AUSTRALIA: Oday Dabbagh’s coach at Kuwaiti champions Al-Arabi, former Croatian national team assistant manager Ante Mise, has given his blessing to the Palestinian star’s impending move to Portugal, declaring the 22-year-old the “best ever” striker he has coached.
Dabbagh has been strongly linked with a move to newly promoted FC Arouca in Portugal’s Primeira Liga, with an official announcement expected in the coming days.
Mise, who also coached Croatian giants Hadjuk Split, told Arab News the sky is the limit for the Jerusalem-born star.
“I think this league, the Portuguese league, is a good step for him, but I believe he can play in the bigger clubs,” Mise said from his home in Split.
“He must be a little bit lucky, sometimes the coach is very important, whether he trusts you and believes in you. Before me he was with Qadsia and Salmiya, two clubs in Kuwait, but he was not in the first 11. But with me I cannot imagine the team without him.”
Dabbagh was instrumental in Al-Arabi breaking their near 20-year title drought, ending the duopoly of Qadsia and Kuwait SC in the process, and winning the golden boot with 13 goals.
“First, I want to say he is a great guy,” said Mise, who coached the likes of Nikola Kalinic and Mario Mandzukic during spells with Hadjuk Split and the Croatian national team.
“His technical skills, his ability, his speed, how he understands football is unbelievable. I’ve been a coach for about 15 years and he is the best striker that I have ever had, for sure.
“Believe me, I was a coach at Hadjuk Split, a great team in Croatia. I had great players with me, but he is the best striker I’ve ever had.”
Dabbagh might not be the first Palestinian footballer to play in Europe, but he is set to become arguably the country’s most significant.
While leading players such as Jaka Ihbeisheh, Javier Cohene and Daniel Mustafa have all played in Europe at varying levels, Dabbagh’s move represents a new milestone for Palestinian football.
“Dabbagh is not the first Palestinian player to play in Europe, nor is he the first Palestinian player to play in Portugal,” Bassil Mikdadi, founder of the popular Football Palestine website, told Arab News.
“An array of Palestinian talent has graced the European continent, but all, except for Mohammed Saleh who moved to Floriana of the Maltese league in 2017, have one thing in common — none is a product of the Palestinian footballing structure,” he said.
“The Palestinians who played in Europe before Dabbagh were products of Swedish, Chilean, German, Swiss, Argentine, Paraguayan and American football,” he added.
“This move is a real sea change because Dabbagh proves that Palestine can develop its own talent, and if he succeeds, he might open the door for others to follow.”
The Portuguese league has been a good breeding ground for some of Asian football’s most promising talent in recent years, with Iran’s Mehdi Taremi, Japan’s Shoya Nakajima and Iraq’s Alaa Abbas among those making the move to the Iberian Peninsula.
“Like it or not, playing in a top-six league in Europe is validation,” Mikdadi said.
“The power structure that exists means that you are unlikely to achieve success in international football without exposure to Europe. In the 21st century, every winning Asian Cup side has had at least one player on the books of European clubs.
“The Asian ‘Big Four’ have an array of talent playing in Europe. The hope is that Dabbagh can break down the barrier for others to follow,” he said.
Dabbagh’s talent has been obvious to observers of Asian football since he burst onto the scene at the AFC U-23 Championships in 2018 with three goals helping Palestine to a historic quarterfinal appearance.
He has continued to impress with the senior national team, scoring four of Palestine’s 10 goals in the second round of 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifying, helping the team to a third-place finish in Group D, while he recently scored one and assisted two others in a powerful display as Palestine defeat Comoros 5-1 to qualify for the year-ending FIFA Arab Cup.
While other Asian stars, such as Japan’s Takefusa Kubo or Korea’s Lee Kang-in, may have stolen more headlines, it appears Europe is starting to wake up to the natural talent of the Dabbagh.
Already capped more than 20 times by Palestine, Dabbagh has attracted interest from Europe previously, with offers from Finland and Cyprus coming in before he opted for the more comfortable and familiar surrounds of Kuwait.
While it may have surprised many, ultimately his decision has been vindicated as he starred for Al-Arabi, winning the league and golden boot last season — successes he dedicated to the people of Palestine.
“Proud to be part of the set-up at this historic club Al-Arabi,” he wrote on Instagram.
“Grateful for being one of a group that delivered this well-deserved victory that came after lots of hard work from the staff and players. Happy for this club to have won the title again after 20 years of absence. We are back where we belong.
“I would like to thank and dedicate this title to my beloved family, friends and all our faithful supporters. Also for my indomitable nation of Palestine and its people.”