x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Omar Abdulrahman lives under the pressure of a nation

Often heralded as the future of UAE football, the Al Ain playmaker draws the crowds, but also the weight of expectation.

Omar Abdulrahman played for the UAE at the Summer Olympics this year. Alessandro Garofalo / Reuters
Omar Abdulrahman played for the UAE at the Summer Olympics this year. Alessandro Garofalo / Reuters

The Jewel of Al Ain, the Golden Boy of the UAE national side, a hero and an inspiration for a new generation of fans, Omar Abdulrahman has made Emiratis as well as expatriates fall in love all over again with domestic football.

At only 21, he is the best player in the UAE, someone who is on another level compared to any other Pro League player. Foreigners included.

Omar has mesmerised fans not only in the UAE but round the world with his dazzling, low-centre-of-gravity style of play, which has been compared to that of Mesut Ozil, Andres Iniesta and, yes, Diego Maradona.

During the London Olympics, after the UAE played Uruguay at Old Trafford, a fan posting on the Manchester United forum wrote: "Judging on this game here, he reminds me of a li'l [Luka] Modric, now that he has gone to a more central role. Definitely the outstanding player from the both teams. Didn't think I'd say that with Cavani and Suarez on the pitch."

Similarly, a topic was started on the official Liverpool fans forum urging the club to sign Omar Abdulrahman for his dazzling technical performances in London.

Players such as Luis Suarez, Edson Cavani, Micah Richards and Ryan Giggs praised the little master from Al Ain. Suarez was so impressed that he traded shirts with him after the UAE v Uruguay match. "He came to me and asked if I would like to give him my shirt and I agreed because I treat him like a brother," Abdulrahman said later.

Too much pressure for a young man who has yet to reach his peak and develop completely as a player? Mohammed Suleiman of Al Ain's media department believes yes, it is.

"The media and fans should take it easy on Omar Abdulrahman," he said. "They have put him under the spotlight since a very young age and that puts him into unnecessary pressure and stress before the games.

"We have the duty to protect all our players, not only Omar, but he seems to get the attention which is inevitable because of his level of performance with Al Ain, the national team and the Olympics."

The attention comes with the job, and credit to Al Ain's No 10, who has been dealing with it professionally; if anything, he is playing better than ever.

Despite interest from the Spanish club Espanyol when he was a teen, and word of an offer from Manchester City after his successful trial at the club over the summer, Omar has kept his fast feet firmly on the ground.

He is particularly admired by young Emirati fans. I was surprised to see so many kids, ages six to 12, at the Tahnoon bin Mohammed Stadium for the match with Al Shaab last week, and each of them couldn't stop shouting Omar's name for the whole 90 minutes.

"I love Omar's hair and he is the best player in the UAE," said Saud, who is seven.

"I saw him on TV and he is a wonderful player," said Abdullah, who is nine. "I asked my dad to bring me to the stadium to see him, and I want to be like him."

Just after the final whistle, a bunch of kids scaled the fence and ran on to the field, going straight for their hero, whom they hugged.

He already has been a key contributor to many successes, the 2008 AFC Under 19 and the 2010 Gulf Cup Under 19 championships, the silver-medal winning 2010 Asian Games side and the Olympic team, which he led in the final stages of qualifying for London.

The fondest wish of his fans is that he will be free of injuries; he twice has had knee surgery.

If he remains healthy, it seems likely he can lead the UAE to a major trophy, perhaps even the Gulf Cup of Nations in January.

I wonder how long Al Ain can keep him at the club. His performances this season - six goals and at least as many assists in 11 games - have helped the club to the top of the table.

With all the attention he has received, someone must be watching the little Golden Boy from Al Ain, the footballer who has inspired a generation.


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