By Paul Nicholson in Abu Dhabi
December 2 – A sparkling awards evening at the Emirates Palace, Abu Dhabi, broadcast live on television, saw the UAE’s star attacking midfielder Omar Abdulrahman win the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Player of the Year award, while Australia’s Caitlin Foord won the women’s award. The Asian International Player of the Year went to Japan and Leicester’s Shinji Okazaki.
Opening the evening AFC President Shaikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa said: “Tonight is a double celebration. We acclaim and applaud the starts of Asian football and acknowledge the vision of the founders of the UAE 45 years ago.”
Taking place the day before the UAE’s official national day celebrations, the Awards were an appropriate reminder of the speed in which the AFC is developing its football and business across the board, as well as the pace at which relatively young countries from this region, like the UAE, are stepping forward on the regional and global stage.
The evening was both a triumph and a statement in a spectacular setting. Where the cultural elements showed diversity and opened a window to Middle Eastern culture, the football elements were grounded in the same hopes and ambitions of the same game that is played everywhere in the world.
“Tonight we gather here under the banner of One Asia, One Goal to celebrate the great achievements of Asian football in the last year. We applaud the AFC’s Member Associations, the coaches and the players who have impressed and excited us this year. We congratulate them all and all those on the short list tonight and our Member Associations for their contribution to our great sport. This is an exciting time – it is Asia’s time,” said Salman.
It was perhaps helpful that the local boy Abdulrahman won the men’s player of the year, but these are changing times and shifting power balances on the field of play. The UAE are mid-2018 World Cup qualifying and have already beaten Japan in Japan in their group. Lying equal with Australia on points they are doing more than making up the numbers in a highly competitive qualifying round.
Looking more like a Brazilian, and playing like one too, Abdulrahman is a player to watch.
It is the women’s awards that reveal some of the AFC’s best stories. A powerhouse of the women’s game, AFC member nations excel in world competition. Japan were runners-up in the 2015 Women’s World Cup having won it in 2011, while North Korea have given notice of their long term intentions beating the US in the semi-fianls of the U20 World Cup to set up a final with France this weekend.
But it was Australia’s women who dominated the AFC player awards with Foord and Lisa de Vanna nominated alongside China’s Tan Ruyin. Foord, who won the AFC Youth Player of the Year Award in 2011, dedicated her award to her Matildas teammates saying: “This is for the national team, anyone of whom could easily have been here tonight.”
AFC women are a powerful group. Chan Yuen-ting from Hong Kong won the women’s coach of the year. She coaches a male team and made international headlines after being the first female to coach a professional men’s team to a top flight – Eastern Sports Club won both the Hong Kong Premier League and Senior Challenge Shield titles.
Her success is also the AFC’s success. She was a member of Batch 2010 of AFC Project Future Coaches, having successfully graduated from the two-year coaches grooming programme in 2012.
From the new to a recognition of the older. Confederation of African Football (CAF) President Issa Hayatou was presented the Diamond of Asia 2016 award in recognition for more than 42 years of contribution to the development and promotion of football, both on and off the field.
“Africa and Asia have similar opportunities and challenges. If we continue to speak with a unified voice we can look into the future together with optimism. I would like to thank the grand football family of Asia for this award,” said Hayatou.
Unification is a consistent coming theme from Shaikh Salman. Hayatou’s identification of the ‘grand’ football family of Asia from one of football’s grandees (and in such a grand setting) showed a commonality that is both understood and respected by these confederation leaders in FIFA’s brave – yet to be grand – new world.
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Full list of AFC Annual Awards 2016 are:
AFC Diamond of Asia Award: Issa Hayatou
AFC Dream Asia Award: Qatar Football Association
AFC Inspiring Member Association of the Year: Japan Football Association
AFC Developing Member Association of the Year: All India Football Federation
AFC Aspiring Member Association of the Year: Bhutan Football Federation AFC President Recognition Awards for Grassroots Football (Inspiring): Football Federation Australia
AFC President Recognition Awards for Grassroots Football (Developing): Philippines Football Federation
AFC President Recognition Awards for Grassroots Football (Aspiring): National Football Association of Brunei Darussalam
AFC Coach of the Year (Men): Choi Kang Hee (KOR)
AFC Coach of the Year (Women): Chan Yuen Ting (HKG)
AFC Special Recognition Award: Makoto Teguramori (JPN) AFC Player of the Year (Men): Omar Abdulrahman (UAE) AFC Player of the Year (Women): Caitlin Foord (AUS)
AFC Futsal Player of the Year: Aliasghar Hasanzadeh (IRN)
AFC Youth Player of the Year (Men): Ritsu Doan (JPN)
AFC Youth Player of the Year (Women): Fuka Nagano (JPN)
AFC Asian International Player of the Year: Shinji Okazaki (JPN & Leicester City FC)
The AFC Referees Special Award (Men): Alireza Faghani (IRN), Reza Sokhandan (IRN), Mohammad Reza Mansouri (IRN)
The AFC Referees Special Award (Women): Kate Jacewicz (AUS), Renae Coghill (AUS), Uvena Fernandes (IND)