Omar Abdulrahman: Al Hilal's short-lived dream

The Guardian called him ‘Asia’s great hope’, while the BBC wondered, ‘Is he the best footballer you've never heard of?’ and ESPN described him as ‘Asia's best player ever’.

For Al Hilal fans, the upcoming AFC Champions League semi-final encounter against Al Ain brings back a sea of emotions of a beautiful dream that evaporated after less than 500 minutes of play.

The name is Omar Abdulrahman, a silky playmaker with natural talent the likes of which has rarely been seen in these shores. His combination of looks and style were best described as ‘Hair like David Luiz, Plays like David Silva.’

Born in Riyadh and having grown up a self-described Al Hilal supporter, the left-footed magician departed to the UAE at an early age, spending a decade wearing the purple colours of Al Ain. The Emirati side were the club he became synonymous with, Abdulrahman eventually leading them to the AFC Champions League final in 2016. He was named Asian Player of the Year that same year.

Such was the exquisite touch and visionary passing of Abdulrahman, that he caught the eye of Manchester City scouts after impressing at the London 2012 Olympics, where the UAE played a mesmerising style of football against a Uruguay side featuring Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, and a Team GB team captained by Ryan Giggs. Abdulrahman travelled to Manchester for a trial, but ended up staying at his home club for the next six years.

Watching up close as their team struggled for that elusive AFC Champions League title they hadn’t won in nearly two decades, Al Hilal fans were smitten by the "Joga Bonito" interpretation of the attacking-midfielder role played by Abdulrahman. Knowing he was a childhood fan of the Riyadh giants meant the clamour for his signing grew with every passing transfer window.

Then there was July 2018, and the dream became a reality. A long-drawn saga concluded with the player affectionately known as ‘Amoory’ descending at Riyadh airport to a roaring reception by thousands of fans. "The Jewel" was finally home.

As fate would have it, Abdulrahman was back in London where he had first caught the eye of football fans around the world six years earlier. His Al Hilal debut came at Loftus Road in the Saudi Super Cup, and his journey started with a trophy after a 2-1 win against Al Ittihad.

A strong showing in a 1-0 victory against Al Fayha in the opening match of the 2018-19 Roshn Saudi League season followed, and two weeks later against Al Raed, Abdulrahman got his first goal in Al Hilal colours. Much to the delight of the players and his passionate support, he drove home from a tight angle after a masterful passing exchange with Carlos Eduardo.

Little did the enchanted Al Hilal fans in presence know, they had just witnessed Abdulrahman's only goal for the club. One month and two matches later, the man they had dreamt of for years collapsed to the ground screaming in agony 11 minutes into the derby against Al Shabab. He had suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury for the third time in his career.

The season-ending injury spelled the end of Abdulrahman's time at Al Hilal, and very much signalled the beginning of the end for the career of one of the most entertaining players in the history of Asian and Arab football.

Since then, Abdulrahman returned to the UAE where he represented the likes of Al Jazira, Shabab Al Ahli and Al Wasl, never reaching 20 games in a season again.

‘Amoory’ is now without a club having been released by Al Wasl earlier this year. However, fans of the two clubs facing off in Tuesday's first leg in Al Ain will be united in adoration of his talent and the agony of what could have been.