x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Olympics: Games will put UAE footballers in the shop window

The likes of Omar Abdulrahman hope to catch the eye of top European scouts, writes Paul Oberjuerge from Manchester.

Omar Abdulrahman, left, who plays his club football with Pro League champions Al Ain, hopes his performances at London 2012 will open the door on a transfer to a European league. Sammy Dallal / The National
Omar Abdulrahman, left, who plays his club football with Pro League champions Al Ain, hopes his performances at London 2012 will open the door on a transfer to a European league. Sammy Dallal / The National

After the World Cup, the biggest stage in global football is the Olympic Games, and several ambitious members of the UAE side in England are hoping they and their team play well enough at London 2012 to spark interest from some of the world's leading leagues.

"We have a lot of good players in my country," said Hamdan Al Kamali, the defender with the French club Lyon and the first Emirati to ply his trade in Europe.

"They are good enough to play in Europe, and I think in London at the Olympics we will have a chance to prove it."

He said he has spoken to his teammates, "and I said if you want to be more professional, if you want to play in a big club in another country, you have to play in a big tournament. The Olympics in London is the same as the World Cup".

Certainly, talent evaluators from around the world will be watching the London Games, and few squads will offer up more unknowns to scouts than the UAE, which last played in a tournament of similar magnitude in 1990, at the World Cup in Italy.

For 22 years, the UAE's international experience at the senior level has been limited to Asian and Gulf competitions which often attract modest attention outside the region.

The whole of the Emirati side, aside from Al Kamali, played in the UAE's Pro League last season, but several have aspirations to test themselves in other arenas.

One of them is Amer Abdulrahman, the playmaking midfielder for Baniyas.

"The London Games mean more than football for me," he told the Football Association's website. "The time has come for me to look for a chance to play in Europe.

"The Spanish Liga is my favourite, but any other chance elsewhere will do.

"I need to attract the attention of the players' agents who will be keeping an eye on the stars of the future, and hopefully I would be among them."

Omar Abdulrahman, the Al Ain midfielder, is also receptive to a move to Europe.

"There can be an advantage in another country. You could go into a new career there. It could be another future," said his brother, Mohammed.

Omar added: "Now, we are for Al Ain, but if a chance comes we will think about it because ambition is limitless."

Khamis Esmail, the defensive midfielder at Al Jazira, said an important professional moment is at hand.

"We will be playing in Old Trafford [in Manchester] and Wembley against players like Luis Suarez [the Uruguay striker] and the English … and this is a great opportunity for me to show how good I am and how I am willing to move forward and maybe go to a European club.

"Sure, I want to go to such clubs, and this is the best opportunity for us to show ourselves."

Several other Emiratis would seem to have a chance to impress onlookers from the big European leagues.

Among them are Ahmed Khalil, the team's most reliable scorer, who is still only 21; the defender Mohammed Ahmed, who is under contract with Al Ain; and Abdulaziz Sanquor, the mobile left-back, who currently is a member of Al Ahli.

Dave Fenwick, a Dubai resident who works for the Manchester-based player agency Triple S Sports, said this is the time to strike for UAE players.

"They're going to get more exposure in the Olympics than playing in the local leagues, and they will be tested against players at a much higher standard … There's no doubt the UAE have developed players good enough to play in Europe, but at age 22 and 23 they normally would be expected to already be in the first team," he said.

He suggested that what seems to be unprecedented interest among Emiratis for playing abroad may stem from the explosion of television access, in the UAE, to the top leagues in Europe.

He added that attacking players have the best chance of getting international notice.

Al Kamali is hopeful that some of his teammates will go abroad. After the London-clinching win over Uzbekistan, he said he told his teammates: "I don't want to be the only Emirati player in Europe.

"It's a great opportunity for all of us and that's why we were so pleased to have qualified. I know that after the Olympics, you will see other players coming. Trust me."

poberjuerge@thenational.ae

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