Arabs in football: Where are they?

Karim Wehbe
Sports Editor

When anyone tries to think of big-name footballers, rarely does an Arab ever show up on the list. It is rather easy to attribute this to a lack of skill in the region or even to a lack of attention given to this part of the world by foreign scouts.

There have been several players throughout the years who have managed to prove both of these theories incorrect such as Roda Antar, Mido, and most recently Mohamed Salah and Mohamed Elneny. These four are just a handful of Arab-born players who have managed to raise the bar for footballers in the region.

Not only have they all excelled in their respective leagues, but they each serve as a benchmark for aspiring footballers.

There are a few players, however, who, despite the interest they have garnered from international scouts, have chosen to stay and play in their hometown league. Omar Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout are prime examples of the Arab culture coming into play.

The two Emirati prospects were on the radar of several premier league teams following their stellar joint performance in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, where Mabkhout was named the competition’s top scorer.

Though the hype around the two players was growing massively over the course of a few years and despite both of their aspirations to play abroad, they both ultimately decided to renew contracts with their home clubs time and time again.

In an interview with ESPN’s John Duerden, retired Emirati football player Ismail Matar stated that the reason Arab footballers do not typically opt to make the switch to Europe is more closely related to their Arab teams’ mentality, that they will not let their top talents go no matter the price.

This was proven true after Omar Abdulrahman and his Al Ain team rejected one of the first serious offers proposed to him by Manchester City following a successful trial with the team.

In most cases with Arab football players, they are not particularly targeted, but they are usually spotted in coincidental manners.  

Lebanese legend Roda Antar was first spotted in 2001 by interim Lebanese national team coach Theo Bücker. He helped Antar make a switch from his debut team Tadamon Sour to the Bundesliga where he eventually played for the likes of Hamburger S.V and, most famously, FC Köln.

Liverpool’s Egyptian Mohamed Salah was spotted in a friendly match with his eventual signer FC Basel. Though they had been monitoring players in the region, Basel’s real focus on Salah began when they scheduled a last-minute friendly match with the Egyptian Under-23 team as a show of support to Egypt following the fatal Port Said stadium tragedy. Salah went on to play for AS Roma in the Serie A before shifting to Chelsea in the Premier League.

Omar Abdulrahman—although he technically did not make it into the European leagues—was first discovered through friendships made with European football players who were on vacation in Dubai for the Christmas holidays.

Luck or not, it is safe to say that despite their few numbers, all of these players have given Arabs a reason to hold their heads high. They have proven that you do not need to grow up in La Masia to become the next Messi.

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