Omar Abdulrahman: The UAE’s Arabian Pirlo

Is Al Ain’s star player a big fish in a small pond, or could he mix it with Europe’s best?

James Reynolds September 15, 2015

He is one of the hottest talents in world football right now.

After signing a deal with Nike last June, and recently being chosen for the cover of the Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 computer game, Omar Abdulrahman is fast attracting interest off the field as much as he is on it. 

His recent performance against Malaysia in a World Cup qualifier – assisting six of the UAE’s 10 goals – had some calling him ‘the Arabian Pirlo’ due to his exceptional vision and passing ability, with a video of his performance (above) going viral. 

His standard of football is light-years ahead of his teammates and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him move to Europe within the next couple of years.

But just who is Omar Abdulrahman, and is he really as good as the UAE’s football fraternity believes?  

The 23-year old’s career was put on fast track at the early age of fifteen, when he signed for his first professional club, Al Ain, in 2007.

In 2009 he had his first major breakthrough. Aged just 17 he sporadically appeared in the first team and went on to get his first taste of silverware at senior level, winning the Super Cup, Etisalat Cup and the President’s Cup all in the same season.

It wasn’t until the 2010-11 season when he really started to show his worth, as he scored eight goals and assisted seven, within 21 games for the side. 

This attracted interest from some of Europe’s top clubs, such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City. This meant he had a decision to make and in the end it was the latter that appealed to him, as he opted to go on trial with the Abu Dhabi-backed Manchester side.  

During Abdulrahman’s short spell in the UK he certainly turned a few heads and displayed fine ability. However, due to the UAE national side’s low ranking and failure to gain a work permit, talks broke down between the two clubs and he returned to Al Ain.

After failing to secure a move to England, Abdulrahman went on to make another 44 appearances for Al Ain (prior to the 2014-15 season), scoring 10 goals and assisting 33 – an exceptional record to boast by the age of 23. 

It’s fair to suggest that Abdulrahman has one of the best records in football outside of the major leagues, playing a total of 111 games, scoring 28 and assisting 53 over the past 6 years. 

The Arabian Pirlo? 

So what of his comparisons to the Italian legend, Andrea Pirlo? Well, in the early days of Pirlo’s career he was deployed predominantly as an attacking midfielder or an advanced playmaker. However, his passing ability was capitalized on when he was eventually played in the deep lying playmaker role, acting as a link between defence and attack, controlling the pace of the game. 

Given his lack of global top tier football, and young age, it is unfair to compare Abdulrahman’s ability of occupying the deep lying playmaker role to the standard of the legendary Pirlo. However if his passing ability and influence in his side is anything to go by, it certainly asks the question would coaches of top European sides consider playing him there? 

Apart from the aforementioned Arsenal and Manchester City, other European clubs believed to be interested in the talented Emirati include Spanish sides Barcelona and Malaga and German outfits Borussia Dortmund, Schalke and Hamburg. 

It’s not hard to see why clubs have Abdulrahman earmarked. His career has seen him lift seven pieces of silverware, two of which were the Pro League title. He has also achieved success on an individual level, bagging 12 individual accolades.

His career has also seen him win three major trophies at international level as he helped his side win the Under 23 Gulf Cup of Nations and the Asian Games Silver Medal in 2010. Followed by the achievement of winning the Gulf Cup of Nations with the UAE national side in 2013. 

With his trophy cabinet already full and with nothing left to win in the UAE at individual and club level, assumptions of an imminent move could prove accurate. But where would he go? 

It’s fair to suggest that he would be an ideal acquisition to the Serie A, staring for a team like AC Milan, as Pirlo once did. However, his brain works at such a fast rate, there is no reason why he couldn’t be a success in the Premier League or La Liga. 

Personally, I feel he would relish in a side such as Arsenal or Napoli – possibly Dortmund – as they each play beautiful passing football and are always looking to go forward. The systems that these three sides play would also give Abdulrahman the chance to demonstrate his passing ability and contribute to link up play, as he does for Al Ain. 

It’s easy to suggest that he should move to Barcelona as they play stunning football. But moving to a side full of world-class talent at this stage of his career could possibly break him, rather than make him. 

Arguably, he would get the best coaching in the world has to offer, surrounded by some of the world’s finest players, with state of the art facilities at Camp Nou. But where is the benefit without the chance of first team football?  

What the future holds for Abdulrahman is unclear but certainly intriguing. In February this year he signed a new contract with Al Ain that will keep him at the club until 2020. That could be seen as a signal of intent from Al Ain to keep him at the club, or a way to increase his value.

Interest in football in the UAE is on the rise and if he were to move to a European side, it’s likely that his fans will continue to follow him, resulting in a boost in shirt sales and popularity of his chosen team, amongst UAE fans. 

After dominating in the Middle East for the past six seasons, a player of his calibre should really test himself against the best in the business. There will be question marks as to whether or not he can cope at the highest level and that maybe the standard of the UAE Arabian Gulf League is actually making him look better than he is. 

But as you can see from the above videos, it’s clear that his brain is perfectly in tune with the game and wherever he may end up, his next club will have an absolute gem of a player.