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Awesome Omar is class, but is not in 2017 top 3

While his ability is not in doubt, it’s fair to say Omar Abdulrahman didn’t perform when it came to the crunch clashes this year. (AFP)
LONDON: Football divides opinions as smoothly as an Omar Abdulrahman pass splits defenses. Player of the Year/Season awards are especially adept at provoking debate, which is one reason why they are so much fun.
The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) prize is a prime example. Abdulrahman, the United Arab Emirates playmaker, is the current holder of the title. A year on, he is back on the three-man shortlist for the 2017 award along with Omar Khribin of Al-Hilal and Syria (pictured right), and Wu Lei of China and Shanghai SIPG.
He should not be there on the back of his performances this year.
Abdulrahman can lay claim to being the most talented player in the whole continent. There is no need to go over the reasons why again. More has been written about the Al-Ain man than any other Asian player in history who has never played outside Asia.
Just because he is the most talented — or is widely regarded as such — does not mean that he is always the top dog in any given year. The Beatles are regarded by many as the best band in history but still burped out Yellow Submarine and Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. George Lucas made Star Wars but was also responsible for The Phantom Menace.
Abdulrahman has never reached such lows, but 2017 has not been a vintage year for the player. It could have, should have, been his best ever, but in the end it was merely good rather than great.
His club form has been somewhere in between. Al-Ain had a relatively disappointing 2016-17 season by their own high standards, finishing fourth.
In the 2017 AFC Champions League, the 26-year-old was one of the standouts playing a major part of the drive to the last eight. That is where the run ended however. For a club like Al-Ain, the last eight is the minimum of continental targets. Losing 3-0 to Al-Hilal was a major disappointment, and in the second leg the Riyadh-born creator was second best to the Saudi midfielders on display. 
The path to Bangkok,  where this year’s award will be presented at the end of November, runs alongside the road to Russia. The man known as “Amoory” was not at his best this year during qualification for the World Cup, even if something similar could be said for the UAE team in general. The Whites started the third and crucial round very well with a 2-1 win over Japan in Saitama in September 2016. By the end of last year, UAE were sitting in a decent position with nine points from their first five games.
The next five, all played this year, brought just four points. In March, there were two games that were always going to give the team a major shove toward Moscow or ensure that dreams of a busy summer were all but dashed.
In the space of five days, UAE hosted Japan and then traveled to Australia. If those two games had ended in victory, then the nation and its star would be looking forward to a first appearance on the global stage since 1990. Even four points would have made things very interesting.
It was always a big ask against two of Asia’s best teams but it is exactly then, when the pressure is on, that the stars have to step forward.
Abdulrahman didn’t. In both games he had little impact. There had been plenty of hype in the media in both Tokyo and Sydney about the need to stop the reigning Asian Player of the Year. And stopped he was, just like he was in the 2016 Asian Champions League when Al-Ain lost to Jeonbuk Motors in the final.
Such big games don’t only mean the difference between going to a World Cup and staying home, or lifting a trophy and throwing a loser’s medal into the bin, they also forge reputations.
This year Abdulrahman has been found wanting when his skills have really been needed. In terms of overall talent, he may still be Asia’s No. 1, but in terms of 2017 performances, he should not have made the top three.