UAE superstar Omar Abdulrahman secures landmark loan switch to Al Hilal

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Months of speculation have come to an end after UAE superstar Omar Abdulrahman secured a momentous season-long loan to Saudi Arabia giants Al Hilal and simultaneously agreed a three-year contract extension at Al Ain, dashing hope of a historic European switch.

Abdulrahman, 26, had attracted overtures from teams in France, Spain and the Netherlands as a free agent once his deal expired at the Boss in July. But the pull of the Saudi Professional League heavyweights, his childhood side in Riyadh as a member of the Yemeni diaspora, proved too alluring.

Reports in the Kingdom have stated his name will feature in a parade of summer additions at King Saud University Stadium on Monday night. A Middle East-record €14 million (Dh59.5m) loan fee was required to complete the transaction for 2018/19, heading off an approach from capital rivals Al Nassr.

Aspirations about a landmark permanent move to football’s traditional heartland, which began with 2012’s trial at Manchester City, have come to naught for the playmaker thanks to the weekend’s concurrence about fresh terms.

Sources close to the 2016 AFC Player of the Year described Hilal as “the only Middle East club” he would go to. A temporary move back to the city of his birth denies Amoory the possibility of playing in December’s Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi.

It also bears similarities to the career trajectory of predecessor Ismail Matar. The 2003 FIFA U-20 World Cup Player of the Tournament never transferred to Europe, instead joining Qatar’s Al Sadd on loan in 2009 from Al Wahda.

In April, Boss chairman Ghanim Al Hajeri authoritatively stated his prized asset, Amoory, would be “staying with the club for next season, where we are faced with the most important of challenges.”

Abdulrahman has grown into a legend with the Arabian Gulf League and President’s Cup holders since he joined their fabled academy in 2007.

In a decade with the first team, he’s scored 62 times and crafted 114 assists during 229 appearances. A total of 11 major honours have been won in this period.

A star role with the UAE at the London 2012 Olympics led to a successful trial at City. Work-permit issues then scuppered a first permanent move for an Emirati to Europe.

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.

Those contacted this summer were prepared to produce offers, on the proviso Amoory remained a free agent. Annual wages on the deal signed in February 2015 are estimated at Dh20m.

Al Ain would now be in position to demand a substantial transfer fee, despite last term’s domestic and international travails.

This included being ostracised and banned for breaking curfew the night before January 5’s Gulf Cup-final loss to Oman, a match in which he missed decisive penalties at the end of normal time plus the shootout.

But throughout his spell in the Garden City, talk of an eventual return to Hilal never dissipated.

The ascension of Turki Al Sheikh to the General Sports Authority’s chairmanship has led to an enormous injection of state cash into the national sport.

Hilal have used this largesse since the end of 2017/18 to attract esteemed ex-Sporting Lisbon coach Jorge Jesus, former Spain Under-21 defender Alberto Botia from Olympiacos and tie up a loan switch for Peru’s Benfica-owned forward Andre Carrillo.

Amoory had been missing throughout pre-season for the Boss, including the recent first-round elimination to Algeria’s ES Setif in the Arab Club Champions Cup.

A likely debut for Hilal will come in August 18’s Saudi Super Cup at London’s Loftus Road, against Al Ittihad.

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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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