Omar Abdulrahman scored a smart penalty against Barcelona on Tuesday night. Yet as the ball was lifted into the Spanish side’s net, it was hard not to think of the Asian Champions League final second leg between Al Ain and Jeonbuk Motors in November when he did not take a much more important one.
On that night, it was not the 25-year-old who stepped up to put the UAE club back on level terms with the South Koreans, it was Douglas. The Brazilian missed and that was that. Jeonbuk won, went to the FIFA Club World Cup and a chance to take on Real Madrid.
Al Ain returned back to domestic issues but this week allowed the 2016 AFC Player of the Year, his club and country’s best player, to miss a dead rubber Arabian Gulf Cup game and head off midweek to represent Al Ahli of Jeddah, a rival club playing in a rival country, in an exhibition match.
Barcelona raced into a 3-0 lead in Doha against the Saudi Arabians and then started to make changes. Eleven were subbed off not long into the second half by visiting coach Luis Enrique to give some indication as to how important this friendly was for the Catalan giants.
The question to take away from the game is not who is better between Neymar or Messi or whether these fixtures, part of Barcelona’s sponsorship deal with Qatar Airways, are worthy sporting occasions.
Rather it has to be, why is Omar Abdulrahman playing for Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia when his own club team is in action? It is hard to work this one out.
His club coach Zlatko Dalic said before the game that he was OK with the situation. “Personally, I’m extremely happy to see ‘Amoory’ play this historic friendly, which I believe will have a positive impact,” he said. “There is much anticipation because of the participation of great European and international football stars such as Neymar and Messi. Omar also has fans in the country, on the continent and throughout the world.”
He played on Saturday against Al Wahda, missed the cup game on Tuesday with Dibba Al Fujairah and will hopefully not have picked up an injury from the Barcelona game – one hardly as historic as the coach claimed – or be too tired to play against Sharjah on Sunday.
The cup game missed was a meaningless one. Al Ain could not have progressed but that means that the star, who’s played a lot of football in 2016, could have been rested for the good of club and player.
It has been said that Omar has the kind of talent to do whatever he wants on the pitch but there is a danger that he is giving the impression of being able to off it as well.
Regardless of whether that is true or not, it was strange to see such a big star of Al Ain playing for a rival club in a rival league. Al Ain and Al Ahli are rivals and were, with exquisite timing, reminded of this on Tuesday.
In Kuala Lumpur, the two were drawn together in the same 2017 Asian Champions League group in a draw made just hours before the Barcelona game. One wonders what Al Ain fans will make on March 13 when the team travels to Jeddah to be greeted with this week’s photo of ‘Amoory’ holding the Al Ahli club shirt aloft.
The obvious point is this: if Omar really wants to play against the big European teams and the best players on the world, then he has a chance to do so. All he has to do is make the move to Europe. There has been plenty of interest and if that interest is reciprocated then the offers would roll in from teams all over the continent.
It all depends on the man himself. He is well-paid and very well-loved in Al Ain and the UAE and extremely well-respected around Asia. If he wants global esteem then, outside of the World Cup – and there is a decent chance that he will help the UAE make it to Russia 2018 – then he is not going to get much by staying at Al Ain. Even winning the continental title is not, unfortunately, a prize that gets much attention overseas.
Asian stars should stay in Asia for a time at least and then hopefully return but the best should, before it is too late, head to Europe to truly test themselves.
It is one thing to play Barcelona in a friendly that the latter don’t really care about but if Omar wants to face the likes of Barca at their best, he has the ability to find out but he will need to be brave and show such desire by removing himself from the comforts of the region.
He has the talent and the opportunity but does he have the mentality? Only he can answer that.
Scoring a flashy penalty in a friendly is meaningless, but doing it against Barcelona in a game with real importance, now that would be something.