x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Al Ain's Omar Abdulrahman at career crossroad as Europe beckons

Should the midfielder remain in the UAE, stagnation and unfulfilled promise threaten to pockmark his path.

UAE's Omar Abdulrahman is at the crossroads. Tariq AlAli / Reuters
UAE's Omar Abdulrahman is at the crossroads. Tariq AlAli / Reuters

Perhaps the only guarantee when the UAE embarked on their Gulf Cup crusade was the continued trajectory of their creator-in-chief.

Omar Adbulrahman has long been entrusted with the hopes of the country, yet his latest cameo in a career with Hollywood potential has once again focused the spotlight.

Such is Abdulrahman's talent that even before a ball was kicked in Bahrain his recognition as the player of the tournament wore a certain certainty.

Ability underscored with that particular accolade, not to mention a remarkable goal in the final to help secure the trophy, the Al Ain playmaker faces a now familiar dilemma: maintain his status as a big fish in the relatively small Pro League pond, or swim upstream to the venerable ocean of European football.

Apparently, there would be plenty of lines cast. Only yesterday, Frank Arnesen, Hamburg's sporting director, said his club had watched Abdulrahman "numerous times".

Arnesen's comments are hardly revelatory as performances at last summer's Olympics had lengthened the lore.

Abdulrahman excelled, particularly against Uruguay and Great Britain, and has as proof the shirts of Luis Suarez and Ryan Giggs.

Micah Richards, the Manchester City defender, said Abdulrahman was a player "we should keep an eye on in the future".

City promptly awarded Abdulrahman a trial and, though he chose not to accept their offer of a permanent contract, the skilful midfielder left a lasting impression.

Yaya Toure, one of City's top performers, revealed on a recent visit to Abu Dhabi that he was shocked when Abdulrahman did not sign, but still endorsed the Emirati's suitability to the English Premier League.

Likened to teammate David Silva, Toure attached dubiousness to claims Abdulrahman could not cope with the demands of a top European league.

Yet the accusations do appear to have merit: lithe but maybe too lightweight, a serious knee injury forfeited 18 months of game time even before his 21st birthday.

However, Abdulrahman has played almost non-stop through the past year, constantly offering confirmation of his considerable gifts.

Now his stock has never been higher - not even in 2009 when Espanyol tabled a bid - is it time to seek a new challenge?

Inhibition could impair development. Should Abdulrahman remain in the UAE, stagnation and unfulfilled promise threaten to pockmark his path.

Cautionary tales lie in Ismail Matar and Hamdan Al Kamali, players touted as potential successes outside of the country whose continued presence in the Pro League - Al Kamali did have six, unsuccessful months in France - has stunted progression.

For their part, sources at Al Ain say they would not stand in Abdulrahman's way if he was tempted by Europe, as his heightened profile and sharpened expertise would only benefit UAE football.

However, the right deal needs to be struck.

Emiratis do not elicit sizeable transfer fees, and Al Ain would expect to weigh any contract with considerable performance-related bonuses.

Much, too, depends on their success in the Asian Champions League, a competition that, should they do well, extends long past the summer and therefore would likely delay Abdulrahman's departure.

Of course, there are no guarantees the willowy trickster would thrive on foreign shores, but that should not dull ambition. It appears it has not, as the player sees a future forged outside the Garden City's walls.

"It's a dream of any player to go abroad," said Abdulrahman last year. " … to play in Europe as a professional and to show the world that UAE football is advanced and developed."

Understandably, his development has advanced the demand.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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