Fairytale European move gone forever as Omar Abdulrahman’s story takes a sad twist

Fairytale European move gone forever as Omar Abdulrahman’s story takes a sad twist
The United Arab Emirates' Omar Abdulrahman was the region’s biggest star on the pitch. (File/AFP)
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Updated 02 February 2021

Fairytale European move gone forever as Omar Abdulrahman’s story takes a sad twist

Fairytale European move gone forever as Omar Abdulrahman’s story takes a sad twist
  • The Golden Boy of UAE football has been released by Al Jazira after injury-hit spell
  • He might still have a future on the pitch, but any hope of a move west seems over

LONDON: All fans of Asian football should have felt a tinge of sadness on Monday on hearing that injury-hit Omar Abdulrahman had been released from his contract by Al-Jazira.

Not all that long ago, it was expected that if the playmaker was leaving a club at the age of 29, it would be from one European giant to another.

In truth, hopes of a big move west had already faded for a player turning 30 this year but now it is official.

There will be no more articles or social media posts to add to the many already written asking when and where he would go.

His career, that once promised so much, came to be defined by the European question.

That may not be fair but was an understandable consequence of the talent he possessed. At least the debate will be held no more.

For those who don’t know, the Yemeni-born Emirati burst onto the global stage at the 2012 Olympics.

His performances earned an offer from Manchester City and reports of interest from the likes of Arsenal and Barcelona.

No problem: a little more playing time at Al-Ain, one of the best teams in Asia, would help the player develop and when he looked head and shoulders above the rest as he helped UAE win the 2013 Gulf Cup, it seemed to be the right decision. 

The 2015 Asian Cup seemed to be the time.

I remember middle-aged security staff at Canberra in Australia talking about the player, a rare example of Asian talent getting fans thousands of miles away excited.

It was easy to see why as he inspired UAE to a third-place finish with one of the coolest Panenka penalties against Japan in the quarter-final just one of many memories.

The European question became more urgent than ever and everywhere he went down under, it was asked.

He usually gave answers like this. “Each footballer has a wish to play for one of the big teams in Europe. But I’m still young and I know I must double my efforts to reach my target. There is no specific date for my professional career and I will take it as it comes.”

Within days of the Asian Cup ending, there came an announcement on his future but instead of a big move, it was news of a contract extension with Al-Ain. It was a lucrative deal providing ammunition to those who believed his high salary and comfortable surroundings at home reduced incentives to move away.

The rumors persisted however and being named the Asian Player of the Year in 2016, when he helped the team to the final of the AFC Champions League final where Jeonbuk Motors of South Korea gave him plenty of attention and zero space, seemed to mark another opportunity for an exit.

When he did finally leave Al-Ain however it was in 2018 and to Al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia.

Al-Hilal are a huge club but far from Europe.

Time was running out for the player but it became worse after he tore his cruciate ligament just five games into his Saudi adventure.

There were tears as he was stretchered off the pitch. It was clearly a turning point in his career.

Much of 2019 was missed, including the Asian Cup that took place on home soil and there has been just one full game in 2020.

It wasn’t just his talent that meant there was so much talk about whether and where the player known as ‘Amoory’ should have gone, but what it would do for the region.

He will surely not miss all the advice telling him to go, even if it was well-meaning. “He’s a very good player, a very good talent,” said Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez. “It’s important for him, for Arab players, for the country also [to play abroad]. Omar can be a pioneer and make it easier for others to follow.” 

There has yet to be a successful player from the Arabian West Asian nations to head to Europe.

The theory was that if Abdulrahman could make the jump and the grade then it would show the world that there is talent in the region and show the talent in the region that it was possible to survive and prosper in the big leagues.

Many people hung their hopes on his slender shoulders, feeling that he owed it to others, as well as himself, to try his luck.

It never happened and now it never will.  Whether it was a case of the right opportunities not coming, the star not wanting to take those that did or perhaps his club not wanting him to leave, he will know better than anyone else. 

It remains to be seen where he will turn up next once he recovers his fitness. While the chances of a big move are over, so is the transfer speculation that has dogged his career for so long. That, at least, should provide some relief for the player. 

And for the rest of us, perhaps we can enjoy his talent and his performances for what they are and not for what they may mean for himself as the rest of the region.