Middle Eastern football has been on the rise for the past few years. It promises a lot, but stagnates soon. Plenty of money is being pumped into the game, foreign players & coaches are being lured in, and most importantly- much needed encouragement to grassroots football.
The Iranians have already ventured successfully into Europe, Ali Karimi being the most famous. The Saudi’s have done alright with national figure, Sami Al-Jaber, playing for Wolves while Yasser Al-Qahtani had trials with Manchester City and Middlesbrough. Of course there is the Omani international, Ali Al Habsi, who has established himself in England. Let’s not forget, the Middle Eastern World Cup in Qatar as well.
The latest talking point to come out from the Arab region isn’t another oil rich billionaire looking to revive a club’s fortunes (although there are many). But instead the talk of Middle Eastern football is Omar Abdulrahman, the 21-year-old starlet.
Omar Abdulrahman Ahmed Al Raaki Al Amoodi was born midst a humble environment in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh in 1991.
Like many of the expat children (Omar is originally from Yemen), back then and currently, he also grew up playing on the streets. After being noticed by a local scout at a very young age, he was invited to join one of Saudi Arabia’s most esteemed clubs – Al Hilal. The club offered to apply for Saudi citizenship on his behalf, but he ended up rejecting it on the basis that the club could only offer him and not his family citizenship.
Former Saudi international, Sami Al Jaber, the man who was revered for his loyalty to Al Hilal, acting as a scout for UAE based Al Ain club, heard about the situation surrounding Omar. He quickly mobilized his contacts at Al Ain and was able to kick off initial discussions on bringing him to the club. Al Ain, recognizing his talents along with those of his elder brothers – Mohammed and Khalid, offered him and his entire family Emirati citizenship. And it kicked off from there.
It only took him a year to break into the first team at Al Ain after joining them in 2008 under the guidance of German coach, Winfried Schafer. Omar has not stopped mesmerizing the fans since.
His talents were portrayed to a larger audience in last year’s Summer Olympics where he played a significant impact in UAE U-23’s qualification for it’s first ever stint at the games. His performances during the games drew widespread praises from players and media, alike.
Style, Strengths & Weaknesses
Having personally watched him display his uniqueness, a few times, to a mostly lackluster Emirati style of play, Omar Abdulrahman does provide a remedy to sore eyes.
His left foot and its capability is new to the Arab world. The ability to hold the ball, skip past quick attacks while in possession and envision the movement of his teammates before they actually make the move is incredible.
However, his style of play befits that of an Italian or a Spanish style of play, wherein an average footballer would get enough time on the ball from when a pass is received to mentally visualizing the play through. The English game would probably land him in the injury list for majority of the time in the league. He has not been given a glimpse of the physicality of the English, here in the UAE. His average opposition in the UAE Pro League usually ends up giving him a lot of room and time to create.
Predominantly holding the ball on his left foot does not help his case either. A less-than-intelligent player from the opposition can pick up on that to make sure that Omar keeps the ball on his right. Tapes of his performances at the Asian Champion League games this season strongly justify the above analysis.
But when that ball reaches his left foot within the tenth of a second, look forward to some stunning through or long balls, an incredible level of successful short combinations and an innate penchant for goals.
A Silva-esque type of a player, just a few inches taller, given the right guidance could be molded into a top footballer at the Asian level at least, if not global.
Following his performances at the Olympics in front of a world-stage, many scouts took notice of this young talent. UAE-backed, Manchester City, were made the front-runners for his signature and they took steps to this effect as well. SkySports reported his proposed trial with Manchester City.
“Today I’ll travel to Manchester for a training, wish me good luck” Omar Abdulrahman posted on his Twitter account confirming his deal with the 2011/12 champions. He was scheduled to take part in training sessions with the City squad in the summer, prior to the start of the campaign. The 21-year-old was even reportedly present at the Etihad to witness the opening game of the Premier League campaign against Southampton. The proposed move to City reportedly broke down due to work-permit issues, and Abdulrahman returned to Al-Ain.
Few weeks later though, City revived their interested in the youngster with academy chief, Brian Marwood, making comments suggesting that they were still in for the player—
“We had seen him at various tournaments but obviously we saw him closer to home at the Olympics and he did very, very well. Our chairman organised for him to come over and spend some time with us. He is a very talented young player. There are some real challenges getting a player like him to be able to play in England which is very frustrating because it’s one that we would seriously look at. But we continue to monitor him, we keep in touch with him, we are aware of how he’s developing. He’s come back here and done very well and is a real talent. Technically, he is very, very good so he has those components, those ingredients. Obviously, it’s a much more physical game but he’s still young, he can develop those aspects of his performance. He played at a very good level at the Olympics and he did very well when he came to us on trial. He impressed everybody, a very nice young man, and he showed a lot of respect for the club” (as quoted by Sports360.com)
Abdulrahman has been on the brink of a move to Europe throughout his career, a move to Espanyol collapsed when he was just 17, again due to work-permit issues. There were reports that Valencia had sent scouts to watch the youngster, while Benfica reportedly had an approach rejected. Media outlets have linked the player to various clubs, from Barcelona, to Arsenal and Hamburg.
The interest shown by Man City certainly seems concrete, and they’ll definitely attempt to sign the youngster this summer as well. City already have a large base in the UAE as a result of their owner, Sheik Mansour and the various sponsorship deals. They’re attempting to form a larger base in the Middle-East, a move for one of the regions brightest young prospects will certainly do no harm on that front.
This article was a guest piece, written by Middle-East football expert, Shuaib Ahmed. You can follow him on twitter (@footynions). You can also view Shuaib’so own site- footynions.com, as he discusses European football and Middle-Easter football.