It is has been a quiet summer at Arsenal, even by Arsene Wenger’s patient standards, the sole signing of French youth international Yaya Sanogo has been an extremely sedate approach to this season’s transfer market. It hasn’t been enough to placate the fans who were expecting a spending spree as the long-awaited sponsorship money trickled in, and after the Gunners only just scraped Champions League football last season, the need to address the squad was clear.
The requirement for signings has intensified with the departures of Gervinho, Andrei Arshavin, Johann Djorou, Andre Santos and Sebastien Squillaci for differing reasons. But with just under a month until the transfer market shuts, Wenger, who will surely be hoping to avoid another frantic dash for players at the end of the transfer window, remains inactive. However, there has been some action this week as Arsenal were said to be taking United Arab Emirates starlet Omar Abdulrahman on trial. Not heard of him? It’s okay, we have all the bases covered;
Abdulrahman was born to a working class family in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, in 1991 and he began playing football on the streets from an early age. A local scout noticed him playing in the neighbourhood and invited him to join Al-Hilal, one of the most established clubs in Saudi Arabia.
After progressing at Al-Hilal, the club attempted to get him to sign permanently by offering him permanent Saudi citizenship as he did not hold valid nationality. But, as the offer was only made to him and not his family, the player rejected it, drawing the attentions of Sami Al Jaber, the former Saudi striker, acting as a scout for Al Ain of the UAE. Al Ain were keen on Omar and his brothers Khalid and Mohammed, and so offered the entire family citizenship. The winger joined the club in 2007.
After a year in the Al Ain youth set-up, Abdulrahman broke into the first team under the guidance of German coach Wilfried Schafer. Despite emerging into the first team and making the odd appearance for them, he mostly remained in the reserve team and it wasn’t until Schafer watched him in the International Under-17 Football Tournament in 2009.
From there, Abdulrahman has gone from strength to strength, totalling 25 goals and 29 assists for his club in three years, winning two domestic league titles and four domestic cups in the process. He has also won a trophy cabinet full of individual awards, including 2 UAE Young Player of the Year medals and a clean sweep last season, including EPL Emirati, EPL Fans’ and Emirati Player of the Year gongs. He is indeed the hottest talent in Asian football.
The UAE international, having progressed into the full squad after playing for the under-20s and the under-23s, managed to showcase his talents to a worldwide audience last summer at the London Olympics, impressing many onlookers with his skills and talents although his team crashed out in the group stages. Then, in January at the 2013 Gulf Cup of Nations, Abdulrahman became man of the match in the final and Player of the Tournament as the UAE were crowned champions.
Strengths, Style and Weaknesses
Playing mostly as a winger and an attacking midfielder, Abdulrahman mostly relies on his superb sense of balance and nimble sub-6ft physique to glide past defenders into attacking areas. His vision and ability to pick out a pass to moving team-mates is excellent and the main reason why the 21 year old has managed to register so many assists in recent years.
Despite his productive quality on the ball however, it is said that Abdulrahman is predominantly left-footed and rarely uses his right, giving defenders a huge advantage when marking him as they can simply show him onto his less comfortable right. There is also an argument that Abdulrahman is currently operating in the sub-standard UAE league and may struggle with the pace of English football should he make the move to the Premier League. Even though something special usually arises from Abdulrahman’s left-foot when he receives the ball, the Premier League would necessitate a speed up in thinking given the drastic rise in quality.
He has drawn comparisons to Manchester City‘s David Silva given the way he drifts into pockets of space to link-up play with clever flicks and intelligent touches. He also possess impressive strength to hold up play and shrug off defenders, whilst his elusive movement also allows him to find his way into the box to chip in with his fair share of goals.
His attraction to the Premier League began with the Qatari-owned Manchester City who took the UAE international on trial last year and were impressed with what they saw, though they faced problems with his work permit. Though City academy chief Brian Marwood saw enough to revive his interest a few weeks later, saying “we enjoyed having him with us… he is a very talented young player. We will continue to monitor him and we are aware of how he’s developing”, the move again broke down, just as it did when Abdulrahman was on the brink of joining Espanyol as a 17 year old.
Spanish club Valencia have reportedly sent scouts to watch the Emirati winger, whilst Benfica have had an approach rejected. From Barcelona, to Hamburg, Schalke and Arsenal, media outlets have linked many clubs to Abdulrahman.
Though it is now Arsenal who seem interested in signing him, exploring the option of a trial which hasn’t seemed to have gone down well with the player. Sheikh Abdullah Bin Mohammed, the chairman of Al Ain, was unequivocal in his refusal to let his player go on trail, saying Abdulrahman was “above having to go and prove his talents” and that his club would only entertain serious transfer offers.
Whether Arsene Wenger and Arsenal will rise from their summer slumber to submit a bid for the promising youngster remains to be seen, but there is little doubt that Abdulrahman would be worth it as the Gunners seek attacking reinforcements. The player would require improvement and there will be an issue of the potential culture shock that comes with moving from an obscure league, but Abdulrahman, as he has shown in glimpses, has the ability to overcome all of that.