Omar Abdulrahman: Why there is plenty of magic left in UAE's golden boy

The gifted playmaker has been making his way back from an injury that not only threatened his impact but his career

Powered by automated translation

Omar Abdulrahman's most recent performance for Al Jazira was arguably his best.

Long established as the UAE’s principal playmaker, the sense was his season had yet to truly spark. Then he provided a timely retort to critics.

Abdulrahman starred last month against Al Ain, offering his former club a reminder of what some argued was a past talent. Contributing to all three goals in a 3-1 win, including scoring the equaliser, he added his specialist touch right before the Arabian Gulf League halted amid the pandemic.

The victory reignited Jazira’s late bid for the title, with Abdulrahman at its centre. In a high-stakes encounter, he excelled. Deservedly named man of the match, he was soon championed as the division's player of the round.

Slow return from injury

Nonetheless, the feeling persists that Abdulrahman remains far from his vintage. Not the player voted Asia's best in 2016, or the one integral to Al Ain's four league titles between 2012 and 2018, culminating in a first top-flight-and-President's-Cup double in the club's history.

What's more, not since Abdulrahman sustained a serious, and potentially seismic, injury soon after his move to Al Hilal two summers ago. A third major knee surgery threatened not purely the player's impact in Saudi Arabia  – eventually Abdulrahman played five league matches for the club – but his career, too.

So while his return to the UAE last August was met with substantial fanfare, there was caution. Abdulrahman was a month shy of his 28th birthday, his rehabilitation rumoured to have been anything from requisite to rudimentary.

Slow start & bare stats

Understandably, Jazira eased him into action. Eleven months without a competitive appearance, Abdulrahman was initially restricted to cameo roles: 14 minutes in the season opener against Al Dhafra; 31 against Al Wahda; 10 against Shabab Al Ahli. He didn’t start a league match until the fourth round, away to Khorfakkan.

Consider the season as a whole, and Abdulrahman's numbers hardly betray his talent. In 19 league matches, the UAE's traditionally dominant creator has registered two assists. He has found the net three times.

While goals have never been Abdulrahman’s premium currency – the midfielder said recently he'd rather create than score – he struck five times in 13 matches in 2017/18, six in 22 the previous season.

Fevered debate

The bare statistics this campaign suggest a star has dimmed considerably. With that came the predictable questions: could Abdulrahman still conjure the craft of old? Had he maintained the mastery to set games to his beat?

Just as his display against Al Ain conveyed, he can and he has. The question now is just how regularly?

The season was always going to be one of convalescence and gradual gains, with Abdulrahman requiring time and patience to overcome yet another injury. Given his stature, though, he was never likely to get it.

A graphic detailing Omar Abdulrahman's statistics for Al Jazira this season. 
A graphic detailing Omar Abdulrahman's statistics for Al Jazira this season. 

Still creative

But positive signs do exist. Abdulrahman has featured in every league match for Jazira, despite completing 90 minutes only 12 times. He has created 46 chances, second in the division only to Balazs Dzsudzsak, the focal point at Ittihad Kalba through the first half of the season and now plying his trade with Al Ain. In contrast at Jazira, Abdulrahman shares some of the creative burden with Kenno and Khalfan Mubarak.

Even so, Abdulrahman creates a goalscoring opportunity every 29.5 minutes. Of the top 10 in that category currently, only Dzsudzsak (27.6 minutes) and Al Ain teammate Bandar Al Ahbabi (27.4 minutes) have a superior output. The gap to fourth is considerable: Al Wahda’s Ismail Matar is next on the list, at 32 minutes.

Spurned opportunities 

Crucially, Abdulrahman would feature much higher in the assists charts had Jazira not been so wasteful. Their shots-to-goals conversion tallies at 15.3 per cent, ranking them six in the league. Abdulrahman’s “expected assists” – the expected number of assists based on the quality of delivery – is 5.95, almost three times more than his actual figure.

Against Al Ain, for example, Mabkhout spurned a glorious chance when put through by Abdulrahman. That said, the midfielder’s assist count still falls way short of his previous best: 16 in 17 matches in 2013/14, or the 12 in 22 matches in 2015/16.

Making an impact

Other metrics convey his capacity to create endures. Abdulrahman ranks first in the division for “through passes” (5.93), second in “passes into penalty area” (8.23) and third in “final-third passes” (13.61), all when measured per 90 minutes. In that first category, his output is almost double the league's next best, while the accuracy of those through balls (nearly one third) is impressive given Abdulrahman’s penchant for the unorthodox.

It underlines Jazira’s dependence on him, underscored by his standing within the game in the UAE. Teammates, whether at Jazira, Al Ain or with the national team, have always looked to Abdulrahman to produce. At times, that bleeds into an over-reliance.

Silencing critics

However, the recent display against Al Ain went some way to allaying doubts. Abdulrahman was always going to require a period of readjustment this season; while familiar with the league, he had joined a new club, who subsequently changed manager - Jurgen Streppel out, Marcel Keizer in - two months into the campaign.

Inevitably, his recovery from injury constituted the greatest question mark. Of course, the league’s current competitive hiatus has come at an unfortunate time for Abdulrahman personally, since he appeared to have found his rhythm.

However, there is enough evidence to indicate he will enjoy a strong conclusion to the season, whenever that eventually plays out. That bodes well not only for the player and the club, but in the long run for the country, too.