Who is the best player in all of Asian professional soccer? Were this question asked just a few years ago, the name Omar Abdulrahman wouldn’t have even been in the running, much less of any familiarity to soccer fans. But as avid soccer fan Hussain al Nowais points out, today Abdulrahman has emerged as the unrivaled star of the Asian Football Confederation, and remains the UAE’s most valuable player.
Abdulrahman’s rise to stardom was in many ways catalyzed by his breakout moment at the 2012 Olympics, in which the UAE faced off against Uruguay and Abdulrahman emerged as a dominant force on the field. Though Uruguay ultimately pulled ahead, the match showcased Abdulrahman’s undeniable talent, and he’s been a force to be reckoned with ever since.
Abdulrahman has gone on to lead the UAE to an impressive third-place finish at the 2015 Asia Cup, has earned the UAE league titles, and he’s just made what is perhaps his most impressive move yet: signing on to the UAE’s Al Ain for another 4 years.
Abdulrahman’s commitment to Al Ain is more surprising than most outside of the Middle East and Asia might think. While the Asian Football League has certainly evolved in a positive direction in recent years, it still doesn’t attract nearly the level of players, prominence, and overall prosperity that the European Football League does, and many players in the Middle East and Asia know this. When players come along that seem to have what it takes to make it to a powerhouse team like Real Madrid or Manchester United, they usually take these clubs up on their offers, leaving home teams in the AFC behind.
Given this tradition of turning towards Europe, Abdulrahman’s decision is undoubtedly surprising, but it also makes a lot of sense. At 23, Abdulrahman is still on the upswing of his career, and a four-year commitment doesn’t count him out of European prospects should he be interested at the end of his contract with Al Ain. What’s more, Adbulrahman must also be cognizant of the fact that though European teams may offer more glamour, Asian players have typically watched their careers fizzle out once making the switch. Asian players aren’t as celebrated by European teams for a number of reasons, part of which involves being a newcomer, less play time, and the challenges players face in adapting to life outside of their home countries.
In choosing to sign on with Al Ain, Abdulrahman won’t be faced with any of those challenges, and will continue to benefit from the perks of his current stardom. As the UAE prepares to host the 2019 AFC Asian Cup, the UAE has more reason than ever to pay attention to Abdulrahman, a player who has proven that his loyalties are stronger than his ambitions, and who just may lead the UAE to an Asian Cup victory on its home turf.