In the second edition of this annual feature, we at Outside of the Boot aim to unearth the best performing footballers from each of the 5 primary Confederations. Rebranded as ‘The Best Series’, we champion football’s top individuals based on performances in the past calendar year.
5. HAMMADI AHMAD
27 // Iraq // Al Jawiya
The AFC Cup 2016 final was one that will be remembered for many reasons. The two teams to qualify, Iraq’s Air Force Club and India’s Bengaluru FC, were both on the verge of history as no team from either country had tasted continental glory before. On the faithful night, Air Force Club came away triumphant and fittingly it was Hammadi Ahmad who made the difference.
The striker came into the final with 15 goals against his name but the sixteenth will probably be the one he will cherish the most. The 27-year-old was in the right place at the right time, as most good strikers are, and tucked in the only goal of the game. Ahmad combines pace and technical skill to be a handful for any opposition defender. Iraq as a country has found solace in football in recent times and Ahmad’s pivotal role in their successful Cup run is one that will not be forgotten soon.
Written by Arnab Ray
4. SARDAR AZMOUN
21 // Iran // FC Rostov
Part of an impressive FC Rostov side that defied odds to challenge the norm in Russia’s league title race, holding off pressure from the traditional powerhouses and eventually settling for a spot in Europe’s premier competition, Sardar Azmoun has had an incredible 2016.
In a remarkable run that saw lowly Rostov miss out on a first ever Russian Premier League title by just two points, Azmoun remained the prime suspect in front of goal. The Iranian finished as his side’s top scorer with nine goals; six of which came in the last six games of the campaign as Rostov dug deep to write their own destiny.
But this was only the beginning of Azmoun & Rostov’s fairy-tale journey as second place in the league meant a place in Champions League. Going through the pain of the qualifying rounds, Rostov saw off Ajax and Anderlecht with the help of two goals from Azmoun. This meant a match up with Europe’s giants Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid; and although the side eventually settled for third spot and a place in the Europa League, the 3-2 victory over Bayern (including a goal from the Iranian) will remain as the highlight of the year.
Written by Sami Faizullah
3. ALI MABKHOUT
26 // United Aran Emirates // Al Jazira // 2015 Ranking: 8 ↑
At the current time of writing, Ali Mabkhout is goal-crazy in the UAE’s Arabian Gulf League. Al-Jazira’s hotshot has gone rampant against the defences of this league, scoring 14 goals in the space of 9 games; breaking many records on the way and challenging many a foreigner to the top of the rankings. The season prior to the current saw him clinch 2nd spot in the Golden Boot race with 23 goals to his name; a record for a local player in the Arabian Gulf League. It has officially come to a point where the electric yet technically adept forward Mabkhout doesn’t need to try to beat defences anymore as he’s simply too good for anyone in this league.
Written by Hamoudi Fayad
2. WU LEI
25 // China // SIPG
Shanghai International Port Group (SIPG) FC is a club with a short and yet, illustrious history. Their rapid development though has been helped in no small part by the influx of money from their owners. Chinese clubs have emerged as major players in the market and the presence of players such as Hulk, Elkeson, and Dario Conca and a certain Andre-Villas Boas in SIPG is indicative of their considerable strength. However, it’s Chinese International Wu Lei whose star arguably shines the brightest in the Shanghai based club.
Wu has been at the club at the tender age of 14 and at just 24, he’s the club’s all-time top scorer. Playing mostly on the right wing, the Chinese International has a knack for scoring timely goals as he displayed time and again throughout 2016 not only in the league but also in continental football. The 24-year-old had an AFC Champions League campaign to remember as he struck 5 times in 9 games, including a memorable late winner against FC Tokyo in the Round of 16. Chinese football seems to be on the way up and Wu will undoubtedly have a role to play in ensuring that the national team makes all the right noises in international football in the coming years.
Written by Arnab Ray
1. OMAR ABDULRAHMAN
25 // United Arab Emirates // Al Ain
One of Asia’s most coveted players, if not the most, was on the verge of winning what would be his only un-achieved trophy during his time at Al-Ain. Many experts believed that a win in the AFC Champions League Final would signal the end of Amoory’s career, however South Korea’s Jeonbuk powered through with a 3-2 aggregate win to end his dreams. That didn’t stop the –playmaker from winning the Champions League’s MVP Award alongside being crowned Asia’s best on the 1st of December, 2016.
Written by Hamoudi Fayad