Dubai. During the AFC Asian Cup 2015 in Australia at the start of this year, many fans tuned in catch one particular player. The United Arab Emirates may not be one of football’s glamour names, but their national team boasts one of the hottest names in world football, linked with some of the biggest clubs in world football.
At 23 years of age, Omar Abdulrahman, who plays for Al Ain in the UAE’s Arabian Gulf League, is at the perfect age for a footballer. Not too old to stop learning and not too old to have peaked. The cultured midfielder has the world at his feet and were he a Brazilian or Spaniard, or even English, the whole world would know about him.
He burnished his stock during the Asian Cup as the fulcrum of a UAE side that reached the semi finals with four assists in his six games and thrilling a new generation of football fans at the same time.
He may boast a David Luiz hairstyle but when it comes to football ability there is no comparison between the two. Omar ticks the boxes when it comes to the world’s best playmakers. Intelligent with an eye for the defense splitting pass Omar is one of those players who seems to have just so much time on the ball. He is adept at finding space, moving gracefully across the pitch to help out a team mate while possessing a full range of passing in his locker.
During a Presidents Cup tie against Al Nasr at the Al Maktoum Stadium, his talents were there for all to see. Despite it having been a long season for his side, a season in which they had just secured the AGL title and were in the middle of a AFC Champions League tie with Dubai based Al Ahli, Omar’s talents were there for all to see.
There was one delightful moment in the first half of what had been a moribund 45 minutes. Receiving the ball just in his opponents half, he controlled and turned in one graceful movement before sending a delicious 27-meter pass with the outside of his boot to a team mate wide left. Rather than admiring his own footwork, he went through the gears and was soon in the penalty area offering an option for the cross.
With no disrespect to the Arabian Gulf League, Omar is fully deserving of a bigger stage. He has already had trials with Manchester City while other European giants like Juventus and Arsenal have reportedly expressed an interest in his silky skills.
But will he make the move? He is already the highest paid player in Asia, according to some reports, and a big fish in the small pond that is the UAE. Would he want to give that up for the uncertainty and risks of playing for a big club in a bigger league where he would face a myriad of challenges and not just on the pitch.
Perhaps a clue to his ability to withstand the pressure of playing overseas comes in his background. He was born and grew up in a working class area of Saudi Arabia capital Riyadh, a member of a family that traces its roots to the Hadhramaut area of Yemen, an area that also produced the likes of former Indonesians foreign minister Ali Alatas and painter Raden Saleh.
As a youngster, Omar found it difficult to find a local club because his family lacked Saudi citizenship. Through contacts he eventually came to the attention of Al Ain who were so impressed they not only offered the teenager a contract; they arranged passports for the family!
By the time he was 17 in 2009, he was in the Al Ain first team and was a full international two years after that, making his debut against Syria in a friendly.
Omar recently signed a new contract with Al Ain taking him through to 2020 but that hasn’t quashed rumors he may still leave. Certainly it would be a massive boost for UAE football were he to make a move to a big European club, but the size of any transfer fee, plus the expected wage demands, will rule out all but the biggest and the richest.
For the time being, he remains an Al Ain player as the club seeks to impose themselves in the AFC Champions League. And next months sees the World Cup Qualifiers kick off with UUAE drawn with Malaysia, Timor Leste, Palestine and Saudi Arabia.
It is hard to see UAE failing to qualify from that particular group and a successful World Cup campaign followed by a good showing at the AFC Asian Cup in 2019, hosted by the UAE, will certainly afford this highly gifted play maker the opportunity to shine in the shop window. And who knows, by then Omar may be parading his talents in one of the biggest leagues in world, a stage his ability deserves.2009 saw 17-year-old Omar Abdulrahman join Al Ain before playing his first international match two years later