Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Omar Abdulrahman reaches crossroads as he looks to relaunch career at Al Jazira

After recovering from his third serious knee injury, the gifted playmaker faces a crucial season for his new club and the national team

Omar Abdulrahman returns to the Arabian Gulf League for the 2019/20 season with new team Al Jazira. Courtesy Al Jazira
Omar Abdulrahman returns to the Arabian Gulf League for the 2019/20 season with new team Al Jazira. Courtesy Al Jazira

With a new season almost upon him and but a few days from his 28th birthday, Omar Abdulrahman stands at another crossroads.

This time, there has been no contract winding down, no speculation surrounding where one of Asia’s most naturally talented footballers would next ply his trade. He has not been linked recently to clubs in Spain, to clubs in France, to the Netherlands, or to Turkey.

There was a time this summer when Abdulrahman’s future was the source of sustained conjecture. His deal with Al Hilal deal running down, the playmaker was apparently running out of time.

In the end, an extension to the season-long contract signed last summer never materialised, albeit reasons for that are conflicted.

With his situation unclear, a return to Al Ain was presented as increasingly likely. Abdulrahman had spent more than a decade there, evolving from professional debutant to club captain. In 2016, he was named Asian player of the year.

Yet, on August 7 and in a rare entry on his Twitter account, Abdulrahman announced he had signed for Al Jazira. A series of five posts, it garnered more than 30,000 retweets and more than 35,000 likes. It was a testament to his enduring appeal.

So Abdulrahman returns to the Arabian Gulf League, one season removed, not in Al Ain purple but competing for their Abu Dhabi rivals instead.

Still, though, considerable uncertainty prevails. Abdulrahman has not contested a competitive club fixture in 11 months, not since the Saudi Pro League match against Al Shabab Riyadh on October 20, when he fell early to the turf in obvious agony and departed on a stretcher. Tears followed; so too grim news.

Having torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, Abdulrahman would undergo surgery and miss the remainder of the season. And with it, the 2019 Asian Cup, for the UAE, on home soil.

As was expected, there has been a protracted period of recovery, so much so that Abdulrahman’s late introduction to the national team’s World Cup qualification opener against Malaysia last week represented his first official appearance since the pain and the painful prognosis of last October.

On Thursday, he may play some part in Jazira’s 2019/20 Arabian Gulf League curtain raiser, at home to Al Dhafra. And from there will begin another journey back, from another serious injury, to what many hope will be another starring role in UAE football.

The extent to which a third major knee surgery takes hold is open to assumption. It is some time since his second, back in 2011, when despite the injury Abdulrahman returned seemingly with the world at his feet following a stellar performance at the London Olympics. He was 20 then. The day after Dhafra, he turns 28.

In football, consensus dictates that significant knee injuries tend to employ at most a three-strike policy. Some years on from the last, Abdulrahman must prove that he’s far from out.

Right now, the dainty playmaker with the gargantuan gift should be entering his peak. He has four UAE championship titles, the most recent coming in his final season at Al Ain, secured in April last year.

A third President’s Cup crown quickly followed – the first such double in the club’s 50-year history – and the award for the league’s best Emirati that campaign, too. It was his fourth overall.

However, then came the Al Ain breakdown, the Hilal rumours, the summer spent in limbo, the eventual transfer and the accompanying fanfare, the knee surgery and the rehabilitation. It has been a long road back; no one can be sure at present where that road leads.

Jazira offers a new environment, a fresh start. But a familiar setting as well. Abdulrahman knows the club, understands entirely the league in which they compete. In Ali Mabkhout, he has a national-team colleague and long-time confidant. They have always meshed, on the pitch and off it.

Meanwhile, Amer Abdulrahman, another close friend and teammate, was signed by Jazira this summer also.

Crucially, Abdulrahman recognises what he can offer the league. He has been there, done it, for what many consider too long served as its leading light when a move to Europe felt right; felt necessary.

Time will tell as to the toll taken by knee injury No 3, but for now it’s hugely positive for the competition to have him back. Abdulrahman returns to a place he feels comfortable. The hope is it provides solace and a spur as his career arrives at another critical juncture.

Updated: September 19, 2019 02:25 PM

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