THE BEST TO NEVER PLAY IN EUROPE – WHO IS OMAR ABDULRAHMAN?

A frizzy afro pasted across billboards in Asia, the face of Nike in the Middle East and the front cover of Pro-Evolution 2016. Hundreds of Youtube compilations while garnering 8.1 million views starring with the F2 Freestylers. He is invited as guest to play in 5-aside games against Zinedine Zidane and Edgar Davids. Virality came from a sumptuous Panenka penalty against Barcelona. Omar Abdulrahmen is the best player you have never heard of, and here is why you haven’t.

As Martin Tyler’s voice was etched into Premier League folklore eternally when Sergio Aguero secured Manchester City’s first ever title win in the 2012/12 season, one could not be quite sure whether if they were witnessing the beginning of serial dominance, or a flash in the pan victory.

But the hierarchy at Manchester City did not rest on their laurels. Having access to an endless mine of wealth, the top scouts in Europe and highly skilled data analysts, it was obvious in what they had to do to consolidate an already growing team of superstars; Man the defence, bolster the cavalry and sign… Javi Garcia(?), Scott Sinclair (?) and Richard Wright (??). It was a strange Summer at Man City but there was a genuine superstar who Manchester City did try to sign that year, though. His name was Omar Abdulrahman.

“A very good player, a very good talent. It’s important for him, for Arab players, for the country also [to play abroad]. Omar can be a pioneer and make it easier for other to follow” – Xavi

BACKGROUND

Abdulrahman, 29, affectionately known as ‘Amoory’, grew up in the city of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to Yemeni parents. Flair, and a balance between explosion, elegance, and artistry with exuberating confidence to match. If you blink, you might miss it, but there is residual influence of his initial football tutelage in his playing style today – the streets of Saudi Arabia with his brothers.

The midfielder was highly coveted as a teen, with the whole of Saudi Arabia willing to roll out the carpet for Amoory to dribble down, including the biggest and most successful Saudi team Al-Hilal. It was somewhat of a controversial decision when Amoory decided to leave his native country to join UAE giants Al-Ain. Al-Ain were able to offer Abdulrahman several perks others could not. Not only did the high-profile move give the chance of UAE citizenship, the country Amoory chose to represent, but Al-Ain were also willing to extend recruitment to his brothers, Mohammed and Khalid.

PLAYING STYLE

Impressing at all youth levels, Abdulrahman starred in an international U17 tournament featuring the world’s biggest clubs, and subsequently forced coach Winfriend Schafer to promote him to the first team.

A playful street footballer, Abdulrahman is simply a supremely exciting player. Serving as a creative source from midfield, the standout attribute in his arsenal is ball mastery, which Amoory uses to toss the ball around pitch wherever likes at a whim, often opting for verticality in his passes. Amoory can use any passing techinique he likes, complimented by vision and innovative thinking, Abdulrahmen is often utilised as primary creator in teams. While defenders are just managing to set themselves, strikers are already celebrating after an incisive through ball or clever lay off. When Amoory is on the pitch, it almost feels like he is playing during a slight freezeframe, giving him an extra second on everybody else. 126 goal contributions in 168 games, 84 being assists is impressive at any level.

Dubbed the “Emirati Iniesta”, standing at 5ft 6, the diminutive midfielder’s dribbling technique is what has amassed fans globally. The roulettes, the flip-flap, the salsa’s , the midfielder can use all the fancy words to get out of tight situations and progress the ball up the pitch, which makes him a joy to watch. Essentially, he is cool. Everybody wants to be able to do what he does.

In summary, not only can he do what he wants with a football, but he does it at high intensity giving him as much time as possible. There is little point in pressing him, as it is either a quick one two or clever turn and dribble away into space.

It is a testament to Omar Abdulrahmen’s natural ability that he was able to overcome two cruciate ligament injuries between the ages 17 – 21, and still go on to attract the attention of the biggest clubs in the world.

2012 OLYMPICS

Omar Abdulrahmen spent 4 years in the first team at Al-Ain, replacing Jorge Valvida and inheriting his number 10 shirt before participating in the 2012 Olympics. If fans were not already excited to see 38-year-old Ryan Giggs and Marvin Sordell play international football for the same team, then it would be Omar Abdulrahmens performances that lit up the quadrennial spectacle. And it was a coming of age to say the least.

Crashing out bottom of Group A with a solitary point, the United Arab Emirates did as well as they were expected too, but thankfully so did Amoory. Playing every single minute of the UAE’s games, the distinctive bouncing afro finally had the world’s eyes on it, if they could keep up.

“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.”  – Micah Richards after playing against UAE

Joyous elegance when dribbling yet brutal decisive conviction in his end-product, a vibrant fro’d bolt of lightning hit London. Such was the gracefulness of Amoory, he could have played against Great Britain on the day and won a bronze in gymnastics on the night; he was beautiful to watch.

Impressing in all games, the showdown with Uruguay proved to be his greatest masterpiece, being the centre piece from start to finish with his symphony rising to a tragic crescendo at a 2-1 defeat. Highlights include a jinking run in to the box which drew a clear foul and should have been a penalty, and lovely outside-of-the-foot first-time stabbed through ball from his own half, putting a team-mate through on goal that was well finished. The United Arab Emirate’s really ought to have won the match entirely as Amoory carved open Uruguay at will creating several chances.

Luis Suarez would seek Amoory after the game specifically to swap shirts, Ryan Giggs was spotted going to the UAE dressing room to personally praise the number 15, Daniel Sturridge and Micah Richards publicly spoke out about the playmaker’s ability. Amoory was ready for Europe.

MANCHESTER CITY AND EUROPEAN INTEREST

Impressing at Old Trafford against Uruguay, the blue side of Manchester would take to the interest of Amoory later that year while his levels of fame exploded in his home continent. What happened during his two-week trial at Manchester City would be marred with conflicting stories. A definite is the fact he impressed; A four-year contract offer followed, while turning the heads of established first team champions.

“Are you the UAE player?” Inquired Kolo Toure. “You have the skill and potential to sign a contract here” to which Abdulrahman affirmed his intention to sign it in response. However, this might not be entirely true. The official story detailed a failed work permit, which made sense as the UAE would not have been ranked high enough at the time, increasing difficulty tenfold. This is put into contentious doubt, with Manchester City sources claiming the move was blocked by the player.

A similar pattern emerged adding credence to the claims, as a move to Nice similarly fell through, a move to Arsenal was rejected as was a one-year contract with Benfica. The player maintained the stance that his dream was to play in Europe yet swatted away every opportunity gained. The player went from links with Barcelona, to middling teams in Europe’s top 5 leagues to speculation around a move to Turkey but nothing ever materialised. Many have given up hope that Amoory will ever cross continents. He will not. The injuries that struck as a teen have made a perilous return and at the age of 29, and with 2 games played this season, and 15 times in two-year Omar Abdulrahman’s brilliance will be forever stuck in flashback forged on to the growing tapestry of UAE football.

The problem is that when a player becomes a dynastic powerhouse in their own land, they are comfortable – especially in a country decorated with wealth. A pay cut would probably have to be taken, his god-level celebrity status removed and a significant increase in pressure. Of course, Omar Abdulrahman may have succeeded in a hypothetical move, thus conquering the world and elevating his status further, but there are so many variables in football that nothing is guaranteed. Such is life.

Added to the fact, Middle Eastern clubs do prefer to keep their players for their own success and make them heroes, rather than raise their own profile by sending them to bigger heights. Currently at Al-Jazira, Omar Abdulrahman did not necessarily have a bad career, winning three league titles, winning Asian player of the year ahead of Heung-Min Son in 2016 and currently stands at 134 goal contributions in 195 games.

 A diamond that remains undusted, Omar Abdulrahman is the personification of the age-old question, what if?

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