Omar Abdulrahman has been at it again.
The bushy-haired baller produced a vintage performance in midweek as Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates thrashed Iranian giant Esteghlal 6-1 in the second leg of their 2017 Asian Champions League clash.
There were two goals, sexy passes and a general all-round display that deserved to be seen by more than the 11,000 fans at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium. It was a genuine delight.
Fans of the playmaker, still just 25, could spend a pleasant afternoon determining just where this most recent display ranks with his many others for club and country. As it stands, he is the leading goalscorer in the 2017 Asian Champions League, not bad for a player who is not a striker and creates more than he scores.
Yet we have seen it all before. This time last year, ‘Amoory’, as he is known, was helping the same team along the same route to the final. All know that his talent is as big as his hairstyle and even more eye-catching. We know that he is a standout in Asia.What nobody knows, not for sure, is how he will perform at the very top every week.
The player himself is getting tired of being asked when he will play in Europe. Actually, these days it is more a case of ‘if’ rather than ‘when’ as many expected he would already be in one of the big leagues out west.
Ever since he burst onto the international scene with a virtuoso display against Uruguay at Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, in the 2012 Olympics, the interest has been there. A trial was offered by Manchester City and accepted. The offer of a move was not.
No problem. The player was just 20 and staying at home where he was guaranteed playing time was an understandable choice.
But five years on, he is still there. Still at the same club, still in the same league and still doing the same things. After the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia, where he stood out, the sounds coming from the player’s camp was that a move to Europe was not far off. Yet soon after, he signed a new and very lucrative contract with Al Ain. The interest is still there from big clubs in big leagues but still West Asia trumps West Europe.
No player has to move if he does not want to but Omar Abdulrahman has talent that demands a bigger stage than the UAE league,with attendances that rarely make five figures, provides. He has paid his dues there, done his time and stayed long enough.
It should be pointed out that for the best West Asian players it is not so easy and they rarely travel to Europe. Clubs have often made it tough to do so. Ismail Matar, Omar’s predecessor as the golden boy of UAE football, told me that he wanted to go to Europe but Al Wahda, his club, would not let their star leave. There are similar stories elsewhere.
Some don’t push too hard. Amoory is very well-paid in the UAE and very popular in the wider region. He has everything he wants. As comfort zones go, this is more comfortable than most.
With the West Asian region not known for producing talent, the big European clubs are unlikely to match his current salary when there are plenty of cheaper options from more productive pipelines in South America and Africa.
The region’s biggest fish would be giving up plenty just to become one of many talented hopefuls trying to make it in Europe but that is what the best players in the world have been doing for decades.
One reason why the player should go is because he could pave the way for others. He could show Europe that there is talent in his own region and show the region that Europe is to be embraced rather than feared or ignored.
But the bigger reason is that it will make him a better player. Recently, he spoke to FourFourTwo about his time at Manchester City.
“What I remember most is the discipline and the professionalism of the academy,” he said. “Every training session was as important as a game – it was given the same value… Preparation is so important; you must give 100 per cent in training so you can give 110 per cent in a match.”
That intensity is what the player needs and the UAE league, while being a fine competition, is not the most intense.
If there is one criticism of Omar Abdulrahman it is that he has a habit of going missing in big games. In the 2016 Asian Champions League final and at vital 2018 World Cup qualifiers for his country, he has not stepped up when his team needed him.
Going to a big European club can help in this regard when every training session is important, every game is huge, every mistake dissected around the world and every goal celebrated on different continents.
Being surrounded by the best players in the world would show whether Omar has the potential to not be just the most talented player in Asia but one of the best in the world. If he stays in the UAE, we and – most importantly – he, will never know.