Has the UAE’s Omar Abdulrahman waited too long for his next steps?
It was at the London 2012 games that the Emirati playmaker first caught the eye of football’s wider community
Not many in football hold the Olympics in particularly high esteem. While sport in the wider sense might regard the summer games as the peak of athletic achievement, football views them as well below the standard of the World Cup. But the five rings mean something special to Omar Abdulrahman.
It was at the London 2012 games that the Emirati playmaker first caught the eye of football’s wider community. Or to be more specific it was at Old Trafford, Manchester, as the United Arab Emirates took a surprise lead against Uruguay, with Abdulrahman only outshone by Luis Suarez. It was at the Olympics that he underlined his potential as Asian football’s great hope for the future.
But that was nearly four years ago. The Rio de Janeiro Olympic games are fast approaching and Abdulrahman is essentially the same player he was back in 2012. That’s not to say that he has regressed in any way - he has added a consistency to his game - but he hasn’t made the progress he was expected to have by this point.
Asian football’s poster boy?
Keep in mind that the playmaker was invited to a trial at Manchester City, with a host of elite European clubs also tracking his development. With the Asian game desperate to find its first true poster-boy, Abdulrahman was collectively anointed as the continent’s superstar-in-waiting.
To a certain extent, he has fulfilled that potential. His performances at last year’s Asian Cup - inspiring the UAE to a remarkable third-place finish - underlined his undoubted quality on the international stage, embodying the national team’s enthralling personality as a whole. Massimo Luongo might have collected the tournament’s Best Player award, but Abdulrahman shone brighter than anyone else in Australia.
For the UAE, Abdulrahman will likely go down as the greatest of his generation, also driving the national side to success in the Gulf Cup of Nations. But at club level, his progress has somewhat stagnated, finding himself still at Al Ain eight years after he broke into the first-team fold there. At 24-years-old, has he waited too long to make the step that is expected of him?
But by keeping him in the UAE, are Al Ain stunting Abdulrahman’s development? That might be of little concern to them, but is certainly the concern of the player himself, who has perhaps grown slightly too comfortable in his home country.Graham Ruthven
Of course, it’s not long since Abdulrahman penned a new four-year contract reported to be worth Dh14 million with the Abu Dhabi club. Al Ain have committed serious finance to their efforts to keep the playmaker a part of their team, with the Arabian Gulf League surely thankful for the extended stay of its brightest homegrown star.
But by keeping him in the UAE, are Al Ain stunting Abdulrahman’s development? That might be of little concern to them, but is certainly the concern of the player himself, who has perhaps grown slightly too comfortable in his home country. A move to Europe has been widely mooted before, and it might take a continental switch for him to fully realize his potential.
In the UAE Abdulrahman can still become a national great, yet he was destined for even bigger and better things than that. He has given his homeland so much, but his homeland has offered all it can to him. For all the AGL’s progress over the past decade, the best players still play in Europe. That is where figures of Abdulrahman’s quality can better themselves, with a higher caliber of opposition and company forcing them to improve and adapt. The Emirati playmaker needs that at this stage of his career.
Abdulrahman has had his injury issues over the years, emerging a stronger player with every knock. That suggests he has the resilience to handle a move to Europe, even if reported interest in his services has dried up of late. A transfer to Man City might be beyond him, but the playmaker could probably still force a switch to a top-flight club in England, Spain, Italy or anywhere else.
The next year or so could define Abdulrahman as a player. At 24 he is coming into his peak years, and must find an arena befitting of his ability if he is to make good on the promises made of him. There is certainly still hope for Asian football’s great hope, but that is dependent on what happens next.
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