Man City stint leaves UAE star Abdulrahman wanting more
Al Ain fans can breathe a sigh of relief. Omar Abdulrahman is going nowhere, for the time being at least.
The frizzy-haired playmaker has become the toast of UAE football following a stellar 12 months that have seen him cast off injury concerns to star for both club and country.
His performances at the recent Gulf Cup of Nations, where he led the Whites to only their second title, cemented his standing as one of Asian football’s brightest talents.
Omar is almost nonchalant as he admits spurning the advances of Portuguese giants Benfica last month. Europe can wait, the 21-year-old says, as he has unfinished business to attend to here first.
“My contract is still with Al Ain and my priority is with Al Ain,” Omar said as he sat down with local media for the first time since returning from Bahrain.
“But if another offer comes... every player must think about being a professional [abroad] and when it comes I will be ready for it. But for now my thoughts are for Al Ain.”
Omar prefaced a season that has seen him score seven goals in just 16 Pro League games with a two-week trial at English Premier League champions Manchester City.
The UAE starlet admits the step up even when training with Roberto Mancini’s side was difficult to make, but hinted had it not been for British employment laws, he could have prolonged his stay.
Football clubs in England and Wales can only get work permits for non-EU players who have played in 75 per cent of their country’s games in the last two years, while their national team must also be ranked in the world’s top 70 by FIFA.
Omar would have missed out on both accounts last summer, but is determined to do his bit to ensure a move to the Premier League is a possibility in the future.
“I thank Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Sheikha Hazza bin Zayed and Sheikh Mansour for giving me the chance to train with Manchester City,” he said of his time in the UK.
“This is an honour for any player in the world not only for me to train with this team, the champions of the Premier League.
“It was hard to train with the players who won the English title. It was a dream to train [with them] but I came through and I made so much of that short period, not only on the field but off it, of the experience.
“I didn’t have the chance to continue in Manchester because the rules of the Premier League didn’t allow a player from the UAE to sign, but I will do the best with the UAE national team to elevate the ranking of UAE football and one day join one of these teams.”
It’s fair to say Omar has already done his bit to propel the national team into the world’s top 100. Having recovered from the second serious knee injury of his fledgling career, Omar was the driving force as Mahdi Ali’s national side wowed crowds at the London Olympics before their Gulf Cup triumph.
While Ismail Matar spent more and more time on the bench in Bahrain it was his heir apparent who became the team’s fulcrum; scoring a wonderful goal in the final victory over Iraq.
Omar is confident the player he once idolised still has plenty to offer UAE football, and revealed the role the Al Wahda forward has played in his own development.
“Ismail is a unique player in UAE football,” he explained. “For me, I have not taken over or snatched the light from Ismail because Ismail is an excellent player.
“I wished to play with him and I did at the Olympics and Gulf Cup. It’s true Ismail didn’t play all the matches [in Bahrain], but he was instructing the players with coach Mahdi.
“After the experience, Ismail spoke with me and said this is not the end here, think about the future. So I carry these words with a big value, and I am on the path I am because of the assistance of Allah, my family’s wishes and Ismail’s directions.”
Abdulrahman scored a stunning solo effort in the 2-1 Gulf Cup final victory over Iraq last month, but says his proudest moment remains his appearance at the Olympics.
“We did well and it was one of the happiest moments of my life,” he said. “Our ambition with the national team does not stop with this, we move ahead.”