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.
أبارك لجماهير العين في الداخل والخارج التتويج بلقب كأس صاحب السمو رئيس الدولة -كأس عام زايد - وابارك للجميع نجاح التنظيم .💜
أبارك لجماهير العين في الداخل والخارج التتويج بلقب كأس صاحب السمو رئيس الدولة -كأس عام زايد - وابارك للجميع نجاح التنظيم .💜— عمر عبدالرحمن (@Amoory10) May 4, 2018
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.
Goalkeeper Khalid Essa is not wallowing in Al Ain’s first-round elimination from the Arab Club Champions Cup and has immediately set his sights on claiming the Arabian Gulf Super Cup.
The Arabian Gulf League and President’s Cup double winners went out on away goals to Algerian champions ES Setif, despite Saturday’s 1-0 victory at Zagreb’s Stadion Maksimir earning a 2-2 aggregate scoreline.
This was a competition regularly stated as being low on the Boss’ list of priorities. UAE No1 Essa is confident of a better result when they battle top-flight runners-up Al Wahda on August 25 at Cairo’s 30,000-capacity Al Salam Stadium.
“The team camps in Slovenia and Croatia has absolutely been successful under the leadership of coach Zoran Mamic,” the 28-year-old said. “The Arabian Gulf Super Cup is one of the goals for the new season.
“The team has not competed in it during the two seasons. I expect a strong and exciting match to win the Super Cup title between the two teams.”
Essa is one of six players – out-of-contract superstar Omar Abdulrahman has already travelled – who will join up with club-mates Mohamed Ahmed, Mohanad Salem and Ahmed Barman in the UAE’s training camp in Salzburg. This is scheduled to run until August 18, plus feature a number of friendlies – including a clash with Andorra.
“I think the development of the team is very reassuring,” said Mamic. “I am very happy that 90 per cent of the Al Ain players played full games during this short preparation period.
“I hope that the players will keep working hard with the international squad until everyone reaches the required level before the Super Cup, as they will re-join us only a few days before the match in Egypt.”
In the same competition, Al Jazira and Al Wasl will both meet Saudi Arabian opposition. The former battle Al Nassr on August 13 and September 29, with the latter drawn against Al Ittihad on August 24 and September 30.
With less than a month to go until the start of the season, Arabian Gulf League clubs have been busy sculpting squads to experience a successful 2018/19.
Reigning champions Al Ain are yet to bring in any senior recruits, but this is not the case throughout the rest of the division. Money has been spent on targets that will either gain a better tilt at the title, earn mid-table security or ensure a successful battle against the drop.
The top flight kicks off on August 30, plus the summer transfer window closes on October 2. Here are the recruits that have most impressed us, thus far.
It will take some doing for a rival to better Al Wasl’s snapping up of the experienced UAE anchor man.
Esmail was procured for a figure approaching Dh50 million in January 2016. But Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club decided he was expendable amid the chase for Al Dhafra’s Abdullah Al Naqbi.
At 28-years old, Wasl are getting a refined midfielder capable of providing expert guidance to a developing side that is eager to better last term’s third-placed finish.
A Premier League stalwart will be gracing the AGL’s pitches during 2018/19.
Al Nasr pulled off a great shock when they convinced 48-times-capped France midfielder Yohan Cabaye to end his three-year stay at Crystal Palace and move onto Al Maktoum Stadium.
Cabaye, 32, offers expert playmaking, a ferocious ability from dead balls and a tenacious side that will see no ground given in the middle of the park. This is a figure for whom coach Ivan Jovanovic can build his entire system around.
Sharjah lavished a significant €6 million (Dh25.5m) fee on the Brazilian playmaker, who made a strong impression during Palermo’s promotion back to Serie A.
Coronado, 25, has been hired to add an injection of creativity into a King side that scored only 26 times in 22 top-flight matches last term. Countryman Lulinha singularly failed at this task.
If he can better last term’s Serie B tally of 10 assists and nine goals from 38 matches, Sharjah will feel content about their substantial investment.
The ex-Netherlands Under-21 international has chosen to swap fighting for A-League glory with Melbourne Victory to scrapping against relegation with Bani.
There was plenty of regret in Australia’s second city when a contract extension could not be agreed with a winger who’d come from nowhere to notch 13 assists and eights goals in a championship season.
The 31-year-old’s talents will need to be on display in Abu Dhabi as the Sky Blues bid to avoid immediate relegation back to First Division League.
Great strides have been taken by Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club to avoid the goal shortage that crippled their inaugural campaign.
Central to this drive is the purchase of diminutive playmaker Diaz from FC Dallas. The former Argentina Under-20 international excelled during five years in Major League Soccer, being named in 2016’s Best XI.
In total, the 27-year-old heads to Rashid Stadium with a record of 23 goals and 44 assists in 84 matches. Great things are expected.