x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Al Ain's Adulrahman brothers are the fraternity of UAE football's future

The trio, led by the youngest Omar, are the building blocks for the success of the international team.

The Abdulrahman brothers, Mohammed, left, and Khaled hold aloft Omar.
The Abdulrahman brothers, Mohammed, left, and Khaled hold aloft Omar.

Bobby and Jack Charlton did it for England, most famously winning the World Cup in 1966. The De Boer brothers, Frank and Ronald were inseparable, representing the Netherlands and five clubs together. Gary and Phil Neville won a bagful of medals with Manchester United, and last year Yaya and Kolo Toure helped Manchester City to the English Premier League title.

Football has a history of famous sibling teammates. Indeed, throughout the 1980s, the UAE and Al Wasl were fortunate to call on the services of Fahad Khamis - the scorer of the first ever goal at Sheikh Zayed Stadium in 1982 - and his younger brother Nasser, both part of the team that played in the 1990 World Cup finals in Italy.

And as the UAE looks to enter a brave new world under Mahdi Ali, a trio of footballing brothers could be at the heart of their revival. Omar, Mohammed and Khalid Abdulrahman of the Pro League champions Al Ain.

Tomorrow, the UAE take on Uzbekistan in their third friendly match under the new coach - following last month's 1-0 loss to Japan and 3-0 win over Kuwait - in preparation for 21st Gulf Cup in January in Manama, Bahrain.

Twenty-year-old playmaker Omar is already one of the national team's most valuable players. The 23-year-old Mohammed, involved with the Olympic squad in London, and the left-back Khalid, considered the most skilful by the brothers themselves and also 23, have missed out this time. But it is not inconceivable all three brothers will be mainstays of the national team for years to come, and playing for the champions will certainly help their cause.

For now, it is the youngest that leads the way. Omar's excellent performances against Uruguay, Britain and Senegal at the Olympics have made him a sough-after talent. Against Team GB in particular, Abdulrahman orchestrated a UAE performance that for long periods the British could not cope with, until two late goals gave the hosts a flattering 3-1 win.

"Number 15 is a very good player who plays beautiful football," Micah Richards, an opponent that day, said. "He'll be one of those players we should keep an eye on in the future."

The new coach's philosophy is clear: keep possession. And few do it as well as the Abdulrahmans. This is a new, sophisticated style of play, one that the senior national team has struggled to replicate.

Emirati players have in the past suffered against more physical teams. But size, as shown by Barcelona and Spain in the past few years, is no longer an obstacle to dominating football matches.

In fact, the opposite can be true. After Spain's stunning 4-0 victory over Italy in the Euro 2012 final in June, Cesc Fabregas openly acknowledged that Spanish players are physically "weaker" than many opponents and must rely on technical ability to win.

The UAE's new generation of players have technical ability in spades, and the added advantage of playing together in several age groups, another similarity with Spain's successful footballers.

Under Mahdi Ali, the UAE won the Under 19 Asian Cup in 2008, reached the last eight in the Under 20 World Cup in 2009, won an Asian Games silver medal in 2010; and this summer, of course, the Under 23s shone at the London Olympics.

For the Abdulrahman brothers, the likes of Ahmed Khalil of Al Ahli and Al Wahda's Saeed Al Kathiri and Hamdan Al Kamali, the challenge is to take that success to the next level.

Experience will be key. Al Kamali, for example, has returned from a six-month loan spell with the French Ligue 1 side Lyon. It is an example that Omar was tempted to take recently with a two-week trial with the English champions Manchester City. Despite impressing, and being encouraged by Mahdi Ali and his brother Mohammed to play abroad, the midfielder decided to return to the UAE, saying he still has "unfinished business" at Al Ain.

Defeating Al Jazira in the 2012/13 season's Super Cup curtain raiser last month was a good start.

No doubt his close family ties played as much a part as his footballing ambitions.

On Tuesday, Mohammed Abdulrahman scored an excellent goal - his third in two matches - in Al Ain's 4-2 Etisalat Cup win over Dubai. Of similar frame and technical deftness to his younger brother, Mohammed may not have made the senior team for tomorrow's match, but after his participation with the Under 23s under Mahdi Ali, a promotion cannot be far off.

For Omar, the interest from abroad will only increase. So far, no Emirati player has played in a major European league. But then again, Omar Abdulrahman is like no other Emirati player.

His technical skill, awareness, appreciation of space, and above all his wonderful passing, are assets that are undoubtedly coveted.

And when the UAE take to the pitch against Uzbekistan in Dubai, expect the young maestro to be once again at the heart of a new-look national team. And don't be surprised if in the near future, his brothers are there to celebrate with him.

akhaled@thenational.ae

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