Home » Domestic Leagues » Arabian Gulf League » Legends of Arabia – A History of Foreign Players in the U.A.E, Part 2

Legends of Arabia – A History of Foreign Players in the U.A.E, Part 2

Anderson Barbosa, the potent Brazilian


One of the long-lasting foreigners that played in the U.A.E, Anderson Barbosa earned his fame through his exploits with Al-Wasl during a one-year stint in between two spells with Sharjah FC. Moving to Sharjah at the age of twenty-nine in 2003, Anderson scored nine league goals over the course of his first two seasons before blitzing to twenty-three goals in the next season – winning the Golden Boot in the process.

And Anderson did not stop there, winning the Golden Boot three more times – consecutively. A new era of dominance came from a player in the league – after Alboury Lah and Mohammed Al-Enezi (brother of Mohanad Salem), Zuhair Bakheet and Adnan Al-Talyani – especially looking at the fact that this was player came from a team not challenging for titles.

He wasn’t a superb domestic product either (Adnan Al-Talyani) rather he was a South American in a new country, with no idea of what the league and country are like. In his first season at the club, he helped Sharjah to a President’s Cup win against Al-Wahda granting his team an entry into the AFC Champions League (Sharjah in white, Al-Wahda in Maroon):

Anderson left for Emirati giants Al-Wasl in 2007-08, winning the President’s Cup there and stating that he felt loved there in a club that cared about football in an exclusive interview to local newspaper Emarat Al Youm. But it didn’t last as he returned to Sharjah at the end of the season in a bid to return where his real “family” was. A poor season endured, one Anderson described as “the worst one in my life. Even if we had signed Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, we would have not had a better season”.

Anderson left the club on rocky terms with his contract expiring at the end of the inaugural professional season of the Arabian Gulf League. Thirteen goals in his last season saw him become the highest scoring foreigner of all time in the U.A.E with ninety-nine goals to his name.

 Asamoah Gyan and Mirko Vucinic, the modern day strikers

When Asamoah Gyan signed for Al-Ain on loan from Sunderland in 2011, many doubts were cast towards the Boss’ financials and squad from their loyal fan base. The figure for the deal was unknown, but several forums across the U.A.E were spreading rumours about the initial fee for the loan (ranging from around $6.5 million to $14 million), which led to the disappointment of the fans. The passionate supporters deemed the fact that he performed merely above average in the top leagues of Europe unworthy of a substantial fee.


 Gyan proved them wrong in remarkable fashion, scoring twenty-two goals in eighteen games during the 2011-12 season to cement his status as Al-Ain’s fourth foreign spot for the upcoming season. Earning what was reported of up to £140,000-per-week seemed bizarre at the time too, however once again the Ghanaian would prove his critics wrong blistering in sixty goals in just forty-eight games domestically across the next two seasons and even helping himself to a Golden Boot title in the 2014 edition of the AFC Champions League, where Al-Ain reached the semi-final – only to lose 4-2 on aggregate to Al-Hilal.

Gyan excelled at being the last man on the pitch, scoring the goals no matter what the challenge was in front of him. A plethora of headers were his specialty and couple that up with a mesmeric positional sense and you have a great goalscorer in your hands. A superb addition to the Al-Ain squad and he has no doubt been part of the success that led Al-Ain to a triumvirate of titles in the last four years.


Asamoah Gyan celebrating a goal for Al-Ain.

And in turn that led to a contract extension plus a salary raise in 2014 increasing his pay packet to more than £160,000-per-week, deservedly earning a wage raise but for a significant amount of money. The striker brought much more attention to the league along with his compatriot Omar Abdulrahman, and other foreigners a la Jires Kembo-Ekoko and Miroslav Stoch.

Gyan asserted himself as the best scorer in Arabian Gulf League history with ninety-eight goals while also looking to push himself amongst best scorers of all time in the U.A.E footballing scene itself. Gyan’s first 100 goals (all competitions) at Al-Ain:

However, Gyan didn’t showcase the guile, elegance and excellence that another signing conveyed on his arrival to the Pride of Abu Dhabi. In a bid to win their second league title, Al-Jazira strengthened their ranks by signing Jonathan Pitroipa… and Mirko Vucinic.

Providing excellence on the ball, brilliance while moving into space and a superb hairstyle to come along with it, the former Juventus man – similarly to Gyan – breathed goals. Currently on twenty-four goals in twenty-two games while entering the last few games of his maiden season in the U.A.E, Vucinic has been nothing short of a mesmeric signing for only £4.3 million.

Mirko Vucinic signs for Al-Jazira. (Photo Credits: thenational.ae)

Mirko Vucinic signs for Al-Jazira. (Photo Credits: thenational.ae)

Unlike Gyan’s arrival to the nation, Vucinic was met with praise from all corners due to his exploits with Roma and Juventus. Still in his best years at the age of thirty-one, the Montenegrin adapted to the league with significant ease, scoring thirteen goals in his first eight games (including a super-hat-trick against Al-Ain in a 4-3 win).

This was a further indication of a turning point for the domestic football in the U.A.E. Fan attendances have continued rising annually due to the arrivals of these players and managers – and if consistent success is depicted (such as Gyan has offered) then the fan base will continue to increase. Meanwhile, knowing the success of playing and money earning shown by the two players will have definitely generated appeal to Europe’s strikers who are in their prime, struggling to make an impact at their club.

Vucinic donning the Al-Jazira shirt.

Vucinic donning the Al-Jazira shirt.

 The dawn of young players arriving in the U.A.E?

Manuel Lanzini poses with the Al-Jazira shirt. (Photo Credits: Shoaib Anwer, Khaleej Times)

Manuel Lanzini poses with the Al-Jazira shirt. (Photo Credits: Shoaib Anwer, Khaleej Times)

Manuel Lanzini, a player slated for his big money move to Abu Dhabi from River Plate, is the youngest foreigner to play in the Arabian Gulf League at the young age of 21. Bought for a fee of $10 million, the diminutive Argentinian playmaker made his move to the Middle East at an early unlike any other foreigner to move to the U.A.E.

His salary increased by sevenfold and he earned 20% of the $10 million transfer fee (pocketing $2 million) further deteriorating his reputation on the footballing scene and labeling him as a money-grabbing player, who cares for his weekly pay packet rather than the outcome of his performances. However that has not been the case during his year at Al-Jazira with him showing hard work and determination to fight and work for the team during the bad times.

This season, Al-Jazira looked lackluster for the most part and had it not been for dropped points by Al-Shabab and Al-Wahda then their league position would be below second place. Lanzini, despite being only 1.7m tall, is always fighting for the second ball and plays well no matter where he is shifted out. Varying between the three positions in the attacking midfield of a 4-2-3-1, Lanzini always does his best to excel and is clearly not taking the league for granted.

Manuel Lanzini fighting for the ball in a match against Baniyas. (Photo Credits: Nezar Balout, Khaleej Time)

Manuel Lanzini fighting for the ball in a match against Baniyas. (Photo Credits: Nezar Balout, Khaleej Time)

In hindsight, he does pocket a lot of money from playing with Al-Jazira but realistically this is a win-win situation for him and the league. The league can easily benefit from developing young players and if they turn out to be world stars, the league’s status would enhance. Omar Abdulrahman – albeit starting in Saudi Arabia during his childhood – was developed at Al-Ain along with Ali Mabkhout who has established himself through the Al-Jazira ranks. Any of these players that make a move to Europe directly from the Arabian Gulf League will create a fountain of possibilities – ranging from foreign investment in the clubs and league while also helping more local players move abroad (and more young foreign talent being imported).

Lanzini, with three games to go in the league, has created nine and scored eight in a country where he has never played in. He cannot communicate in Arabic, nor can he speak English fluently. Lanzini also scored this beauty in a 3-1 win over Ajman (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IxOqluMcrG4&index=63&list=PLUwtj9hmJM2H0r_ab4fSn0x_uJkBQC0_9) earlier in February. This all adds up to his blistering skillset and ability to play in tight spaces. An inspired signing he has been for Al-Jazira, and with the likes of Abdelaziz Barrada – who moved to Marseille after a season at the Pride of Abu Dhabi – proving his worth at the club… will Lanzini be able to follow in his steps?

About Hamoudi

The man behind the idea of Ahdaaf.me. Based in Dubai, Hamoudi will bring you an unprecedented level of coverage of the Alfa Lebanese League in English as well as the best of the UAE’s Arabian Gulf League. With dreams of working in the coaching industry in the near future, don’t be surprised by the amount of tactical analysis that he works on to bring in a modern day feel to the very scarce analysis on Middle Eastern Football. (PS: Beware of his rants about the ignominious status of football in his native country Lebanon…).

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