Emirati blazing his own trail in English football
Picture the scene. You are sitting in the cinema room at a well-appointed family home in Jumeirah, watching the television as West Ham United play Arsenal, when your mobile phone rings.
The name illuminated on the screen is someone who won the Uefa Champions League when you were six years old and whose CV reads like a who’s who of European football.
Edgar Davids is calling. Yes, the same Edgar Davids you had in your Fifa team, and who played for Ajax, Juventus and Spurs, among others, and he is calling because he has hand-picked you to join his staff for his first job as a football manager.
Yes, really. What would your reaction be?
Omar Yabroudi’s reaction? “I thought he wanted me to book him a table at Zuma,” he says, referring to a Japanese restaurant in the upscale London borough of Knightsbridge. “So I answered the call by just saying, ‘When and what time’?”
Omar’s relationship with the manager of the popular restaurant is such that he usually can book a table at short notice.
He can frequent Zuma because his father is chief executive of Dubai Contracting Company and has amassed a fortune sufficient that he could donate US$10 million (Dh367.3m) to his college alma mater, in Syracuse, New York, and $2m to the Cleveland Clinic.
“Edgar said, ‘What do you mean? I’m not calling you about Zuma’,” Omar says during a recent interview.
Davids was ringing Omar to tell him he was on the verge of being named manager of the English club Barnet, at the time a League Two team, the fourth division in England, and he wanted him to be his first-team performance analyst and head of recruitment.
Omar, 25, had an offer on the table to join the German side 1860 Munich, but he had formed such a bond with Davids while they were together at Crystal Palace that joining Barnet was an easy decision. It helped that Barnet were moving to the Hive, an international training venue in London.
A circuitous route
After graduating from Emirates International School, the youngest in a family of three brothers and a sister, Omar eschewed a job working for his father.
Instead he pursued his passion for football by studying for three years to earn a Sports Science and Football degree at Liverpool John Moores University.
“I’m very grateful to my father for allowing me to do something I am so passionate about,” he says about going to school in Liverpool.
“In the Arab culture a lot of kids have to follow in their father’s footsteps. If you want to be successful you are going to have to take risks, so it was definitely a big decision to leave home.”
The River Mersey is a world away from Dubai Creek and someone with Omar’s privileged upbringing could have turned up his nose at living in the north-west of England, especially during the cold winter months, but he “never complained”, he said. “It was different, an experience.”
From university, he joined the London side Crystal Palace, albeit with a little help from his father.
“Dubai Contract Company sponsored Crystal Palace and that’s how I got in,” Omar says. “At first, when I sent the email to Crystal Palace chairman [Phil Alexander] I didn’t want him to think, ‘OK, let’s take the money and find him something to do and then he can buzz off’.”
Talk of buying a large stake from Simon Jordan, then the owner of the club, when it was in the English Championship, was mooted in the Yabroudi household.
“Palace were in trouble at the time, and my father and I spotted their potential,” Omar says. “I said to him, ‘Why don’t we buy it?’ He said: ‘Now isn’t the right time. You need to gain more experience’.”
So instead of owning a large chunk of Palace, who are now in the Premier League, Omar joined the analysis department and began two seasons working with Davids and manager Dougie Freedman.
He left in July 2012 but still speaks to Freedman.
He recommended the UAE’s Omar Abdulrahman to him while Freeman was in charge of Bolton Wanderers.
“I like to believe I left a good impression,” Omar says.
He clearly did with Davids and has continued to do so with the Dutchman’s replacement as manager of Barnet, Martin Allen.
“Omar has been absolutely fantastic,” Allen says. “He’s got great knowledge, great energy and a great work ethic. He’s been a revelation and a fantastic asset. I have no doubt he’ll be working at a much higher level one day.”
Working for free
Even more impressive is that Omar’s dedication to carving out a career in English football is so strong that he offered to work unpaid for Barnet when the club slashed expenses after being relegated from the Football League.
“I didn’t want to move on as Martin was coming in and I wanted to work under him,” Omar says of the former Queens Park Rangers and West Ham midfielder.
“He explained to me the financial situation, but I just wanted to work alongside him.
“He is very appreciative. There is not one day when he doesn’t say thank you for what I’ve tried to do. I like to learn off other people and I want to build a career for myself in this industry.”
The reality is he does not have to. He lives in Ennismore Gardens, near to Knightsbridge, where properties range from £1 million (Dh5.9m) to £12m, and manages rental and refurbished properties in the area with his brothers Hasan and Faisal.
He is chauffeured to work and back in a silver Mercedes by a driver who wears a hat. No wonder Allen once described him as “the richest scout in world football”.
“I hope that’s not a nickname that will stick, but so be it if it is,” Omar says. “I’d rather be the most successful scout in the world.”
Omar is unassuming, yet that does not exempt him from the unforgiving nature of a football dressing room, where players are aware of the family’s financial means.
“There is always banter,” Omar says. “They always say, ‘What are you doing here?’ They ask me what am I going to buy them tomorrow and, if I wear something new they ask, ‘Where did you get that from? Harrods?’ It’s typical English banter.
“They know exactly who I am, and how down to earth I am and how passionate I am about what I do. They see me as someone who could have taken one route but who has decided to go down another because I love what I do.”
In addition to his encyclopaedic knowledge of the game – he has access to dossiers on more than 250,000 players – Omar endears himself to the Barnet squad by trading in the most unusual currency.
“Every time we won a game last season I would give them Fifa coins for their Ultimate Team,” Omar says. “I also gave a few players Fifa 15 [video games] before they officially came out.”
Omar is a more than a handy exponent of that game.
“I was in the top 200 in the world three years ago,” he says. “When I was 14 I finished second in a Fifa competition in Dubai and won Dh3,000.
“My cousin Abdul Aziz Al Sagha won it. It was the first and last time he beat me. I also won an Xbox 360 when I was 17 in a Fifa competition at the Virgin store at the Mall of the Emirates.
“More recently, in a Pro Evo Soccer tournament in England I reached the last 32 and got knocked out. I still remember it like yesterday as I conceded a last-minute goal.”
His memory is matched by his ambition. He is only the second Emirati to work in English football, following Khaldoon Al Mubarak, chairman of Manchester City. Omar’s plan is to climb the ladder of football in England, and perhaps in his homeland, as well.
“I hope, one day, I can take my country to the World Cup as manager,” he says. “I hope to make my country proud and really please the great rulers who have helped our beautiful country prosper. I’m doing my coaching badges and it’s something I’m serious about.
“I know with time, with my personality, enthusiasm and knowledge, I’ll be successful and be a role model to other Emiratis.”
Born: October 20, 1989, Sharjah
Education: Liverpool John Moore University
Degree: Bachelor of Science and Football, 2010
2010: Accrington Stanley FC, internship
2010-12: Crystal Palace, peformance analyst; worked daily with Under 18 academy
2010-present: Barnet FC, first-team performance analyst and head of recruitment
The Emirati talks through two of his finds during his time at Barnet:
Luisa Villa (Spanish, midfielder, 25)
“I spotted him,” Omar says. “He made his debut for Racing Santander in 2010 against Barcelona. He came on in the 67th minute as a substitute. You could tell he had class about him, had that hunger. I was watching it on TV and followed him since. I knew he was a free agent [in the summer of 2013] and brought him [to Barnet] on trial. I believe he has the capability to be playing in League One.” Villa has seven goals in 13 appearances this season.
Keanu Marsh Brown (English, midfielder, 22)
“I followed him since his youth at Fulham, having done very well to progress through their reputable academy and feature regularly for the England U17s team. He made the bench during Fulham’s most successful season in football history, under Roy Hodgson. Keanu made the bench of the Uefa Cup knockout stages away to Shakhtar in February 2010, which earmarked his progression and potential.
“After having a stop-start season at Oldham and later Yeovil, where he was released, we brought him in for trial at the beginning of March 2013.
“He impressed us with the ingredients he had possessed to be a natural winger with his incredible pace and direct ability to beat his man one-on-one.
“He scored the winner on his debut as an impact sub against relegation rivals AFC Wimbledon on April 1, 2013, which was exactly how [player-manager] Edgar Davids planned it, tactically.”
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Updated: October 29, 2014 04:00 AM