China’s Wu Lei(right) and Iraqi poacher Hammadi Ahmed.
As Chinese star Wu Lei and Iraqi poacher Hammadi Ahmed spoke to the assembled media on Wednesday, there was no doubting the prestigious nature of this year’s AFC Player of the Year award in the men’s category. Alongside Emirati midfield maestro Omar Abdulrahman, who will only arrive at the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi on Thursday due to club commitments with Al Ain, the dynamic trio were the undoubted success stories of Asian football in 2016, producing some breathtaking moments of brilliance for millions of football fans.
In Hammadi, Iraq’s Air Force Club have one of the most accomplished finishers ever to have donned their club colours. Displaying the same confidence synonymous with his composure in front of goal, the Air Force Club captain said: “Being here among the top three players in Asia is achievement in itself. I have worked hard to be here. The statistics play a key part in winning this award. I think my continental achievement this year – winning the AFC Cup, top scorer and MVP awards speak for themselves.”
For China’s Wu, the nomination represents a boyhood dream. After making his debut aged just 14 years and 287 days – the youngest person to have played in a professional Chinese football match – the striker has amassed an impressive club record of 114 goals for Shanghai SIPG.
“For every player, not just for me, it is a dream just to be nominated for this prestigious award. This is something I have been dreaming about since I was a young boy. I am very happy and honoured to be regarded as one of Asia’s best players this year. Undoubtedly, as long as you are nominated, it proves your ability and of course, I hope to win this award.”
Looking to the future, the 25-year-old is pleased with the recent rise and popularity of the Chinese Super League, adding that he hopes the increase in big-name signings will help raise the standard of football in China to even greater heights.
“I think it has been a great experience for me this year. I scored a few goals in the AFC Champions League and I am happy with my performances. Today we have more big-name players and coaches in the Chinese Super League, making it more popular and competitive,” revealed Wu, whose Shanghai SIPG side appointed former Chelsea and Tottenham manager André Villas-Boas earlier this month.
“This has certainly helped as it gives us greater motivation as players. I hope we can continue to raise the standards of Chinese football and I am confident we will produce more quality players in the future.”
For Hammadi, winning Thursday’s award will also bring some respite and joy for his fans back home.
“Our situation is Iraq is very difficult. We have to accept this reality, but at the same time our hearts are with our people. We will do our best to bring happiness when we play,” concluded the 27-year-old.
Meanwhile, speaking after he had helped Al Ain to a 2-1 league win over Al Dhafra on Wednesday, Abdulrahman commented: “It is every footballer’s dream to be crowned Asia’s best player and l feel delighted that l have been selected as one of the nominees.
“l hope that I can win the AFC Player of the Year 2016 because it will certainly amplify my drive and dedication for the club and national team in upcoming competitions.”