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Amoory abandons European dream to realise childhood ambition

Omar Abdulrahman has joined Saudi champions A Hilal from Al Ain, all but ending any hope of playing in one of Europe’s top leagues. By Ali Khaled

Amoory abandons European dream to realise childhood ambition

Sometimes having a successful, even great, career is just not enough.

Despite racking up goals, medals and personal awards, some of the world’s finest footballers are often, unjustly, defined by what they did not attain.

Lionel Messi and the World Cup. Steven Gerrard and Premier League. Cristiano Ronaldo and, well, universal love.

Though Omar Abdulrahman’s career may not quite compare to those stellar examples, his excellence over the years, nevertheless, remains invariably linked to the question of whether he could, indeed should, have taken his talents to a top European league.

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The answer to that question for now, and likely for good, was answered this week. And it’s not exactly what those who have championed his career from a young age have hoped for.

In the early hours of Wednesday the golden boy of Emirati football landed in Riyadh to join Al Hilal on a one-year loan deal from Al Ain, bringing to an end one of football’s longest running sagas.

At a total worth of Dhs60m, 75 percent of which goes to Al Ain, it is the second most costly loan deal in the history of the game after Gonzalo Higuain’s recent move from Juventus to Milan.

Not surprisingly, the move has polarised opinions.

For the main protagonists at least, not to mention the delirious Al Hilal supporters that greeted Abdulrahman at King Khalid International Airport, the deal sits firmly in the wins column.

Al Ain have re-signed their best and most valuable player on a new three-year contract after he had become a free agent. Al Hilal get the benefit of one of Asia’s finest talents as they eye another league title and the 2019 AFC Champions League. And the player himself finally gets to play abroad. And not just for any club, but his boyhood team Al Hilal, were he spent five years between the age of 10 and 15.

In many ways, it is hard to begrudge Abdulrahman this move.

The 27-year-old is nothing if not loyal, and signing a new contract with Al Ain is acknowledgement of the care and effort the club has invested in raising him.

A year at Al Hilal makes as much sense financially as it does from a football perspective, giving Abdulrahman a genuine shot at an elusive AFC Champions League winners medal.

That is before you factor in the intangible value of being close to his family and friends in the UAE and Saudi.

For many football lovers, however, it’s a different story.

Al Ain supporters may disagree, but many Emirati football fans, and fans of Emirati football, have long held the wish that Abdulrahman would become the first player from the UAE to make a name for himself in one of Europe’s top leagues.

Skill, goals, vision and above all, star quality. He ticked off all the boxes.

Abdulrahman has been the poster boy of football excellence in the UAE and the wider Gulf region since his outstanding performances  at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

A few months later he helped the UAE win the 2013 Gulf Cup in Bahrain, scoring the opening goal in the 2-1 final win over Iraq.

Before Abdulrahman’s emergence, Adnan Al Talyani, part of the UAE golden generation that reached the 1990 World Cup, and Ismail Matar, were considered the nation’s finest ever footballers.

And yet neither quite captured the imagination on the international stage sufficiently to become the UAE’s first successful import beyond these shores, never mind Europe.

On the other hand, Abdulrahman, a marketing dream, has stardust in abundance.

It was his impact at the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia that turned him into a continental superstar.

Those of us present at the tournament will never forget the swell of interest and excitement around Abdulrahman with every passing game.

The “Panenka” penalty against Japan in the quarter-final shootout win, in particular, left fans and journalists laughing incredulously. Here was a player ready to transcend the confines of Asian football.

At that stage of his career, the then 23-year-old had the world at his feet. It seemed that only a matter of time that he would make the move to Europe, surely a fitting stage for him, as it is for all the world’s best talent, to deliver on all his undoubted promise.

A move by Abdulrahman, and perhaps by the tournament’s top scorer and Amoory’s best friend and colleague Ali Mabkhout, could have had a seismic impact on Emirati football, setting an example for others to follow.

It did not happen.

Last summer, genuine interest from French Ligue 1 team Nice was eschewed, as have other rumoured moves to Europe after Abdulrahman became a free agent this summer.

Again and again, the big move never materialised and we are now left to wonder if it ever will.

Apart from the obvious consequences such a transfer would have had on the player himself, there is also the wider issue of its impact on Emirati international and domestic football.

Others players would surely have been inspired to follow in his footsteps, potentially ushering a new era of progress a national team which has plateaued since the success of the 2015 Asian Cup.

That will not happen now, unfortunately.

There are those who would argue that few Emirati players have emerged in recent years with anything approaching Abdulrahman’s gifts, and it would be hard to argue with that.

And it would be harsh in the extreme to place the future of football in the country on the shoulders of one man, however gifted he is.

Yet it is hard to escape the feeling that it was Amoory’s destiny to drag Emirati football to a whole new level.

It is not clear to see just from where the next prospect comparable to Abdulrahman will emerge. The wait to see an Emirati player at one of Europe’s top leagues looks set to drag on and on.

For better or worse, Amoory has abandoned the European dream to realise a childhood ambition.

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