x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Team bigger for 'Zidane of the UAE' Abdulrahman

Embarrassed to be called after the French great, the UAE's gifted playmaker Amer Abdulrahman tells Ahmed Rizvi he is nothing without his side.

Amer Abdulrahman, left, the talented midfielder, was unhappy with the way he played in UAE's game against the North Koreans. Hassan Ammar / AP Photo
Amer Abdulrahman, left, the talented midfielder, was unhappy with the way he played in UAE's game against the North Koreans. Hassan Ammar / AP Photo

In December 2009, as World Soccer magazine compiled their list of the five most influential players at that year's Youth World Cup in Egypt, they nominated a diminutive UAE playmaker who had wowed the spectators with his verve and classy touch.

Featuring Amer Abdulrahman among the "stars of the future", the magazine dubbed him as the "Zidane of the UAE" and predicted a bright future for the 20-year-old midfielder.

The Zidane tag immediately became a chorus for fans of Abdulrahman's Baniyas club. Now 21, he admits feeling a bit embarrassed hearing those chants.

"I was really uncomfortable when I first heard the fans calling me Zidane," he said. "I honestly believe that title is a bit of an exaggeration because there can never be another Zidane. Nobody can come close.

"It was especially difficult for me as I have grown up idolising Zidane," he said, also mentioning Andrea Pirlo of Italy and AC Milan and Xavi of Spain and Barcelona as inspirations. "These are my favourite players," Abdulrahman said.

Xavi is widely considered as the best midfielder in the world, and Pirlo, now 31, was a contender for that title in his prime. Zidane, of course, has few peers in history.

Inspired by the trio, Abdulrahman has been steadily building his reputation. The Youth World Cup provided him the stage to showcase his talent and the player, according to World Soccer, played a "pivotal role" in carrying the UAE to the quarter-finals. The magazine described him as a player "who could make a difference" to any team.

He has indeed been making a difference since announcing himself on the international stage in Egypt. He was already noted for his performance in the UAE's triumph at the 2008 Asian Under 19 Championships. Last year, he was the most valuable player of the tournament as the UAE clinched the U23 Gulf Cup title. He was also the fulcrum of the side that won silver at the Asian Games last year.

Much is expected of him in the Asian Cup as well, but Abdulrahman is not happy with the way he started the tournament against North Korea.

"I was clearly well below my best and I know I can play a more positive role for the team in the coming matches," he said.

He has always set high goals for himself. When he was a child, he started playing football with boys much older and was at the receiving end of some rough treatment.

"I always liked challenging myself, and playing against the bigger boys gave me a lot of confidence," he said.

Those early lessons are evident on the pitch as the five-foot five-inch youngster dodges the bigger players and cleverly avoids challenges.

"I am just glad that the fans appreciate my style," he said. "I thank them and thank all those who have helped me right through the years - my parents, my siblings, my coaches, especially [the Olympic team coach] Mahdi Ali and all my teammates.

"Football is a team sport and no matter how good you are, you need the support of your teammates and all those around you. Without them you are nothing. Your best pass could make you look stupid if your teammates are not going to anticipate it."

Abdulrahman also thinks highly of his teammates in Doha and he is confident that, with the quality they have, the UAE can beat Iraq tomorrow night and put the defending champions out of contention.

"We should have got three points against North Korea, but that is a closed chapter now. We know that Iraq have a lot of quality players with a lot of experience, but if all of us in 'the Whites' can play at our best, we will not find it difficult to beat them."

Three points against Iraq will take the UAE a step closer towards their goal of qualifying for the knockout stages, but the Asian Cup is just one of Abdulrahman's list of targets.

"Of course we want to do well here and keep the good times in UAE football, the good feeling going," he said. "But we cannot relax. We have to keep our levels up and work hard towards qualification for the 2014 World Cup. The country has waited a long time for it and I believe we have the team to end that wait."

arizvi@thenational.ae

For more go to Asian Cup 2011