Omar Yabroudi: The man who holds the key to Crystal Palace

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Yabroudi is a self-confessed football nut — an obsession that has taken him to the Premier League where he can call on years of watching the “Beautiful Game” in a bid to find hidden gems. ( James Hanna )
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Yannick Bolasie was found by Yabroudi (AFP).
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Crystal Palace fans at Selhurst Park.
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Crystal Palace’s Dougie Freedman. (AFP)
Updated 03 September 2018

Omar Yabroudi: The man who holds the key to Crystal Palace

  • Emirati Omar Yabroudi could be helping the family construction business but opted to go into football
  • Yabroudi has a real eye for a bargain — he likes to get value for money

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.

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

Updated 21 March 2019

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.”