Omar Abdulrahman will not fulfill European destiny, but another pioneer for UAE is close

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Star man Omar Abdulrahman was guilty of missing two penalties.

The path to Europe, seemingly, will forever remain untrodden by Omar Abdulrahman.

UAE football’s crown jewel and one of the Middle East’s great players has, apparently, given verbal consent to a three-year contract extension at Al Ain.

The unattached status which offered freedom for the 2016 AFC Player of the Year to choose his own destiny has ended up with the status quo remaining.

Mystery exists about whether this guarantees 2018/19 will be spent back on loan at boyhood club Al Hilal – the reigning Saudi Professional League champions and the region’s defining force.

But what is becoming abundantly clear is Amoory will not undertake a historic permanent switch west to the sport’s heartland.

The limitless potential unearthed to an electrified global audience at the London 2012 Olympics will go unfulfilled.

Instead, the 26-year-old playmaker has consented to spend the prime years of his career in familiar territory. At the Garden City which embraced him, or Riyadh which formed him.

It is left to others to break the cycle.

A ground-breaking transfer appeared predestined when he electrified the uninitiated at the London 2012 Olympics and saw a move to Manchester City halted by work-permit problems.

This sense of inevitably has steadily dissipated as suitors ranging from Arsenal to Nice have been knocked back, via Al Ain’s intransigence and Amoory’s indifference.

Following in his footsteps: Ismail Matar never made the move to Europe, despite his starring role at the 2003 FIFA U-20 World Cup in the UAE.

Following in his footsteps: Ismail Matar never made the move to Europe, despite his starring role at the 2003 FIFA U-20 World Cup in the UAE.

A complete lack of surprise defines his latest choice. Even though teams from France, Spain and the Netherlands were still prepared to gamble on him, despite travails for club and country in 2017/18.

This stands in stark contrast to peers across the Asian game.

Outstanding South Korea midfielder Lee Jae-sung was a key component of the Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors side which denied Amoory success in the 2016 AFC Champions League final.

Steady planning of the 25-year-old’s career path witnessed a €1.5 million (Dh6.4m) move agreed with 2. Bundesliga challengers Holstein Kiel last month.

Rather than take the easy route and remain in K League 1, or sit on the bench at a bigger European club, he’s already put fallen giants Hamburg to the sword during the weekend’s 3-0 thrashing.

Teenage winger Daniel Arzani provided a rare bright spot for Australia as they went winless at World Cup 2018.

Where Amoory eschewed the option to come into the City system when alternative destinations in France were offered, Arzani has embraced a grand opportunity.

The youngest player on show in Russia is set to transfer from Melbourne City to the parent club, prior to completing a two-year loan to Scottish Premiership heavyweights Celtic.

This is an example of what could have been for Amoory six years ago.

Make your own way: Saudi Arabia's Sami Al Jaber experienced a mixed time on loan at Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2000.

Make your own way: Saudi Arabia’s Sami Al Jaber experienced a mixed time on loan at Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2000.

Elsewhere, Japan centre-back Naomichi Ueda, 23, has swapped Kashima Antlers for Belgium’s Cercle Brugge.

Economic forces have regularly sent players from the east of the AFC to Europe in search of greater financial rewards.

In return, nations such as South Korea, Japan and Australia are now regular World Cup entrants.

Saudi Arabia icon Sami Al Jaber’s ill-fated, four-game spell at Wolverhampton Wanderers in 2000 stood as an outlier in the oil-rich Arabian Gulf.

Abdulrahman’s lack of adventure has echoes of Al Wahda veteran Ismail Matar. The 2003 FIFA U-20 World Cup Player of the Tournament declined invitations from Chelsea and Internazionale, with his only spell abroad coming on loan at Qatar’s Al Sadd nine years ago.

Amoory could be the last of this kind.

Several Arab nations have forged links with European clubs and competitions in recent years, providing essential exposure to the professional game.

Winger Salem Al Dawsari struck the late winner for Saudi against Egypt at the World Cup. He was one of nine of his countrymen loaned to Spanish outfits last January, making his La Liga debut for Villarreal as a substitute against Real Madrid.

Even in the UAE, Al Ain prospect Ali Eid, 20, will hone his striking skills at Croatia’s Dinamo Zagreb during 2018/19.

Revered coach Henk ten Cate departed Al Jazira last summer hoping 21-year-old defender Mohammed Al Attas makes a similar decision.

The convoluted introduction of a salary cap in the Arabian Gulf League should further benefit this drive.

Amoory will not be UAE football’s great pioneer. But much is in place for one to emerge.

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Leonardo wings in as Al Wahda show they mean business in the AGL

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Leonardo in action for Al Ahli Jeddah.

Arabian Gulf League runners-up Al Wahda have gained an injection of goals into their side with the promising addition of Al Ahli Jeddah winger Leonardo on a two-year deal.

The Clarets have chosen a patient approach to filling the final spot in their four-player foreign quota after they declined to renew Hungary wide man Balazs Dzsudzsak’s deal at the end of 2017/18.

Links to fellow Brazilian Luisinho of Al Faisaly ebbed away after a disappointing performance in the 2018 King Cup final, while Santos playmaker Serginho ended up signing for J1 League runners-up Kashima Antlers.

Leonardo, 26, represents an addition of genuine quality even though he is a free agent.

The former Al Ain target scored 11 goals in 23 run-outs after a €4 million (Dh17m) move to King Abdullah Sports City in August 2017, following on from productive spells at the likes of Partizan Belgrade and Anzhi Makhachkala.

“The Brazilian Leonardo has become a Wahawi (Wahda fan) for two seasons, after passing the medical examination and signing the contract,” Wahda tweeted on Monday. “We wish him success.”

The UAE represents the eighth country that Leonardo has played in. The early stages of his career were spent in the youth system at Belgium’s Beerschot and Cyprus’ Enosis Neon Paralimni.

Switches to Eastern Europe with Ukraine’s Metalurh Donetsk, Azerbaijan’s Gabala and Russia’s Anzhi followed, prior to an excellent spell in Serbia with Partizan.

There, he lifted the 2016/17 Serbian SuperLiga and Serbian Cup double. He was also the top flight’s joint-leading marksman with 24 goals.

Wahda’s strong foreign contingent already  contains the retained South Korea centre-back Rim Chang-woo, Moroccan winger Mourad Batna and Argentine centre forward Sebastian Tagliabue – the AGL’s all-time foreign top scorer with 110 strikes in 112 matches.

Coach Laurentiu Reghecampf will now be expected to improve on a campaign that also saw victories in the 2017/18 Arabian Gulf Cup and Arabian Gulf Super Cup.

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Al Ain and UAE superstar Omar Abdulrahman attracts European interest as Al Hilal press

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Omar Abdulrahman was named man of the match against Oman.

A series of European clubs have registered interest in the UAE’s superstar playmaker Omar Abdulrahman this summer, amid a serious and sustained approach from Saudi Arabia giants Al Hilal.

The coveted 2016 AFC Player of the Year is currently available on a free transfer after his deal at Al Ain lapsed this summer. This situation has led to fevered speculation about him finally being prised away from Hazza bin Zayed Stadium after a celebrated decade in the first team that has included 62 goals and 114 assists in 229 appearances, plus 11 major honours.

A return to boyhood club Hilal for the Riyadh-born, UAE international has been heavily touted since last January’s winter transfer window. Further rumours in the Saudi press have declared that a contract renewal with Al Ain will be inked, prior to a lucrative one-season loan to the reigning Saudi Professional League champions for 2018/19.

Sources close to the 26-year-old have labelled Hilal as “an option” and “the only Middle East club” he will go to. This follows rumours that Al Nassr have offered Dh3 million more in wages, bringing the total operation to Dh24m.

A number of teams from Spain, France and the Netherlands have also been contacted by advisers. Several have reacted with intrigue about the prospect of recruiting arguably the finest domestic footballer currently based in Asia.

If Abdulrahman does depart in the coming days, it will represent an end to years of speculation.

He first experienced a successful trial at Manchester City after the London 2012 Olympics, only for work-permit issues to scupper a historic first permanent move for an Emirati to the old continent.

Valencia, Hamburg, Arsenal, Benfica and Fenerbahce are among the outfits to further be attached to his name. Al Ain rejected a loan offer from Nice in July 2017.

Links to the country of his birth, however, have always been strong.

Central to this stance has been Hilal.

Amoory successfully underwent a trial there before his teenage years. But as his family was part of the Yemeni diaspora, a lack of Saudi citizenship presented an opportunity to join Al Ain’s productive academy across the border in 2007.

A heavy pre-season recruitment drive by Hilal could force a reunion.

They have already brought in celebrated former Benfica and Sporting Lisbon head coach, Jorge Jesus.

On the playing staff, ex-Spain Under-23 defender Alberto Botia has been picked up from Olympiacos and Peru forward Andre Carrillo has been reunited with Jesus thanks to another loan away from Benfica – the 27-year-old scored twice in 27 matches at Watford last term.

If Amoory does head to Hilal on a temporary basis, it will bear echoes of predecessor Ismail Matar’s career path.

The 2003 FIFA U-20 World Cup Player of the Year had a brief spell at Qatar’s Al Sadd in 2009 from Al Wahda, despite previously attracting offers from Europe.

Amoory experienced a mixed 2017/18, even though his employers won a first Arabian Gulf League and President’s Cup double.

He began the campaign injured and was handed a controversial domestic ban for breaking curfew the night before January 5’s Gulf Cup final defeat to Oman.

In that harrowing showpiece, Amoory missed decisive penalties in normal time and the shootout.

But he finished the campaign on 13 assists and seven goals in 25 club run-outs.

An inability to agree a contract extension with the Boss saw him become a free agent in July.

This meant he was not present during pre-season training, although he was selected for the UAE camp in Salzburg, Austria from August 1-18.

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