Omar Abdulrahman thrills his legion once again
Big games, football coaches around the globe keep reminding us, are usually decided by small details. In the UAE, that small detail usually comes in the form of a diminutive 5ft 8ins magician with an outrageous Afro mop.
His football skills are even more outrageous. No wonder clubs such as Manchester City, Barcelona, Liverpool and Arsenal, among others, have been inviting Omar Abdulrahman for trials and keeping tabs on him since his sensational appearance at the 2012 Olympics in London. Fortunately for Al Ain, he has turned each one of them down. You can only speculate on the outcome of Sunday night’s President’s Cup final if Abdulrahman, “Amoory” to his legion of fans, was watching from the stands, returning home after a long season with City or Arsenal.
But he was there in the white Al Ain jersey and, like he has done so often over the years, virtually decided the fate of the game with a clever chip across the face of the goal in the 32nd minute, past the outstretched hands of the season’s best goalkeeper, Al Ahli’s Saif Yousuf.
At the other end, Asamoah Gyan gleefully tapped the ball home.
It was a crowded box, but Abdulrahman finds space where others see impregnable walls. There is a lazy elegance to the way he moves around with the ball at his feet. There is no ungainly rush. It is almost like a leisurely stroll in the park on a sunny, spring afternoon.
Of course, Abdulrahman never really needs to run. Why bother when you can pass the ball like he does?
As Erik Dornhelm, the coach in the movie Goal, tells the hero Santiago Munez after a chastising session on the pitch: “The ball can travel faster than you.”
Unlike many of the other stars in the UAE, Abdulrahman, fortunately, understands that basic principle, which is what makes him such a pleasure to watch. Surely, the Ahli fans must have enjoyed his performance as well.
The Al Ain supporters certainly did.
They chanted his name throughout. And when he provided that pass for Gyan, they were on their feet, waving the white-and-purple scarves over their head and tapping their feet. The stands shook to their beat.
Abdulrahman had come close to opening the scores on a few occasions as well. In the 13th minute, he dipped the ball into the roof of the net. A minute later, his brother Mohamed flicked the ball back for him, but the Al Ain No 10 dragged his effort just wide.
The Gyan goal was a just reward for his efforts, but there was still nearly an hour left in the game. As the clock started ticking toward the final minute, he turned around and urged the Al Ain fans to crank up the volume. They did as their maestro commanded. Victory, they knew, was near and Abdulrahman was the architect of this triumph. Another cry of “Amoory, Amooory” rang through the stands.
But as the referee blew the final whistle, the star player did not race toward the fans or his own bench.
Majed Hassan, winner of the Fans’ Player of the Year award at the end-of-season Arabian Gulf League awards a day earlier, was the first to receive a hug.
Wearing the red No 88 jersey, he then proceeded to console the Ahli players, who had missed out on an unprecedented domestic treble, having already claimed the Arabian Gulf League title and Arabian Gulf Cup.
Only then did he turn toward his own. First, he leapt into the arms of coach Zlatko Dalic.
Then Gyan gave him a piggyback ride toward the stands housing the majority of the Al Ain fans.
And that was the start of a party that must have gone long into the night.
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