Omar Abdulrahman’s cloying comfort zone in Al Ain has, belatedly, became a little less snug.
The feted ‘Amoory’, crown prince of UAE football and indulged to a fault for all his past achievements, received the rarest of things on Tuesday night – a public rebuke.
Grizzled coach Zoran Mamic could not hold his tongue. The AFC had played to the grandstands and given the continent’s golden boy the man-of-the-match honours, despite a fitful display in the 2-0 Champions League play-off victory against Bahraini Premier League champions Malkiya.
“‘Amoory’ is a very-important player, but he did not make a good match,” said the grizzled ex-Croatia international after a display in which his underwhelming prized asset registered pass accuracy of 74.4 per cent and apathetically devolved his creative duties to Egypt’s excellent Hussein El Shahat.
“He made mistakes in many passes, wasted a lot of opportunities. Not good for Asian football.”
Not since being in the care of Cosmin Olaroiu from 2011-13 has such stark honesty been applied to a playmaker who has chosen to coast in his UAE bubble, rather than maximise his preternatural gifts.
‘Amoory’s’ incredible eight man-of-the-match gongs on the way to defeat in the 2016 final were richly deserved, as was his coronation as that year’s AFC Player of the Year.
Since then, both the statistics and the naked eye point to a rare talent stagnating. He was peripheral during much of the UAE’s failed World Cup 2018 qualification, letting now Al Ain team-mate Ahmed Khalil carry the attacking burden.
In the 2016/17 Arabian Gulf League, he registered the equal-second-most assists with 10. But an average of one every 192.9 minutes is hardly redolent of his ability.
This is also down on 2013/14 (16) and 2015/16 (12) – much of 2014/15 was a washout with injury. Since yet another summer move to Europe came to nought, this time the exasperated pursuers were Ligue 1’s Nice, he’s coasted through this term.
His ongoing domestic ban for breaking curfew the night before the Gulf Cup final is hotly disputed. What is not in question is the fact suspect preparations were followed by defeat on January 5 to minnows Oman, in which he horrifically missed two clutch penalties.
It has come to a point where ‘Amoory’ can be accused of living on reputation, his adoring public now treated to tantalising flashes of supreme talent.
Mamic’s pointed words must be heeded. A man previously tapped into the gold mine at Dinamo Zagreb knows what he is talking about.
Watch back Abdulrahman’s global breakout performances at the London 2012 Olympics. You’d think, at 26, he’d be breaking new ground at a European club.
It is sad to see what he’s become.
Jovanovic, 55, inked a deal until 2018/19 last week to replace dismissed ex-Italy coach Cesare Prandelli. The Blue Wave sacked the aforementioned Serb in October 2016 when his trophy-laden, three-and-a-half-year reign unravelled at alarming pace.
“You cannot overlook the impact and difficulty of making a technical change in mid-season on the players, because each coach has his own way and training style,” said Jovanovic. “But these problems will not affect us, as I am not a stranger to this team.”
An extensive list is hampering Jovanovic’s hopes of a winning return. These include unfortunate striker Wanderley, ex-Jazira midfielder Abdelaziz Barrada and occasional UAE call-up Fawaz Awana.
They face opponents for whom off-field problems have bled onto the pitch. Their last two results were a 2-0 reversal to Al Wahda in the Year of Zayed Arabian Gulf Super Cup, while minnows Dibba Al Fujairah fought back from two-goals down in the last 10 minutes to draw in the top flight.
Meanwhile, Dibba coach Paulo Comeli has consigned previous success against promoted Ajman to “the past” as he prepares for a relegation six-pointer.
A double from the now-released Brazilian forward Ciel earned a 2-0 triumph in September. With both sides a handful of points outside the drop zone, the Fishermen supremo is not taking repeat success for granted.
He said: “The previous result is in the past now and Ajman are much stronger.”
The stakes have changed in a fixture which, for so long, defined UAE football. But its penchant for drama and surprise remains.
Red-hot nights at Rashid Stadium were guaranteed when the hated Al Ain stepped foot in Dubai to face Al Ahli. They shared Arabian Gulf League titles – each one from 2011/12-2015/16 – and coaches, the belligerent Cosmin Olaroiu ensuring villain status for eternity with his seismic defection from the Boss nearly five years ago.
These were clashes which truly mattered. Now…. not so much.
Teething problems and diminished horizons since May’s merger ensured the new Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club came into the fixture only six points from the drop zone and a once-unthinkable 15 points off the leaders from the Garden City. That is what a winless streak in the top flight stretching back to October 14 – and now 10 matches – will do.
A bloodied nose was all Mahdi Ali’s charges could deliver last night – and a gift for AL Wasl and Al Wahda
Substitute Saeed Jassem delivered it with his 77th-minute header against the run of play. This punished the pacesetters for sterile domination that only served up a typically assured finish from Sweden no9 Marcus Berg, 11 minutes earlier.
Not even the emotional sight of forward Ahmed Khalil returning to the Rashid in purple could stoke the flames. Berg’s header that flashed wide from the boyhood Ahli man’s centre was the best moment of a drab first half.
Unsurprisingly, superstar playmaker Omar Abdulrahman’s presence in the stands because of his controversial domestic ban for an infraction on UAE duty did not help.
Yet Al Ain thought they’d claimed a valuable win when Berg pivoted in the penalty box and lashed in an 11th goal in 13 top-flight matches.
The stage was then set for Jassem to play spoiler. He was the beneficiary of poor marking from UAE centre-back Ismail Ahmed.
In response, UAE prospect Rayan Yaslam and veteran replacement Ibrahim Diaky rattled the woodwork.
A relieved Shabab Al Ahli greeted the final whistle with resounding cheers. This truly is a new reality.