Al Ahli may have ambitions of taking the Pro League championship from Al Ain this season, but their Brazilian striker Grafite has eyes for Asamoah Gyan’s goalking crown.
The 33-year-old Brazilian striker enjoyed a successful first campaign in the UAE, finding the net 30 times in 35 games following his transfer from Wolfsburg, the German side he helped fire to the 2009 Bundesliga title.
Sixteen of his goals for Ahli were scored in the Pro League, ensuring Grafite finished joint second in the race for the golden boot, an accolade eventually secured by another division debutant – Asamoah Gyan, the Al Ain frontman then on loan from the Premier League
But when a player scores 16 goals in eight Pro League appearances so far this season (one goal behind Asamoah Gyan), he is bound to dominate conversations.
Twice Grafite has scored four goals in a match – against quality sides such as Al Ain and Wahda. He scored another hat-trick in the win over Al Shabab.
Those statistics suggest Grafite is the most influential player in the league, probably bigger than Al Ain’s Asamoah Gyan
Grafite, though, insists the priority remains the league trophy as Ahli, now under the guidance of Quique Sanchez Flores, the former Valencia and Atletico Madrid coach, attempt to regain the crown they last won in 2009.
“It is a competition between the teams, not us players,” Grafite said.
“But it is normal for there to be comparisons. Asamoah is a very big player, a very strong player who was really good at the 2010 World Cup with Ghana. And last year he was the top scorer in the league.
“I hope this year he’ll be really strong again, but remember, I too am in a very good side and also have very good teammates. I hope to fight against not only him, but Al Ain.
“So playing the champions in the first match of the season is the best game for us.
“However, this is not a personal fight. The fight is to help my team and score goals.”
Grafite certainly did that last year.
The Sao Paulo-born star arrived in the Emirates with a fine reputation after playing an integral role in Wolfsburg’s surprise rise to the summit of German football.
The former Brazil international led the Bundesliga with 28 goals that season, a feat that saw him also collect the country’s Footballer of the Year award.
Grafite continued his prolificacy at the Sheikh Rashid Stadium – he notched 13 in 12 Etisalat Cup games alone – and insists he can handle the expectation to continue that streak this season.
“It’s normal. I came here and was a big name in Europe, so I was used to the pressure,” said Grafite, whose campaign started badly last Tuesday when he was sent off in the Etisalat Cup match against Al Shabab, Ahli’s Dubai neighbours.
“When I arrived I knew that, if someone mentioned ‘Grafite’, people remember the person from the Bundesliga who was top scorer and player of the year. So I needed to live up to that reputation.
“I believe I can score 30 goals again, or even 35 this season. I just want to get more goals to help my team.
“I have the quality to score more and that’s what I work for.”