In 2007, Mohammed Al Shehhi was declared the best newcomer in UAE club football. The following season, he scored nine goals for Al Wahda and was designated the most valuable Emirati player in the league, this while his teammate Ismail Matar was at the peak of his powers and Faisal Khalil scored 16 goals for Al Ahli.
Al Shehhi's future, clearly, appeared bright. He cut a dashing figure on the pitch and was barely 20 at the conclusion of the 2007/08 season. He had made his first appearance for the senior national team when he was only 19, at the 2007 Asian Cup, and he became a regular in the UAE side, before injuries began to take their toll.
He was given the sort of nickname one might associate with a special player: the Ghost, for his knack of appearing from nowhere.
"He would take the opponents by surprise. That was when he was at his best," said Abdullah Salem, the Wahda captain when Al Shehhi made his debut for the club's first team and is now the team manager. "He wasn't very quick but his anticipation and judgement was perfect to bring an element of surprise over the opponents.
"Apart from those qualities, he has excellent dribbling skills and ball control. But unfortunately he has not played to his true potential since the injuries."
The early promise was followed by several seasons of muted success. Two goals from 21 league appearances for the championship side in 2009/10, five from 20 the following year, and then two seasons scarred by injuries and two goals in 18 league games, none this season.
Hope remains, however, that he can return to his previous form. The forward is still only 24, and is making steady progress in returning to fitness.
Salem is hopeful Al Shehhi can return completely recovered to play a pivotal role for the team next season.
"We had a long chat three days ago and we talked about his fitness and his future with the team," he said.
"He hopes to be fully fit for next season and that may be a positive step forward to return to his best. Otherwise, he has all the skills and everything that you would expect from a player of his calibre."
One of his most recent high points was when he held his nerve to slot home the decisive goal in a 9-8 shoot-out victory over North Korea in the quarter-finals of the 2010 Asian Games. Perhaps tellingly, when he was sent on late in the gold-medal game with Japan, he lasted only seven minutes before injury forced him out.
He has not lost hope in regaining his place in the national team, saying he is on the road to recovery from pelvic surgery last year. "You have to be the best to get in to the national team and I am working hard to raise my own level to first help my club and hopefully be back in the national team," he said.
It is a hard task for him with Ahmed Khalil and Ali Mabkhout, both graduating from the age-group teams, and his Wahda teammates Matar and Saeed Al Kathiri in the UAE coach Mahdi Ali's squad.
Al Shehhi feels there is room for another. He has often played as a midfielder, both in the national team as well as for his club.
"It is always good to provide some competition," he said. "If I am good enough, then I will be back in the national team. I can only keep trying, which I will do."
Branko Ivankovic, his club coach, has confidence in his abilities.
"He is very level-headed, mature and an intelligent player in my team," the Croatian said.
"He has excellent anticipation to be at the right place at the right time. He can create as well as score, and can deceive the opponent with his movements and good ball control.
"He is going through a lean period as he is still not fully recovered from the injuries he has suffered in the past two years."
Ivankovic no doubt is thinking that an Al Shehhi with a future as productive as his past would be of great value to both club and country.
"It is quite normal for any player returning from surgery to have some fear in kicking the ball around with confidence," Ivankovic said.
"He has always made himself available, even when he's half fit, and it goes to show his loyalty to the team and his true character as a player."
According to Salem, Al Shehhi has a cool head on his young shoulders and is a mentor figure to his younger teammates, taking their cases to the management when necessary.
"He is not only an intelligent player but an intelligent person," he said. "He is very sharp when it comes to dealing with any administrative issues, particularly when he comes with the cases of the younger players.
"As a senior player now, he has the respect of every member of the team and we are hopeful he will return to his best, if not now, perhaps for the next season."
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