina Faso international Jonathan Pitroipa and impressive Argentine Manuel Lazzini, Mabkhout hasn’t looked out of place in a vastly talented attacking line but his relationship with front man Mirko Vucinic has been the most devastating tandem on display.
Vucinic has always been admired in Europe for his incredible talent, but often been found wanting in front of goal. While he was expected to produce in greater regularity in Asia, no one could predict such a gelled attacking force that he could provide, as he has with Mabkhout. Their skill sets dovetail perfectly, Vucinic with a much more static approach, produces wonderful flicks and final finishes, while Mabkhout provides ingenious runs and creative interplay.
The two are threatening to tear up the title race in the UAE. But for a pretty leaky defence, Al-Jazira could be well clear of the competition in the Arabian Gulf League. While Vucinic tops the scoring, Mabkhout remains the only other player to have recorded double figures this season, scoring 11 goals in 15 appearances so far. As has been fitting to his career path so far, Mabkhout was expected to be eyeing another goal scoring feat as his club prepared to fight in this year’s AFC Champions League campaign. Unfortunately for him, he missed out in the playoffs only after scoring Al-Jazira’s sole goal of the game.
Goal scorers from the region are often met with scepticism, with big question marks attributed to the quality of opposition on offer in the Gulf leagues. Mabkhout could prove to be the exception as he’s never really needed to fall back on an impressive goal scoring run due to the talent he possesses in other areas of his game. Admirers have been ten a penny, with an unnamed English club and German giants Hamburg already being voiced by his club’s hierarchy as having put in advanced approaches for the player.
While Abdulrahman’s European future has been put on the back burner for now, partly due to his club side Al-Ain refusing to sell, Al-Jazira have already come out confirming that they wouldn’t stand in the way of their star striker leaving come the summer, even if they wouldn’t receive the weight of transfer fee that they could raise from a transfer to a neighbouring league. Everything’s starting to fall into place nicely for a striker who continues to improve into one of West Asia’s hottest striking properties ready to make a real impression in Europe.