What could have been misinterpreted for hubris now seems simply a declaration of foresight. “I believe I can score 30 again, or even 35 this season,” Grafite told The National before the first whistle was blown on Pro League
The Al Ahli striker has spent the past seven months confirming his capabilities. Having marked a first season in UAE football with 30 goals in 35 appearances – 13 scored in 12 Etisalat Cup matches – Grafite has continued to terrorise opposition defences, notching 23 times in 17 appearances.
In fact, make that 23 in 15 league fixtures: not one of the Brazilian’s goals has come outside the top flight. So another campaign, another race for the Golden Boot.
His main rival bears certain predictability, too. Asamoah Gyan, Al Ain’s consistently fruitful forward, arrived here in September 2011 on loan from the English Premier League and promptly proved worthy of his renown.
Strikes against Emirates bookended his total. Gyan tallied his first goal in an Etisalat Cup encounter with the Ras Al Khaimah side, and by the time he concluded the season with two against the then-relegated club, his record read an impressive 25 goals in 23 matches. He had 21 in the league alone.
Al Ain, champions for the first time in eight years, were grateful recipients, repaying the star with a permanent transfer from Sunderland.
This term has only reinforced his reputation. Gyan has found the net 24 times in 18 domestic games, and it took until late January for a Pro League round to exist without one of his goals.
That, though, was nothing to do with an unexpected bout of profligacy – the player was leading Ghana at the African Cup of Nations.
Even so, he would not have departed Al Ain with a guilty conscience; by now, Gyan had collected 21 goals in 13 league matches, his club seemingly fixed for successive titles.
Space in his trophy cabinet will soon represent precious real estate. Just last week, Gyan was awarded the Arabian Leagues Golden Shoe for last season’s enterprise. His ratio of a goal every 0.954 games far exceeded that of his closest competitors. The obligatory modesties followed.
“I didn’t win this alone,” Gyan said. “It’s for all of Al Ain club because they helped me get it.”
Yet the selfishness associated with all great scorers soon surfaced. “The league isn’t over and I’ve already broken last season’s record,” he added. “I hope to score more until the end of the campaign.”
He and Grafite, both.
However, the similarities do not end there. Although both took little time to settle in the UAE, their rise to prominence was far slower.
At club level, Gyan could not be counted on as a reliable goal-getter until his second season in France, with Rennes, six years after he had first appeared for Italy’s Udinese.
Grafite’s candle burned much slower. Famously, when in his early 20s and playing semi-professionally in Brazil’s regional leagues, he supplemented his income as a door-to-door salesman trading in bin liners.
At age 26, he bagged a transfer to Europe. First Le Mans in Ligue 1, then the Bundesliga with Wolfsburg, where in 2009 Grafite finished top scorer with 28 goals. For the feat, he was named Germany’s Footballer of the Year.
And so he eyes another prize, this time in Ahli red. Admittedly, Boris Kabi (17) and Emiliano Alfaro (15) lead a gifted chasing pack, but such are Grafite and Gyan’s talents that they could each afford to miss more than a month of the season and still rate as favourites to lead the league.