UAE golden boy Abdulrahman has the world at his feet
The UAE are in celebration after their glorious Gulf Cup of Nations campaign and it is midfield sensation Omar Abdulrahman who is the name on everybody’s lips.
His consistently stellar performances throughout the Gulf Cup were officially recognised when he received the tournament’s Best Player award, while onlookers are understandably excited by what the Al Ain star’s future has in store.
Undoubtedly the most talented Emirati player of his generation and arguably the greatest this country has ever produced, Abdulrahman has the football world at his feet.
The 21-year-old’s goal in the Gulf Cup final against Iraq last night was one of such guile, composure, and wizardry that it had local journalists comparing it to Diego Maradona’s iconic solo effort against England in the 1986 Mexico World Cup.
Okay, that is slightly far-fetched, but what is not in doubt is that Abdulrahman is a special talent who possesses god-given ability. His piercing vision is remarkable, while a velvet first-touch and gliding movement allows him the critical space and time he requires to unleash his impressive passing repertoire.
Mix into that a refined left-foot and lethal dead-ball ability – most recently seen in the opening Gulf Cup victory over Qatar – and you have a midfielder who has all the tools to dictate his own football destiny.
Possessing such a talent is one thing, maximising it and allowing it to flourish is quite another. Abdulrahman is well-known to be a grounded and level-headed character who is constantly striving to improve as a footballer. Al Ain’s performance analyst, Liam Weeks, once remarked that Omar is one of the first players to knock on his door after a game to find out what he has done wrong in order to improve. And it is that work ethic and determination that has seen him overcome two serious knee injuries that robbed him of 18 months of his career before the age of 21.
Any concerns relating to his ability to battle past those injuries are well and truly banished by now, and that is all credit to Abdulrahman.
While he admits he harbours ambitions of playing in Europe, the midfielder is not one to forget what Al Ain has done for him and his career. Born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Abdulrahman is of Yemeni origin and thus did not hold Saudi citizenship. Saudi club Al Hilal tried to sign him, but as they only offered citizenship to him and not his entire family, he turned down their offer.
That was when Al Ain stepped in after they were made aware of his talent by their Saudi-based scout – and former Saudi player – Sami Jaber. The Boss agreed to grant citizenship to Omar and his family, while enrolling his brothers in their youth Academy.
And it is Al Ain’s support for his career that made him reject the advances of La Liga club Espanyol in 2009, and more recently Manchester City last summer following his impressive Olympic campaign.
“Omar feels he owes a great debt of gratitude to Al Ain for the belief shown in him from such an early age,” an Al Ain spokesman said after he turned down the advances of City.
"He wants to help the club retain their league title and do well in the AFC Champions League and repay the management and fans for their faith shown in him.”
It is that sort of loyalty and patience that marks him out compared to what we would consider as many ‘modern-day’ footballers. Europe is not going anywhere, and while it would be a crying shame for his own career if he did not take his skills to the continent, he still has plenty of time on his side.
We at Sport360 are big admirers of Abdulrahman and have been for some time, but there was a fear that perhaps we were lauding him too much. Maybe we were going a bit over-the-top as he was only shining in the UAE Pro League. As admirable and improving as the league is, it would be foolish to compare it to say, Serie A or La Liga.
That was until professionals competing at the highest level jumped on the Abdulrahman bandwagon and starting fawning over the midfielder.
Abdulrahman got his first major chance on a big stage when competing in London at the Olympic Games last summer. In front of 70,000-plus fans inside some of the most iconic stadia in the world, and against teams filled with top-level players, Abdulrahman remained unfazed; laying on a pass of such majesty for Ismail Matar to open the scoring against Uruguay in their first game. His reward for an impressive all-round performance? Uruguay captain and Liverpool star Luis Suarez offered him his match shirt.
Abdulrahman enjoyed another stellar performance in the defeat to hosts Team GB in the following game, and his display led to unreserved praise from Manchester City defender Micah Richards.
"The number 15 (Abdulrahman) is a very good player who plays beautiful football,” Richards said. “He’ll be one of those players we should keep an eye on in the future."
And after the game, GB captain and Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs made his way to the UAE locker room to hand his shirt to Abdulrahman for his performance.
Thanks to his individually successful Olympic campaign, Abdulrahman took up Manchester City’s offer of a trial and while they failed in their attempts to sign the midfielder, he clearly made his mark on the squad.
City’s most influential player, Yaya Toure, said during a recent trip to Abu Dhabi that he was left mesmerised by Omar’s ability on the training ground and that the UAE star was producing skills on a par with David Silva…High praise indeed!
His ability – and marketability – has not been missed either. Sports giants Nike, aware of his growing popularity and rising stock within the game, made him their latest football recruit when they signed him up in October.
And while Rory McIlroy got his Nike career off to the worst possible start in Abu Dhabi, those over at Nike HQ were able to take a little solace from Omar’s heroic Gulf Cup campaign.
So what is in store for Abdulrahman’s immediate future? Well, helping Al Ain to a successful Pro League title defence is surely of top priority, while their AFC Champions League campaign kicks off soon and will give him another platform to demonstrate his talent.
Beyond this season, it becomes more difficult to predict. Could the lure of Europe tempt him to leave Al Ain and the UAE sooner rather than later? Al Ain fans will certainly hope not, and of course the Pro League will miss him if or when he decides to test himself on a higher level.
On the other hand, Abdulrahman is the perfect representative for UAE football and should he leave for pastures new, he would surely go with the country’s blessing.
Who knows what will happen, but what we do know is that he has the world at his extremely talented feet.
A brilliant highlight reel of Omar's impressive array of tricks...