14. Ahmed Khalil (Last Year: 4)
Al-Ahli (UAE) / UAE / Striker
Words by Wael Jabir
2016 has been yet another chapter in the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde career of UAE and Al Ahli star Ahmed Khalil. He ended last year by winning the AFC Asian Player of The Year Award, and appearing in the Champions League final with Al Ahli, with his stock ever on the rise. Yet, the 25 year old striker was still trying to reach double digits in terms of goals scored for the first time in his career since his breakthrough season in 2009/10 where he scored 11 goals as a 19 year old.
Midway through this season, Khalil is on 6 league goals from 12 appearances for Al Ahli, well on track to beat last year’s mediocre return of 7. Interestingly, most of Khalil’s strikes have come as a substitute. A precarious situation for a player considered by many as one of the best talents to emerge from the country in recent years. However, Khalil has lost his automatic starter status due to Al Ahli’s unparalleled squad depth, having to either battle Rodrigo Lima and Asamoah Gyan for a spot up front or settle for a rotation place on the wing with Ismail Al Hammadi and Everton Ribeiro.
Often used to playing a starring role, Khalil finds himself faced with an uncertain future with 6 months left on his contract at the Dubai based team. UAE’s most successful team Al Ain will surely look to lure him to the garden city, but the Sharjah born forward is also contemplating a move abroad with offers from unnamed Spanish sides being mentioned.
As he enters his peak years, Ahmed Khalil has a legacy to preserve. After all, he comes from a family where FIVE of his brothers have played for Al Ahli. In fact Faisal Khalil who played alongside him between 2009 and 2011 is Al Ahli’s all-time top goal scorer and seen by the club fans as a better player despite his inferior reputation abroad. Ahmed has come under criticism from his older sibling for his poor work rate “You won’t score if you keep strolling on the pitch, you need to run more”, he was quoted by the local media last year. Where Ahmed Khalil plays his football in the second half of 2017 could be a huge factor on how he will be remembered once he hangs up his boots.
Highlight of the Year – Conquering the Saitama
Ahmed Khalil has a knack for showing up in big occasions and as Asian football is concerned, those do not come any bigger than an away trip to play Japan in a World Cup qualifier. The UAE went into the first game of the third round of World Cup Qualification as the underdogs and that was soon confirmed when Keisuke Honda put the home side in front after 11 minutes. But Ahmed Khalil, captaining the team in that game, took charge and curled home a stunning 25 yards free-kick past Japan’s Nishikawa to equalise for the Whites.
When Shinji Kagawa naively gave away a penalty kick after tripping Khalil’s Al Ahli teammate Al Hammadi, a confident Khalil stepped up and coolly slotted a Panenka to give the UAE a famous victory over one of the continent’s finest sides. Should the Whites make their second ever World Cup appearance, they will look back at Khalil’s heroics in Saitama as a decisive moment.