Asia 50, 2017: Why was Omar Abdulrahman our No.1?

It may come as a surprise to some of our readers that Omar Abdulrahman is No.1 in this year’s FourFourTwo Asia 50, particularly those that don’t closely follow the world game in the Middle East.

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The two previous winners of our annual series – Son Heung-min and Shinji Okazaki – are names many will be more familiar with, owing largely to the popularity and star power enjoyed by the all-conquering English Premier League.

While Okazaki mirrored Leicester City’s struggles backing-up last season’s title-winning exploits, Son had a superb season for a Tottenham side that pushed Chelsea all the way in this year’s title race.

With the ball at his feet, Amoory is a virtuoso, a painter of football landscapes capable of doing things others simply aren't

Son was pipped at the post, however, by a mop-haired jet with magical feet that is still just 25 and will surely soon take his talents to Europe, something he discussed with us in this rare exclusive interview.

If you need more convincing about Abdulrahman's worthiness as this year's No.1, read the thoughts below of some of our expert panel who elevated a man that finished fifth in 2015 and fourth last year all the way to top spot in 2017.

“Asia has produced many fine footballers down the years,” Japan-based Asian football expert and FourFourTwo columnist Scott McIntyre said when asked why he voted Abdulrahman No.1.

“Some have been outstanding technicians, some wonderful ball winners or shifters, and some have been clinical in front of goal or dominant in their defensive work.

The man known as 'Amoory' is a star for club and country

“But very rarely has the continent produced an artiste. With the ball at his feet, Amoory is a virtuoso, a painter of football landscapes capable of doing things others simply aren't, not only in Asia but also in a broader context.

“Others on our list have some fine qualities in certain areas, but none have the exquisite gifts, the ease of touch and above all the vision - a quality that’s gifted as much as learned - of the Emirati showman and that sets him apart.”

When you combine his skill and ability to make something out of nothing, it makes him a natural choice as number one

To give Abdulrahman's credentials a little more reinforcement, he was named both Asian Footballer of the Year and AFC Champions League most valuable player in 2016, leading his UAE club side Al Ain to the final of that competition, where they lost the two-legged final 3-2 to Korean giants Jeonbuk Hyundai.

That came 12 months after he helped his nation to a bronze medal at the 2015 Asian Cup, leading the Emirati past tournament favourites and defending champions Japan in the quarter-finals and being named in the team of the tournament.

FourFourTwo’s Australian-based correspondent Paul Williams covered that tournament and he shared McIntyre’s sentiments about the qualities possessed by the attacking midfielder.

“It's a mix of his sheer brilliance, that just leaves you in awe when you watch him play, and the influence he has on his team - be that Al Ain or the UAE,” Williams said.

Last year's No.1, Okazaki wasn't as effective 12 months on

“Al Ain made the AFC Champions League final largely on the back of his form, he is the man who makes them tick. When you combine his skill and ability to make something out of nothing, it makes him a natural choice as number one.”

With his distinctive hairstyle, Amoory has often attracted attention.

But make no mistake it is his footballing gifts, much more than his unique appearance, that courts so many willing admirers.

“His efforts at the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia were so impressive,” said another of FourFourTwo’s senior columnists, Malaysian-based Englishman John Duerden.

“UAE played two games in the group stage in Canberra, a city without a professional team in a country that is more famous for other sports, and he got people talking.

“Not just fans but security guards, volunteers, catering staff and anyone that had any idea the Asian Cup was going on noticed this player from the United Arab Emirates and the sheer variety of things he could do with the ball, and to such perfection too.

“Also, at half-time during the opening game of the 2012 Olympics between UAE and Uruguay, my brother, in the crowd at Old Trafford, texted me to ask about this fantastic player he had just seen in action.”

Indeed, Abdulrahman has been in the spotlight for some years, making his professional debut as a 17-year-old back in 2009 and his international bow for his country two years later.

He trained with Manchester City early in his career, while Luis Suarez famously asked him to swap shirts after that game in London and Ryan Giggs and Daniel Sturridge also made a point of meeting the prodigious talent during those Olympic Games.

FourFourTwo’s Malaysia correspondent Vijhay Vick had the misfortune of twice watching Amoory destroy his national team in World Cup qualifiers towards the end of 2015.

“I saw him on TV play against Malaysia in the 10-0 drubbing in Abu Dhabi and then in person in the return fixture and I have been keeping an eye on him since,” Vick said.

“He could comfortably be referred to as the Lionel Messi of Asia with his quick feet and skills and he has what it takes to join some of the best leagues in the world.

“Having dominated Asia already, the English Premier League, Bundesliga or La Liga is where he needs to be next. There's no reason why he wouldn't be able to flourish the same way Shinji Kagawa, Hidetoshi Nakata and Son Heung-min have done.”