x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Secret about UAE football star Omar Abdulrahman is still very safe

These are wonderful times to be watching UAE playmaker Omar Abdulrahman, writes Osman Samiuddin.

Omar Abdulrahman, who is also a standout for the UAE national team, continues to earn his international praise. Satish Kumar / The National
Omar Abdulrahman, who is also a standout for the UAE national team, continues to earn his international praise. Satish Kumar / The National
Just under two weeks ago, in the Arabian Gulf Super Cup final, Omar Abdulrahman's penalty kick was saved by Al Ahli's Majed Naser, in a shoot-out Al Ahli eventually won.
It was a careless kind of penalty, not enough to the left of Naser and at a perfect height for him to save it.
The miss capped a muted performance from Abdulrahman, and though there was endeavour, the physicality of the game seemingly had pushed him aside. It led to at least one stray remark from the press corps that maybe, just maybe, he was getting a little complacent.
Even at the time, it was an overtly cynical assessment, given the extreme the fact it marked the first competitive game of the season. But there it was.
Last Thursday in Saudi Arabia, in the OSN Cup, after the UAE somehow let slip a 3-0 lead against Trinidad & Tobago and ended up heading to a penalty shoot-out, Abdulrahman stepped up once again.
Here was a moment, because even if you concede that both tournaments are less-heralded than others in which Abdulrahman will play, taking penalties after you have missed one is always a moment in itself, regardless of occasion. There is no bigger context than the miss.
Which way would he go? Left, right, straight down the centre? Would he - unlikely given his style - blast this one, to get it out of the way and move on with life?
I might be alone in this, but the last thing I expected was a Panenka, a chip down the middle named after the Czech footballer Antonin Paneka, who was the first exponent of the kick. It was so softly hit that the keeper dived one way and then tried to jerk back the other because he thought he had a genuine chance of saving it.
If you can picture knifing through the heat of a moment with a slab of ice, this was it, and it did more than draw milk from stone. It pushed coach Mahdi Ali to the edge of a smile - not an actual smile, of course, but close. Abdulrahman barely responded, strolling away to his goalkeeper, Ali Kasheif.
This is just one of the things about the gifts of Abdulrahman: you cannot long keep them from being expressed. The Panenka requires a degree of nonconformity not necessarily found in athletes in team sports.
But to do it after the missing a penalty the previous week? You could say it took a little arrogance, and that might be right.
But it was not arrogance in the way we usually understand it. This was more a kind of wilful, stubborn expression of his genius. Abdulrahman seemed to be reminding himself, as much as he was anyone else, not only of what he is capable, but of the way he sees and plays the game.
There were plenty of reminders through both games in the OSN Cup, not least being the chipped pass for Ahmed Khalil's goal in the first game, and another, at the death, which should have yielded another.
These are wonderful times to be watching Abdulrahman because in his most inspired, skilful bursts he still looks and plays like that kid you are likely to see all over the world, alone, ball at his feet and an entire game mapped out in his head.
That is something that has always stood out in the players you love watching, this paradox of childlike myopia entangled with adult foresight. And somehow, like Abdulrahman, many are left-footed, which is like that line about the most elegant batsmen in cricket or baseball being lefties.
But the best thing about watching him now is that he is still the little secret the Arabian Gulf - and to a lesser extent, Asia -keeps from the rest of the world.
Sure, he was noticed at the London Olympics and while on trial at Manchester City.
Enough is known about him to attract constant interest from European leagues; ESPN FC thought him the best player in Asia last year.
But Arabian football is still largely played away from the frenzied attentions and hyper-connectivity of the wider football world, where you can know all about a player from the third division in Ecuador right through to his transfer to the English Premier League.
The kind of magic Abdulrahman creates every week is still without a wider audience.
The irony, of course, is that unlike most secrets, the hope is this one will one day get out.
osamiuddin@thenational.ae
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