Landmark moment awaits Al Ain, Omar Abdulrahman

Al Ain are hoping November will see them crowned the greatest in Asia

Graham Ruthven
Graham Ruthven - Al Arabiya English
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Great teams are defined by great players. Al Ain are hoping November will see them crowned the greatest in Asia, with the UAE’s most decorated club looking to win the AFC Champions League for only the second time. Omar Abdulrahman could be the great player to help them do that.

Of course, the 25-year-old’s quality has been obvious for quite some time now. He has become Asian football’s poster boy over the past few years, becoming a star for club and country. Even if Al Ain lose this month’s AFC Champions League final to Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors of South Korea Abdulrahman will go down as the figurehead of his footballing generation.

Yet just as great teams are defined by great players, great players are defined by great moments. and therein lies the prospect for Abdulrahman. While the playmaker has enjoyed the spotlight before, most notably during the 2015 Asian Cup when UAE stormed all the way to the semi-finals, this is a glittering stage he has yet to shimmer on.

This is his chance to underline his standing as the best player in Asia right now. A two-legged win would almost certainly ensure he lifts the 2016 AFC Asian Player of the Year award, but not even such a prestigious piece of silverware could illustrate how Abdulrahman has become the continent’s predominant talent.

“He can do everything on the pitch,” said Al Ain coach Zlatko Dalic after Abdulrahman’s exceptional semi-final performance against Qatar’s El Jaish. “He’s as important to my team as Ronaldo or Messi are to theirs.” Indeed, the 25-year-old is Al Ain’s difference maker, and the difference he makes is stark. With a player like him at their disposal the Abu Dhabi club will always have an edge to cut through opponents, no matter their caliber.

It’s an opinion that is echoed across the continent, with El Jaish coach Sabri Lamouchi labelling Abdulrahman “absolutely the best player in Asia.” Indeed, his performances in this season’s AFC Champions League have caught the eye of everyone involved with Asian football, with an appearance in the competition’s no less than he deserves. It will be an occasion truly befitting of a player like Abdulrahman.

Victory over Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors would be emblematic of the upward arc Emirati football has been following for the last five years or so. The national team have been the manifestation of the country’s recent progression, but finally it is also being reflected in the club game, with Al Ain the UAE’s leading vanguard.

Without looking too far ahead, though, what would an AFC Champions League triumph mean for Abdulrahman and his future at Al Ain? European clubs are linked with the playmaker whenever there is an open transfer window, with Manchester City even inviting him for a trial four years ago after his mainstream breakthrough at the London Olympics. With no higher level in the Asian game to aspire to could Abdulrahman look to make the next step in his career? Would this be the ideal jumping off point?

He only just signed a new four-year contract with Al Ain last year, of course, making a statement about his long-term future with the Abu Dhabi club, but an AFC Champions League win could change the landscape for Abdulrahman. It could change his objectives, shifting the framework of the circumstances he signed a new deal with Al Ain last year.

Whatever happens afterwards, though, this month's home and away games against the K League champions will go down in the history of Emirati football. Much is expected of Abdulrahman, but he is well accustomed to dealing with such pressure. He is a big talent for the big occasion. This month could prove to be a landmark moment for both Al Ain and their best player.

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