Omar Abdulrahman's UAE omission could be stroke of genius

Omar Abdulrahman has been dropped by the UAE. (AFP)
Updated 21 March 2018

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.

Bert Van Marwijk only has one thing on his mind: getting the UAE to the 2022 World Cup

Updated 56 min 48 sec ago

Bert Van Marwijk only has one thing on his mind: getting the UAE to the 2022 World Cup

  • Former Saudi Arabia coach wants to guide the Whites to their first World Cup since 1990.
  • "If I didn’t see the potential, I wouldn’t sit here," Dutchman says of his new job.

LONDON: Bert van Marwijk has told the UAE he only has one thing on his mind: Getting the side to the 2022 World Cup. 

The former Saudi Arabia boss was unveiled as the new coach of the Whites before watching his new team beat his former team 2-1 in a friendly in Dubai (see right). While he was in the stand rather than the dugout — interim boss Saleem Abdelrahman took charge — he would have liked what he saw as he set himself the challenge of leading the UAE to their first showpiece since 1990. 

“I’m here for only one thing, and that’s to qualify for the World Cup,” the Dutchman said.  

“It takes a long time and the first thing we have to deal with is the first qualification round. That’s why I’m here.”

Van Marwijk was celebrated after he led the Green Falcons to last year's World Cup before calling it quits. (AFP) 

Van Marwijk guided Saudi Arabia to last year’s World Cup — the Green Falcons’ first appearance at the showpiece for 12 years — during a two-year stint which ended in September 2017.

That was one of the key reasons the UAE fought hard for the 66-year-old and while it is never easy getting through Asian qualifying — 46 teams going for just four direct slots at Qatar 2022 — the Dutchman claimed his experience, combined with his knowledge of the UAE, will stand him in good stead. 

“The Saudis and the UAE are about the same level. With the Saudis we qualified for Russia, so we will do really everything to go to Qatar in 2022,” Van Marwijk said. 

While he is fondly remembered in the Kingdom — only a contractual dispute regarding backroom staff meant he did not stay on as Green Falcons coach for the Russia tournament — it is his time as the Netherlands coach that really stands out on his managerial resume. Van Marwijk coached the Oranje to within minutes of the World Cup trophy, with only an Andres Iniesta extra-time winner preventing him from tasting ultimate glory against Spain in 2010. 

So why did he return to the Gulf for another crack at World Cup qualification in a tough, crowded race? 

“One of the reasons is the feeling. I have to have the right feeling when I sign a contract,” Van Marwijk said. “We analyzed the UAE, we played four times against each other with Saudi, so I can see the potential.

“I have had the experience to go to the World Cup twice. The first time we were second in the world, the second time was with Australia (which he coached last summer) and we were a little bit unlucky — we played very well. 

“So to go to the World Cup for the third time is the goal.”

Van Marwijk is all too aware his task will be difficult. The “Golden Generation” of Emirati footballers, spearheaded by Omar Abdulrahman, tried and failed to make it to football’s biggest tournament, and a lot of the next three years’ work will likely depend on a new generation.

“I heard there were some young talents, so I’m anxious to know how good they are,” the Dutchman said. “I know the team has a few very good players — the UAE has a few weapons. 

“That’s the most important thing. If I didn’t see the potential, I wouldn’t sit here.”