x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

I rejected Benfica offer, says Al Ain playmaker Omar Abdulrahman

The UAE international says he is committed to the Pro League champions Al Ain for the time being.

Omar Abdulrahman, left, is content to stay at Al Ain and help them towards another Pro League title. Jaime Puebla / The National
Omar Abdulrahman, left, is content to stay at Al Ain and help them towards another Pro League title. Jaime Puebla / The National
Omar Abdulrahman rejected an offer last month to join Benfica, the Portuguese giants, on a one-year loan deal.
The Al Ain playmaker, now undisputedly the UAE's most recognisable footballer, was approached by Benfica following a string of stirring performances at the recent Gulf Cup.
Abdulrahman's contribution in Bahrain, which included a sublime goal in the final against Iraq, not only helped the UAE lift the trophy for the second time, but saw the midfielder voted the player of the tournament.
Benfica, 32-time champions of the Primeira Liga and second behind Porto in the current standings, then decided to make a move, however Abdulrahman insists his loyalty to Al Ain convinced him to decline the opportunity.
"Yes, I got an offer of a one-year contract [with Benfica], but the priority remains to play for Al Ain," he said today at a press conference at the club. "Because Al Ain are determined to win every championship they're competing in and I'm happy as Sheikh Hazza [Bin Zayed, first deputy president of the club] trusts me fully that I can lead the club to trophies.
"I'm still young, I still have a lot to achieve in the future, and later I'll see if I receive any more offers. But now I'm thinking only about making the Al Ain fans, the people of Al Ain and the nation proud.
"Now my contract is with Al Ain and so the priority is Al Ain," he added. "But when [an offer] comes, every player has to think about it, about becoming professional. And when it comes and at whatever time, I'm ready for it."
Abdulrahman was also close to joining Manchester City, the English Premier League champions, last summer after a successful two-week trial, although problems securing a work permit thwarted the deal.
According to British Home Office regulations, to secure the switch Abdulrahman would have had to feature in 75 per cent of the UAE's matches during the past two years, while the national team must reside within the top 70 places in Fifa's world rankings.
The UAE only last week gained entry to the top 100, while a serious knee injury in 2011 prevented Abdulrahman from filling his international quota.
The 21 year old, though, says he remains confident of one day playing for a high-profile European club.
"It was an honour to be given the chance to train with Manchester City," Abdulrahman said. "It was hard to train with those players, players who had just won the English Premier League title, but it was a dream to do that. I learnt so much from that short period, not only on the pitch, but outside it, too.
"I couldn't have the chance to continue with them because the regulations surroundings UAE players did not allow it. However, I will do my best to help elevate the ranking of UAE to provide the chance for me to play in the future in one of the top professional leagues."
 
UAE NATIONAL SIDE 'LOOKING AHEAD'
A prosperous six months has imbued the UAE national team with convictions of greater success, says Omar Abdulrahman, the side's most vital performer.
Under the guidance of the coach Mahdi Ali and his star performer, the UAE exceeded expectations at last summer's Olympics, competing admirably against Great Britain, Uruguay and Senegal before eventually taking one point from three games.
Their London boom raised hopes for last month's Gulf Cup, and the UAE duly obliged, defeating Iraq in the final to lift the trophy for the second time in the country's history.
Such performances have ensured the qualifying campaign for the 2015 Asian Cup has acquired a new relish - the UAE opened with a 2-1 victory in Vietnam earlier this month - and Abdulrahman is convinced the good fortune will continue.
"I'm happy not only for myself but for the whole team," said the Al Ain star yesterday. "[The Olympics] was one of the happiest moments I've ever lived.
"But our ambition with the national team does not stop with this. We're now looking ahead."
Abdulrahman attributed his recent individual success to Ismail Matar, his UAE teammate who until now was the country's most high-profile footballer.
"Ismail is a unique player in UAE football," Abdulrahman said.
"I didn't take the spotlight from him. I always wished to play with him and I managed to do that at the Olympics and the Gulf Cup.
"After, Ismail talked with me and told me it doesn't end here, that I must think about the future.
"I value these words."
 
jmcauley@thenational.ae
 
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