United Arab Emirates are well-known for oil and luxury, expensive flights and artificial islands. When you mention “Emirates” your eyes become dollar signs as Uncle Scrooge in Walt Disney comics, and you imagine to wear kefiah and kandura while you are swiping your credit card in a notable hotel. No one thinks about historical and cultural aspects from this land in the Middle East, at least someone knows that UAE is a Muslim country with a hot climate.
Many people love “Pirates of Caribbean” film series with galleons and treasures, but do not know that before XIX century similar incursions came from the then “Pirate Coast” to merchant vessels who entered the Persian Gulf until British campaigns forced the emirs to sign a peace treaty and accept a protectorate. The territory gained independence in 1971, as the seven emirates established the federation with the current name.
In a prosperous land as UAE there is still a reason of controversy that concerns history, geography, politics, and even football: the Gulf name.
When in 2013 the league was renamed into UAE Arabian Gulf League, Iran barred the transfer of Iranian players (including Team Melli captain Javad Nekounam) to Emirati clubs: neighbour Qatar benefited from the ban replacing UAE under economic and sport relations with Iran (where the professional league is called Persian Gulf Pro League).
When Manchester United won UEFA Champions League final in 1999 – defeating Bayern Munchen with a dramatic comeback in the injury time – Italian veteran Roberto Donadoni decided to end his long AC Milan career in a Saudi team called Al-Ittihad (that means Union in Arabic): Italian newspapers and magazines had no idea of the existence of a football league near the desert with a temperature of 100° F.
In the following years American and European media were attracted to the Arabian Peninsula by the transfers to Qatar of legends such as: Fernando Hierro, Gabriel Batistuta, Frank De Boer, Pep Guardiola. ESPN, BBC, Sky started to broadcast their interviews about a new experience, completely different from playing in Spain, Italy, Netherlands. No one imagined that in ten years a Qatari based TV could broadcast LaLiga, Serie A, Premier League matches in Arabic, English and Spanish: beIN Sports.
But if you think that in Arabian Peninsula the best players are only from abroad, you are mistaken. In 2009 Al Ain German coach Winfried Schäfer called an underage boy to make his debut in the Emirati professional league: Omar Abdulrahman.
The young midfielder – nicknamed Amoory by his fans – has become the idol of Emirates thanks to his ball possession, dribbling and dangerous free kicks: at the time he is undoubtedly the most talented player among the Arabic countries and the leader of UAE National team, fighting for 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifications.
In the 2015 AFC Asian Cup he showed his bravery against a strong opponent like Japan, scoring a panenka in the quarter-finals penalty shoot-outs.
In addition, long wavy hair make not difficult to recognise Amoory: born in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, the Al Ain playmaker is of Hadhrami descent. Hadhrami are called inhabitants of Hadhramaut region in Yemen, most of them immigrated to India, Singapore, Indonesia. Since his parents were not Saudis, he was not citizen of his country of birth: in the Middle East there are strict rules about citizenship, as in Iran for example. Although Riyadh main team Al Hilal gave Amoory the possibility to become Saudi citizen and to play in their youth academy, he refused the offer because it excluded his family. It was former Saudi Arabia captain, Sami Al Jaber, who scouted the player for Emirati club Al Ain, which resulted in a good deal for both parts: Amoory and his entire family acquired Emirati citizenship, with his brothers Khaled and Mohamed joining Al Ain too. Subsequently all of the three siblings were called up by UAE National team.
25-years-old Omar Abdulrahman has already taken part in two AFC Asian Cups (2011 and 2015 editions) and London 2012 Summer Olympics.
He captured the interest of coach Roberto Mancini and after Olympics he was invited to a trial with giants Manchester City: he trained with Carlos Tévez and Sergio Agüero, and became friend of Yaya Touré; no agreement was reached because he did not obtain a work permit, but rumours suggested that the main reason was that the English club offer was lower than the salary at Al Ain.
Don’t be surprised by Emirati attraction: in 2001 Iranian star Ali Karimi refused two offers from Perugia and Atlético Madrid, to play for Emirati club Al Ahli before joining Bayern at the age of 27.
On 19 and 26 November Omar Abdulrahman and his Al Ain teammates will face South-Korean Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in AFC Champions League two-legs final.