LONDON: The cosmopolitan Premier League is really starting to take on an Arab flavor. Egyptian Mohamed Salah is breaking all sorts of records at Liverpool, his compatriot Mohamed Elneny patrols the midfield for Arsenal, while Huddersfield moved swiftly to offer another to hail from Egypt Ramadan Sobhi an escape route from relegated Stoke City. Then, in the recruitment nerve center at Crystal Palace away from the spotlight, you have Omar Yabroudi.
The Emirati could be helping the family construction business continue to alter the UAE skyline with more buildings like the World Trade Center Residences, the Rolex Tower and the Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, but he eschewed life working with his father Abdullah and brothers Hasan and Faisal and instead followed his dream of landing a career in football.
He has done things the hard way and earned his spurs, starting out as a performance analyst at Palace, doing the hard yards at non-league club Barnet, experiencing the madcap reign of Kuwaiti businessman Fawaz Al-Hasawi at Nottingham Forest before Dougie Freedman, his old mate from his first time at Palace, gave him a call late last year and lined him up for the player recruitment role at Crystal Palace.
“It’s a great pleasure to be working in the Premier League for such a traditional club,” said Yabroudi.
“Although I do feel the pressure of finding players for the club, the enjoyment outweighs those pressures. My role is to find players, but it’s all about doing the best job to help the manager get three points on a Saturday.”
Yabroudi leaves no stone unturned in his approach, watching as many as 15 games a week either on video or live. He must rack up a fair few air miles.
“One week I was in Madrid for three nights while I watched the U-19 regional youth championships,” he said.
“I then got to London and drove to Bournemouth to watch them play Swansea. Another time, I was in Germany for four nights watching three Bundesliga games and then off to Switzerland to watch Basle, Grasshoppers and Young Boys. I try to tie the trips in and make them as effective as possible and get the club value for money from the trip.”
Yabroudi has a real eye for a bargain — he likes to get value for money.
Statistics released in April revealed Palace had the fifth- highest net spend of Premier League clubs since June 2014, higher than Chelsea, Tottenham and Liverpool, but Yabroudi does not take as much satisfaction from identifying high-ticket players. For example, he recommended Palace pluck Yannick Bolasie from Bristol City reserves in 2012 and they turned a £300,000 ($390,000) player into a £28 million one four years later. That is quite a mark up. The Palace recruitment team Yabroudi is part of also snared another bargain this summer when they landed Max Meyer on a free.
“My father always drilled into me to respect the value of money,” said Yabroudi.
“Even though there is so much money in the Premier League and it increases every year, mine and Dougie’s job is to be proactive and not reactive. We have to work at the top of our game every day to take the player before he becomes common knowledge to everyone else. Our job is to make sure we do our due diligence. You are then able to recruit several quality players and not just one and blow your budget on one player. It’s a process.”
Yabroudi’s personal journey began when he was a football-obsessed student at Emirates International School in Dubai.
“I’d finish school at 2.40 p.m on a Saturday, be home by 3 p.m. and I’d watch three Premier League games back to back,” he said.
“I’d do that every single Saturday. I always wanted to increase my knowledge. I’d then go to live games when I could when I was on holiday in England. It was one of those things where I did as much as I could to have a grasp on that. I built up an all-round database, not just on first teams. I’d see a player for Man United’s U-18 team or one playing for Al-Hilal’s U-19 team. I’d watch the African Cup of Nations and the Gulf Cup of Nations just out of pure love for the game. I just wanted to be proactive and get as many games under my belt as I could. It was something I loved.”
His passion for the game is infectious. Edgar Davids, the great Dutch player, was so impressed with Yabroudi that he stayed in touch with him long after he left Barnet while Freedman made Yabroudi one of his first appointments after he was appointed sporting director at Palace. They go back a long way.
“When Dougie joined Crystal Palace, in late 2017, he wanted to build a recruitment team,” Yabroudi said.
“I had to be interviewed by the board and fortunately it went well and I got the job. Working under Dougie is something I’m very grateful for. He allows me to express my knowledge and that is important to me.
“Our relationship started in long road journeys around England and trying to find players for Crystal Palace. Dougie did all the driving and I was responsible for buying the coffees as I didn’t have my driving license.”
Together, they tried to pull off the transfer coup of them all when Salah came on their radar in 2013.
“Hand on heart, Dougie Freedman gave me a call the evening he had played for Basle against Lausanne and they won 2-0. He scored one and assisted the other. I remember Dougie saying ‘What a player — if only we had the money to sign him.’ I still remember it like it was yesterday.”
Salah has since gone on to achieve worldwide stardom, but Yabroudi has not done too bad, either.