“[You] know what the best part of my day is? It’s for about ten seconds from when I pull up to the curb to when I get to your door. Because I think maybe I’ll get up there and I’ll knock on the door and you won’t be there. No goodbye, no see you later, no nothin’. Just left. I don’t know much, but I know that.”
The bittersweet, heartbreaking plea by Chuckie (Ben Affleck) imploring his gifted best friend Will (Matt Damon) to go out and conquer the world at the end of the 1997 classic Good Will Hunting.
Tweak those words slightly and they could well apply to some of us who have championed Omar Abdulrahman’s career for years. We love you Omar, but how we want you to leave us behind and head to a top European league were your genius can flourish.
This summer, OGC Nice, who last season finished 3rd in France’s Ligue 1, offered to take the UAE’s golden boy on a one-year loan deal with an option to buy. With that comes, of course, the potential opportunity to play in the greatest football competition on Earth; the Uefa Champions League.
It’s a seemingly incredible opportunity for all concerned, most of all the bushy-haired genius. It was, not surprisingly, turned down.
Al Ain’s position is understandable, if a little disappointing. The club have nurtured Abdulrahman from a very young age, and are reluctant to let go of by far the best talent the club has ever produced.
Of more immediate concern, Al Ain are in the middle of a AFC Champions League campaign which the club is desperate to win after a poor 4th place finish in the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) last season. If Omar goes, so does, realistically, any chance of glory.
Yet the window for arguably Asia’s best player to take the opportunity that so many are desperate for him to grab is closing fast.
There are many reasons for his, and his club’s, resistance. Thanks to an affinity for family life, home comforts and, let’s not forget, generous contracts, the Gulf’s top footballers rarely, if ever, aspire to make the move abroad, unlike their North African cousins who positively thrive on it. Only Ali Al Habsi, Oman’s iconic goalkeeper and captain, has made the big move from these shores.
Abulrahman and UAE teammate and close friend Ali Mabkhout were the two most likely to follow, especially after outstanding displays at the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia. Who can forget Omar’s nerveless Panenka penalty in the unforgettable quarter-final shootout win over the champions Japan?
It didn’t happen then. It still hasn’t happened. Will it ever?
Right now the conditions are ideal for the duo to test themselves against the world’s best players. Abdulrahman is 25 and Mabkhout a year older, and both are worldly individuals who should have no issues settling in a foreign country. They are no longer raw youngsters with big potential but experienced internationals who have long hit the glass ceiling of domestic, or even regional, football.
The benefits of moving abroad are obvious. The experience would unquestionably improve the players, and in turn, the UAE national team’s fortunes, which seems to go hand in hand with their performances.
A successful stint in Europe, even a loan one, would also raise the bar for Emirati players and could inspire a whole new generation – not to mention provide an opportunity for emerging young talent to fill in their boots.
And should Abdulrahman, Mabkhout or any other Emirati footballer take that big step and later return, any subsequent homecoming would be sure to attract greater interest in the AGL and indeed raise the standards of a league still finding its feet.
Nice have not given up on luring Abdulrahman to the Côte d’Azur, yet if history is anything to go by it seems such a move is unlikely to happen in the short term, or – with no obvious heir to Omar’s throne as the nation’s talisman – even in the long term.
So we are left counting what blessings we have. At least we get to watch Omar grace the UAE’s fields for another season, and for that we should grateful.
Still, how wonderful it would be if one day we awoke to the news that Omar has left us behind. With nothing but a note that says “Sorry, I had to go see about a club in Europe. Omar”.
We don’t now much, but we know that.
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