Omar Abdulrahman may be a name that many football fans are not familiar with, but the Shabab Dubai midfielder once had a trial at Manchester City and has been dubbed the “Arabian Messi”.
He burst onto the global stage at the London Olympics in 2012 when he pulled off a sublime outside of the boot assist in a 2-1 defeat to Uruguay at Old Trafford.
A move to City in 2012 collapsed and he later rejected loan moves to both Benfica and Nice, meaning at 30-years-old he has only played in his homeland and the nation of his birth, Saudi Arabia.
Abdulrahman was being coveted by European clubs as early as 2008, when the then 17-year-old was reportedly attracting interest from Espanyol.
He remained at Al-Ain, though, where he score 44 goals and provide 88 assists in 175 appearances before leaving in 2018.
In his 10 years at the club, they were crowned league champions in the UAE twice, in 2015 and 2018.
Shortly after his eye-catching displays at the Olympics, Abdulrahman went on a two-week trial at Manchester City and impressed enough to be offered a four-year deal.
Then academy chief Brian Marwood said that during Abdulrahman’s time at the club “he impressed everybody”.
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However, the move collapsed due to work permit issues, with a combination of the player’s lack of international caps and the UAE’s world ranking of 121 causing complications.
“Honestly, it was an amazing experience. Not everyone gets the chance to train with the champions of England.
“Once Kolo Toure saw me he asked ‘are you the UAE player?’ and I was surprised he even knew me. He told me ‘you have the skill and the potential and are here to sign a contract’. And I told him ‘Inshallah, I hope to… if things go well.’”
Four years later, in 2016, Abdulrahman shared the cover of PES with Neymar and was voted the best player in Asia.
That same year, he turned down offers from Benfica and Nice to stay at Al-Ain, saying at the time: “There have been offers, some potential opportunities in Europe.
“But Al Ain really wanted me to stay so the chance to move has not really been there.”
Barcelona icon Xavi finished his career in the Middle East playing for Qatari side Al-Sadd before becoming manager after his retirement.
In 2017, he said of Abdulrahman: “It is important for him, for Arab players, for the country also, to play abroad in the future, to be a competitive country. Omar can be a pioneer and make it easier for others to follow.”
Abdulrahman left Al-Ain in 2018 to join Saudi Arabian side Al-Hilal, but his time at the club was dogged by a cruciate ligament injury that kept him out for seven months.
He spent two years with Al-Jazira back in the UAE from 2019, winning the league title last season, before moving to Shabab Dubai earlier this year.