It was not your typical reaction to a not-your-typical transfer story.
Al Ain’s Omar Abdulrahman had been the subject of an offer from Nice, the reenergised French club, and naturally social media responded.
Soon, “Amoory should play in Europe” trended on Twitter, a hashtag in Arabic that captured a growing consensus. Abdulrahman, long celebrated as UAE’s preeminent footballer, has for some time been viewed as a potential star outside of the Emirates, but here were fans of a football club actually championing their prize asset moving to pastures new.
For this is what it has come to. There have been reports and rumours before, bids to take Abdulrahman from Al Ain and backing for him to go. Interest from Arsenal, Hamburg, Valencia. A proposal from Benfica, apparently rejected. Fenerbahce are well-known and long-standing admirers.
READ MORE: Al Ain reportedly reject loan offer from French club Nice for Omar Abdulrahman
Yet Abdulrahman has remained, bound by his lucrative contract and the lifestyle that allows, as well as by his genuine affection for Al Ain.
He is their captain and the centerpiece to their success. “A national treasure” as Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohammed, then the Al Ain chairman, put it in 2013.
And that is just it: more broadly, Abdulrahman feels like he is not only Al Ain’s potential trailblazer, but the UAE’s too. A transfer to Nice, or to Europe, would undoubtedly benefit the player’s development, providing the opportunity to test a talent at an altogether higher level.
Reinvigorated, Nice finished third in last season’s Ligue 1. They could contest next season’s Uefa Champions League, play-offs permitting. Abdulrahman flying the UAE flag in club football’s elite competition certainly appeals.
In turn, it would undoubtedly benefit the national team and his teammates. Hopefully, it would prompt others to follow. Abdulrahman showing the way forward. Abdulrahman the inspiration.
It was hoped Ismail Matar could be that guy. Or to a lesser extent, Hamdan Al Kamali. He spent six months on loan at Lyon once, but never played. His brother, Hamid, had an eight-minute cameo for Maltese side Valletta in a Champions League qualifier in 2014, but nothing came of it. A few years ago, Amer Abdulrahman had a trial in England with Blackburn Rovers. It never went beyond that.
Omar Abdulrahman and Nice might, though. There is genuine interest from the French club, lending to a more legitimate chance of Abdulrahman breaking the mould. Finally, a UAE footballer performing permanently outside the UAE. Not just a UAE footballer, but the UAE footballer. Think of the knock-on effect.
Of course, we have been here before. Abdulrahman is commonly linked with clubs, only for him to remain. His previous reticence, and Al Ain’s, is understandable.
The Garden City club have gone two seasons without a trophy, too long for someone of their stature. Abdulrahman hauled them close to the Asian Champions League crown last November – he was man of the match in eight of 14 appearances – but they were defeated in the final by Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.
Later this summer, they contest the quarter-finals of this year’s tournament having not qualified for the 2018 competition through the 2016/17 Arabian Gulf League. Again, Abdulrahman is viewed as key.
In December, when he was anointed Asian Player of the Year, it felt further confirmation Abdulrahman had outgrown his current environment. The glass ceiling had been hit. At 25 now, he seems an ideal age to break through.
The intricacies of a transfer to Nice would have to be straightened out, and Abdulrahman’s willingness to move cemented. As with any transfer, and especially one of this magnitude as far as the UAE is concerned, plenty of pieces must fall into place.
There is no guarantee, either, that Abdulrahman would prove a success in France.
But he would at least be proof that an Emirati footballer can try to make his name at an established European club, in an established European league. Surely that alone must make this worth pushing this forward?