Omar Yabroudi: The Emirati with an eye for footballing talent at Crystal Palace in the Premier League
From spotting Yannick Bolasie's potential to how he plans his summer time scouting, life as a player recruitment manager in England's top flight is busy work
Omar Yabroudi is an Emirati abroad. Not just abroad, but plying his trade in one of sport’s most professionally pressurised environments.
He spots footballers, assesses them and discusses whether or not his present employers would benefit from making an acquisition.
Once, he identified Yannick Bolasie, recommended him to his club at the time and a £300,000 (Dh1.56 million) transfer followed. Eventually, Bolasie was sold on for £28m.
It represents quite the mark-up. Little wonder, then, that Yabroudi finds pride in that pick.
“I don’t think you’d hear of it, where a Championship club signs a player for a couple of hundred pounds and ends up selling in the Premier League for around 100 times that,” he says. “I really don’t think there’s another example out there.”
Yabroudi is a pretty unique case himself. Born in Dubai, he is an Emirati in the English Premier League, back now in his second stint at Crystal Palace.
Having returned in January to become the club’s player recruitment manager, he forms an instrumental cog in a team operating in the most-watched league in the world.
Yabroudi, 28, has by no means enjoyed a fast-track route to where he is now. Granted, the connections established through his father’s business, the Dubai Contracting Company, provided an opening into professional football, but he has served his apprenticeship.
Initially, he took up an internship at Palace, aged 19. He travelled the country earmarking emerging talent, growing close to manager Dougie Freedman, heeding the Scot’s advice and picking his brains on long road trips around the UK.
In July 2012, Yabroudi traded the English Championship for League Two, convinced to join friend Edgar Davids at Barnet. He experienced relegation to the non-league Conference, but within a few seasons had helped the club earn promotion, under Martin Allen, in 2015.
From there, Yabroudi worked again with mentor Freedman, this time at Nottingham Forest, this time tasked with finding free agents and loan deals. Back then, Forest were serving a transfer embargo.
While the restraint has gone, the relationship has remained and blossomed: Yabroudi and Freedman back at Palace, one involved in player recruitment, the other the sporting director.
Yabroudi is living his dream. It has been quite the journey.
“From the internship, to winning the Conference with Barnet, through the job at Forest, I believed I deserved this wonderful opportunity,” he says from his London base.
“It’s taken a long time, but you get what you deserve in the end. You create your own luck. Because I believe luck is when hard work meets opportunity.”
Those two attributes embody his role at Palace. The hard work began, really, in Yabroudi’s early teens while a pupil at Emirates International School. Studies permitting, he would use his spare time watching as many football matches as he could from all around Europe.
Deciding not to follow his brothers into the family business, his passion for the game continued into his Sports Science and Football degree at Liverpool John Moores University, and has sustained through the opportunities at Barnet, Forest and Palace.
Crucially, Yabroudi is eager to grasp whatever is presented with both hands. He spends weekends flying around Europe evaluating players, before returning on Monday to liaise with Freedman as to what he has seen.
In January, the pair flew to Spain to secure a pre-contract agreement for Getafe goalkeeper Vicente Guaita. Yabroudi’s recent trips include Paris, Amsterdam and Dusseldorf.
All the while, he is attempting to unearth talent he feels would not only improve Palace on the pitch, but add value to the club now and in the future, too. It is a constant cycle.
“We always have to be proactive rather than reactive,” Yabroudi says. “We can’t wait until the summer window opens.
"As Dougie says, my job is to help Crystal Palace get three points on a matchday. But my role is to identify players that help the manager potentially gain the highest points-total per season. That’s the aim every year: to build on one year to the other. To keep improving.”
Enhancing the squad is a dedicated and detailed process. Criteria must be met, from the tactical and the technical, the physical and the mental. Yabroudi scours the international market in particular, displaying an already expert eye, employing a systematic approach in an incredibly capricious arena.
The final week of a window can be “wild”, but his development through the leagues has moulded his understanding.
“I have quite a nice encyclopedic knowledge of footballers and so does Dougie,” Yabroudi says. “I think that’s a huge part of our success.”
Yabroudi stresses discovering players is a collective effort, a team process. Understandably, there is a lot that goes into it. When considering foreign players, how they adapt to a new culture is just as important as how they make the transition to the Premier League.
“It’s the whole package that makes you a success, not just one of many attributes,” Yabroudi says, accepting the importance of his role brings with it its own strains and challenges. “The only pressure I feel comes from within myself, to deliver to the best of my knowledge.
“Therefore I feel no pressure in recommending a player to Crystal Palace because my track record with Dougie has been impressive. That’s why we got the job in the first place.
“The biggest challenge for me personally is that Dougie’s recruitment and mine is getting value for money for the club. Therefore spotting the talent before it’s common knowledge to everyone else. We can’t wait for a player to come to us.
“We need to do our due diligence beforehand and we need to be first to the player before anybody else. That’s one of the biggest hurdles I find. I have to be at the top of my game every day.”
That applies to the World Cup as well. Work for next season has already begun, but Yabroudi has discussed leaving free two spaces in the squad in case a potential star of the tournament in Russia becomes available.
This summer promises to be typically busy. Then again, Yabroudi forever is. He lives in central London with his wife Layla, and such is his work schedule that he manages to return to his family in Dubai only a few times a year.
He will be back during Ramadan this May, an important time with the family that provides a rare chance to shutdown, rethink, and reflect on a testing occupation.
“First and foremost, this is my dream to be working in the Premier League,” Yabroudi says. “I know by achieving this I’ve made my parents, my wife and my family very proud. And hopefully my country is proud that I’m the only Emirati representing the UAE in the player-recruitment field. That’s unheard of.”
Far from home, Yabroudi’s connection to his country has stayed strong. Some time ago, when Freedman was managing at Bolton Wanderers, he recommended Al Ain’s Omar Abdulrahman. Nothing came of it, but Yabroudi remains on the lookout for compatriots capable of making it in England’s top flight.
“We know every player in world football, including the Middle East region,” says Yabroudi, who has access to dossiers on more than 250,000 players.
“Although that level is not as competitive as top leagues in Europe, we’re well aware there can be very good players that are able to play in the Premier League.
“But unfortunately in today’s world, with the work permit restrictions in football, it filters out unrealistic targets. However, of course being an Emirati, I’m pushing my fellow countrymen as hard as I can in order to make the breakthrough. This is a big step for me.”
His career comprises a series of major leaps. Given his background, Yabroudi stands out in his field, but everyone he has worked with has accepted him. Consequently, he feels he has no need to prove himself.
“No, not really,” Yabroudi says. “At the end of the day, I’ve worked my way to here. I’ve gone through a long, hard eight years to get to this position. It hasn’t just dropped at my feet. You cannot get this role by slacking off or not being able to prove yourself.
“I’ve done that with Dougie in the past and will continue to do that – I’ve no doubt about it. I’m just very, very grateful for this opportunity. As I said before, I believe you get what you deserve.”
Three examples of a keen eye
Yannick Bolasie: Bristol City – Crystal Palace, 2013
“We signed him for £300,000 from Bristol City while in the Championship and ended up selling him for £28m. It’s quite funny actually, because Dougie often tells me he’s waiting patiently for a similar call to the one I gave him for Bolasie when he was recommended.”
Nelson Oliveira: Benfica – Nottingham Forest, 2015
“We spotted him in Benfica’s reserves, but unfortunately could take him only on loan as were under transfer embargo at the time. A talented striker, he has now gone on to represent Portugal at international level and played alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, which is something to be noted.”
Jaroslaw Jach: Zaglebie Lubin – Crystal Palace, 2018
“This is my one that nobody knows about. Jach is 23, a late developer whom we acquired from the Polish league for a minimal fee. I believe he will go on to play in the Premier League for many years to come, while he was recently called up to the Polish national team. In terms of value for money, I think he’ll be a very good signing.”
Updated: March 29, 2018 09:20 AM