Now or never for awesome Omar

Omar Abdulrahman, the UAE’s peerless playmaker. (AFP)
Updated 26 October 2017

Now or never for awesome Omar

DUBAI: With one deft swish of his left boot, Omar Abdulrahman instantly won a host of global admirers.
It was the 2015 Asian Cup quarterfinals and arguably the biggest match of his career, but he was not remotely overawed. Keisuke Honda had just thumped his penalty over the bar and Omar stepped up with the chance to turn the shootout in the UAE’s favor. The Emirati playmaker produced an audacious Panenka to leave Japan keeper Eiji Kawashima rooted, paving the way for the UAE’s victory, and progress to the last four.
It was an incredible moment of invention and bare-faced cheek from a player at the peak of his powers and should have been the proverbial passing of the torch from Honda — perhaps Asia’s most recognizable football face of the past decade — to Omar. Australia midfielder Massimo Luongo may have been named the Asian Cup MVP after Australia’s eventual triumph but most fans and journalists balked at the announcement; the tournament belonged to Omar and that magic wand of a left foot.
No longer hidden from view in the Arabian Gulf League, Omar had produced at the highest level — making an impression on the fans, and scouts, who watched him. Offers inevitably arrived from Europe and the timing seemed perfect for a transfer; he had captivated a wider audience and a move West would surely help cement the UAE’s rising reputation on the international stage.
But both Omar and his club Al-Ain stood firm. He insisted he was happy to stay and his loyalty was admirable. Al-Ain had after all brought the skinny 15-year-old over to the UAE from Saudi Arabia, offering his entire family citizenship and the prospect of a stable life. They invested in him both professionally and personally, helping nurture his precocious talent and paying him handsomely for emerging as the club’s key player.
And so the moment passed. Omar returned to the AGL, fading away from the memory of those who had so eagerly coveted him. He continued to dominate week in, week out, of course — his creativity a cut above the others in the league. Then in 2016, he returned to the fore as his performances inspired Al-Ain to reach the Asian Champions League final. They fell short at the last hurdle, losing to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, but Omar had, once again, left an indelible mark — this time he was crowned the tournament’s best player and a month later was named AFC Asian Player of the Year.
Once again, Omar was center stage. Once again, the offers came — more serious and more tempting. But once again, Omar stayed at Al-Ain. Clubs in France, Spain and England all made overtures but almost a year after taking the continent’s top individual accolade, he remains a big fish in a small pond and is at risk of stagnating. In that time the UAE have also failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, meaning his next big chance to reach a wider audience will likely be the 2019 Asian Cup on home soil.
By then he will be 27 and while not exactly closing in on retirement, time is running out if he is to really make waves in the West. But does he actually want to? Despite his obvious attachment to Al-Ain, the answer seems to be a resounding ‘yes’. In interviews he has regularly spoken of his desire to play in La Liga or the Premier League and he often goes misty-eyed when reminiscing about a trial he had at Manchester City in 2012 after impressing at that year’s Olympics. At that time he was judged to be too lightweight and he has done little since to emulate the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale and beef up his frame.
The Emirati is a player in the mold of David Silva. He glides across the turf and possesses outstanding vision. But while the Spaniard is stocky, Omar is slight. There are questions about whether he would be able to handle the physicality of English football and perhaps it is that fear of failure that is preventing the star from taking the plunge. Ex-Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp recently told Arab News in Dubai that “under the right club and the right manager, he could make a mark” and it seems a fair assessment.
Maybe Omar is just patiently biding his time until he finds the perfect fit but he must be careful not to wait too long as he is at risk of being just another Gulf football hero whose ability is greater than his aspiration.


South Korea football team departs for World Cup qualifier in Pyongyang

Updated 14 October 2019

South Korea football team departs for World Cup qualifier in Pyongyang

BEIJING: South Korean footballers departed for Pyongyang on Monday to play a World Cup qualifier against North Korea amid deadlocked talks over the North’s nuclear arsenal.
The teams — with Tottenham’s star forward Son Heung-min included in the South Korean squad — are expected to face each other at the Kim Il Sung Stadium on Tuesday.
This will be the first competitive men’s game between the two sides to be held in Pyongyang, and has raised hopes for new momentum in ties between the two Koreas.
But Pyongyang refused to hold direct talks with Seoul on the logistics for the match, denying South Korean fans and journalists permission to travel with the team.
South Korean players said the absence of cheering fans will be a first.
“It’s much better to play in a packed stadium rather than an empty one, but I think we’ll be able to play a good match if we use it as motivation,” said defender Kim Min-jae before boarding a flight to Pyongyang at Beijing airport.
The South Korean footballers were accompanied by a delegation of 55 people, limited to players, coaches and staff.
Broadcasters in the South said that plans to air the match live had fallen apart, with some media reporting that there may be attempts to carry the North Korean feed.
The match comes in the wake of a series of North Korean missile tests that raised tensions in the region, and after the breakdown of talks with the United States over Pyongyang’s weapons programs.