Omar Abdulrahman's UAE omission could be stroke of genius

Omar Abdulrahman has been dropped by the UAE. (AFP)
Updated 21 March 2018
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Omar Abdulrahman's UAE omission could be stroke of genius

LONDON: Omar Abdulrahman produced one of his best displays of the season on Sunday with two goals for Al-Ain in a 3-2 win at Al-Jazira — a performance that came shortly after the star was dropped by the national team.
The UAE are heading to the King’s Cup in Thailand for their opening games against Slovakia and Gabon, but Abdulrahman will not be there.
In January, Abdulrahman and striker Ali Mabkhout were hit with four-match domestic bans for breaking a team curfew the day before the UAE met Oman in the final of the Gulf Cup. UAE lost and Abdulrahman missed twice from the spot.
The ban did not extend to the national team, but Italian coach Alberto Zaccheroni refused to select the two stars. It is a risky strategy, but it might just be the shot in the arm that Abdulrahman needs.
The 26-year-old playmaker should be at the peak of his career, but, instead, appears to be on the edge of stagnation.
Abdulrahman has been regarded as one of the best players in Asia for several years. There was the trial with Manchester City in 2013 and links with Arsenal and Nice. Then came a starring role at the 2015 Asian Cup, eight MVP awards on the way to the 2016 Asian Champions League final with Al-Ain, and the AFC Player of the Year award.
Talk about Abdulrahman’s next destination reached a climax, but instead of making the expected move, he has stayed in the UAE. His form has failed to reach the same heights since that decision. The Gulf Cup was a disappointment for both player and country as was qualification for the 2018 World Cup.
Al-Ain’s Croatian coach Zoran Mamic expressed his frustration with his star player in a 2018 Champions League play-off win against Malkiya of Bahrain in January. “‘Amoory’ is a very important player, but he did not make a good match,” Mamic said. “He made mistakes in many passes, wasted a lot of opportunities. Not good for Asian football.”
Abdulrahman was named man of the match by the AFC then, an example of how reputation and past exploits allowed him to get away with under-performance.
There is no doubt that Abdulrahman is still a major talent and force, but his name is rarely linked with the big European clubs these days. Perhaps there is a realization that the UAE star will not going to be tempted out of his well-paid comfort zone.
Many believe he should do his utmost to go to a top European league and blaze a trail for others. Alternatively, he could stay and try to return to former heights. Staying and failing to perform at his best is the worst outcome.
Depriving the player of something that he may well have taken for granted — a starring role for his country — could be a masterstroke from Zaccheroni.
Abdulrahman’s performance at Al-Jazira is encouraging. A few more of those and the national team will welcome him back with open arms.
 


Man City humbled in 2-1 loss to Lyon in Champions League

City were humbled by French side Lyon in Manchester. (Reuters)
Updated 20 September 2018
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Man City humbled in 2-1 loss to Lyon in Champions League

  • City’s players were humbled 2-1 by Lyon in a sloppy and apathetic display at the start of their European campaign

MANCHESTER, England: If Manchester City wants to finally win a first Champions League title, it will have to start taking the competition a bit more seriously — on and off the field.
Surrounded by swathes of empty seats in the Etihad Stadium, City’s players were humbled 2-1 by Lyon in a sloppy and apathetic display at the start of their European campaign on Wednesday.
Banned from the touchline and unable to communicate with the bench, City manager Pep Guardiola did fill one seat in the stands and he saw his Premier League champions easily picked apart by the French visitors.
“We felt under threat every time we lost the ball and sometimes that brings the confidence a little bit lower,” said City assistant manager Mikel Arteta, who was in charge on the bench in Guardiola’s absence.
Errors by midfielder Fernandinho led to both Lyon goals, typifying how careless City was against a team that finished third in the French league last season and was even held to a draw at the weekend by 10-man Caen.
When a pass by the Brazilian midfielder was intercepted around the halfway line, Lyon charged forward. Nabil Fekir sent in a cross from the left that evaded Fabian Delph’s swinging legs, allowing Maxwel Cornet to slot it home in the 26th minute. Delph held his head in his hands as the consequences of his mistake became clear.
City’s troubles deepened when Fernandinho was caught in possession again. Memphis Depay set Fekir on a run and the forward doubled Lyon’s lead in the 43rd by striking through the legs of John Stones.
“It was a difficult game,” said Depay, who struggled to make an impact at Manchester United before leaving after two seasons in 2017. “But when we had the ball we tried to play and when we won the ball we tried to counterattack.”
Perhaps the only reason for City to feel aggrieved in the first half was Gabriel Jesus being denied a penalty when he was tripped by former Manchester United defender Rafael da Silva just before Depay scored.
“To concede two goals like we did is very frustrating,” Stones said. “We came in at halftime a bit deflated I think. But we picked ourselves up and we came out second half fighting and played a better second half.”
But the improvement wasn’t sufficient.
City pulled one back in the 67th when Bernardo Silva scored from substitute Leroy Sane’s cutback. But the attacking threat was too patchy from a City side that won the Premier League with a record 100 points only four months ago, and are widely seen as one of the big favorites in this season’s Champions League.
“I suffered as I was scared they’d score a second goal,” Lyon coach Bruno Genesio said. “We would have taken 2-2 before the match but given the way the game went we’d have been disappointed not to leave with the three points.”
With Hoffenheim and Shakhtar Donetsk also in Group F, City appeared to have one of the kinder draws but is now playing catch-up.
Celebrating a decade under Abu Dhabi ownership, which allowed City to assemble a squad for more than $1 billion, the Champions League is the one big prize the club has yet to win.
But City fans still have a fraught relationship with Europe’s premier competition.