12. Ali Ahmed Mabkhout (Last Year: 20)
Al-Jazira (UAE) / UAE / Striker
Words by Wael Jabir
When you’re a 24 year old striker who has just been named top goalscorer in the largest continental competition with your national team, chances are your football career has just peaked. For UAE’s Ali Mabkhout however, the 2015 Asian Cup was only the beginning of yet another stage of a blossoming career.
In Australia, Mabkhout led the line for the Whites as they finished the tournament in third place, the country’s best achievement since finishing as runners-up at the 1996 edition on home soil. Naturally, talk of a switch to Europe ensued, but Al Jazira’s golden boy declared his commitment to the ‘Pride of Abu Dhabi’. Despite a dismal season on the whole for Al Jazira, Mabkhout went on to finish the 2015-16 season with 23 league goals, the highest tally ever by a local player, a record previously held by Al Ahli’s former striker Faisal Khalil with 17 goals. Halfway through this current season, Mabkhout is on 15 goals already and could well reach a new domestic high come May.
Mabkhout’s explosive form has kept the big names of Mirko Vucinic & Kenwayne Jones out of the starting XI at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium. His Dutch manager Henk ten Cate admitted that Mabkhout was so good that he was forced to switch from a 442 to a 451 formation and offload Jones to get the best out of the local boy in a no.9 role.
2016 was a year of breaking even more records for Mabkhout; he moved past Ismael Mater into third place in the national team’s all time goalscorers list with 36 goals in 58 caps. Matar in comparison needed a whopping 116 caps to get his 36 UAE goals. Still only 26 and with his best years ahead of him, Mabkhout can rightly dream of breaking Adnan Al Talyani’s longstanding record of 52 goals in 161 caps.
Strangely for a natural poacher of his ability, Mabkhout has an unfortunate knack for missing penalties. Despite being Al Jazira’s designated spot-kick taker, he has already wasted 5 penalties this season which might end up being the only reason why he doesn’t finish as the league’s top goalscorer again this season.
Highlight of the year – Becoming a Club Legend
Arsenal legend Ian Wright famously celebrated his record breaking 179th goal for the club a goal early, before going on to score the actual 179th later in the same game. Ali Mabkhout took it to a whole other level when he scored a hat-trick against Dibba in their 5-1 win in February 2016, equalling then breaking the 56 goals record previously held by former Milan forward Ricardo Oliviera as Al Jazira’s all time top goalscorer. Mabkhout didn’t just miscount, as Wright did, he later admitted he had no idea he was even close to such a record and only came to know about his achievement from newspapers the following morning.
Next up for Mabkhout? Beating Asamoah Gyan’s record of 96 goals to become the best goalscorer in the history of the UAE Pro League. He is currently on 81, but Gyan is now back in the UAE banging goals for Al Ahli, so 2017 is set to be a wonderful goalscoring contest between two great goal getters.