Yousuf Abdulrahman determined to return

The Al Ain goalkeeper talks to The National about the car crash that nearly cost him his life.

Yousuf Abdulrahman says he remembers nothing of the road accident that almost ended his life.
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His last memory is driving past a mosque near Al Dhaid while making the long commute from his parents' home in Kalba to his football club in Al Ain. When he awoke, more than two weeks later, he was surprised to find himself in a hospital bed, and wondered if he would be late for training.

Yousuf Abdulrahman recalled thinking about it a bit more, and when a doctor entered the room he asked: "Was I in an accident?"

The doctor answered: "Yes."

It was only then that Abdulrahman began to become aware of the crash on September 2 that nearly took his life. Teammates, friends and relatives, however, had known about the accident and were filled with foreboding for the 21-year-old first-choice goalkeeper of both Al Ain and the national team.

"My parents told me that everyone who saw me, in the beginning thought, 'That's it, he will die', because my face had a lot of bruises and my body was thin," Abdulrahman said. "Everyone thought: 'That's it, we're going to lose him'."

Majed Alweas, the team manager at Al Ain, was the first club official to see him, and he was filled with dread. "I was afraid," Alweas said. "My family knows about car accidents; I lost my sister in one. And it seemed like the same with Yousuf."

The young goalkeeper was not aware of the steady stream of dignitaries, UAE Football Association executives, Al Ain officials and teammates who visited him in the hospital. Most prayed for him, and many praised him. Mohammed Khalfan al Rumaithi, the president of the FA, called him "a national jewel".

Abdulrahman at first was not told of the extent of his injuries. His jaw, left cheekbone and left clavicle were broken. But the most serious injury was a skull fracture, just above the back of his neck, that left his left arm and leg paralysed. At first, heavily medicated, he was not aware of it.

He was told never to get out of bed, even to use the toilet, without help. In his groggy state, he thought the order was silly. One night when his brother, Ibrahim, who stayed by his side throughout the early weeks, was asleep, Abdulrahman decided to take a walk.

"I tried to get up, and found out my left arm and leg didn't work. I fell on my face," he said.

He can laugh about it now, more than four months later.

He has returned to training with Al Ain, but he realises he faces a long recovery. His can use his left arm and leg again, but they remain weak. The vision in his left eye is not quite right. But he seemed confident, during an interview at the club, that he will be back. In six months' time, inshallah.

After spending more than five weeks in hospitals in Al Dhaid and Dubai, he was sent to Germany for the first two months of his convalescence. His relatives began to fill in the gaps in his memory, though some parts of the story will never be known.

No one is quite sure how the accident happened. Some time between 5pm and 6pm, the rented Toyota Corolla he was driving apparently struck a fence dividing the motorway, and the car flipped several times before coming to rest against a wall on the shoulder of the road.

He conceded he "sometimes would speed" and was not wearing a seat belt. The car's driver's side airbag did not come out, he said. As the car careened out of control, his face struck the steering wheel, and then the back of his head slammed into something hard, causing the skull fracture.

"The whole engine came off of the car and was about 50 metres from what was left of the car," he said. "All the glass was broken, and the tyres had exploded. Everyone who saw the car thought that person should be dead."

However, for all the damage to his head, he suffered no injuries below his clavicle.

It took him weeks to realise he could have died. But the most frightening time, he said, was when the paralysis in his arm and leg lingered. "I felt like I might lose a lot of things. I was worried, 'Will I play football?'

"And then I managed to walk, but it wasn't walking normally. I was afraid and I asked the doctor will I be able to walk regularly again? Will I be able to play football again? And he said, 'Yes, you just need time to get some exercise and you will be able to walk properly again.'"

During his two months in Germany, the feeling returned to his left limbs. His broken bones mended and he was able to eat solid food again. He was told the blurred vision in his eye will disappear.

He came back to the UAE on December 22, and his recent return to training was a cause for celebration at the club. He knows every player on the team went to the hospital after he was hurt, and "they were all so happy when he came back", Alweas said.

The Al Ain club know he will not return before the 2011/12 season. "He will fight to get back his place in the team," Alweas said. "We know it will take time."

Asked to assess his state of fitness, compared to where he was on the day of the accident, Abdulrahman put it at "20 per cent".

He regrets the football opportunities he missed while he was hospitalised. The Asian Games. The Asian Cup. "Those are the negatives, the football things," he said. "But on the positive side I found out that many people love me, and I became very close to my family. I spent so much time with my parents because I did not have training or games to keep us apart."

In the past, he typically made the two-hour drive to his parents' home whenever he had a day off. He said he now will return to Kalba only when he has four or five days off, reducing the number of times he is on the road.

He also knows that his days of speeding and not wearing a seat belt "are over".

The German doctors will come to Dubai to check on his progress in six months. They have told him to do only what feels comfortable.

"They said if I feel perfect, then I can play a match. Otherwise, don't."

He expects that day will come. "I really want to play," he said. "I want to play."