Abdul Rahman says his teammates have helped him reach the exalted standards that led to him being shortlisted for the accolade on Wednesday.
He is a heavy favourite to prevail over the other two players shortlisted, Iraq’s Hammadi Ahmad and China’s Wu Lei, when the awards ceremony takes place in Abu Dhabi on December 1.
This follows the playmaker’s incredible eight Man-of-the-Match awards in 12 AFC Asian Champions League appearances this year.
But before potential individual glory, the 25-year-old is desperate to help his team win their second ACL title later this month.
Al Ain, the UAE’s first and only Asian champions in 2003, take on South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in a two-legged final on November 19 and 26.
“The AFC Champions League means far more to me than being Asia’s best player,” Abdul Rahman told the Asian Football Confederation’s website.
“I hope to be number one with the whole team. I want to go to the final and win the championship. If I win the best player and we lose the championship, it doesn’t mean anything — we’ve lost everything. It only matters if you win the final. So I hope to win both.”
In seven years with the Garden City outfit, he has won three UAE league championships, two President’s Cups, one League Cup and the Super Cup three times. The AFC Champions League would therefore complete the set.
Winning the Asian Player of the Year award — he came third behind last year’s winner, Ahmad Khalil, his UAE teammate — would be deserved reward for a player who trialled with Manchester City in 2012 and is still coveted by top European clubs.
But Abdul Rahman remains charmingly grounded, despite the high-profile interest and rich praise he regularly attracts.
“It’s a normal situation and I’m very proud of that, but I don’t pay it too much attention,” he says. “I have a role to play on the pitch, and I have to focus on what the coach asks of me. The media can praise you today and criticise you tomorrow. I just hope I’m up to the coach’s expectations. And, anyway, it’s my teammates who help me reach those standards.”
Abdul Rahman has also exerted a talismanic influence for his country. And he will need to be at his imperious best if the UAE — who host Iraq in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday — are to reach the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The Whites are currently fourth in Group B in the third and final Asian qualification round for the global showpiece after four games, with only the top two countries guaranteed progression.
Abdul Rahman has starred at various high-profile tournaments in recent years: the 2012 Olympics, the 2013 Gulf Cup and the 2015 AFC Asian Cup.
At the Gulf Cup in Bahrain, he scored a brilliant virtuoso goal in the final against Iraq as the UAE captured the title for the second time and was voted the tournament’s most valuable player.
Abdul Rahman then shone throughout the 2015 AFC Asian Cup to help his team finish third — their best result in the competition on foreign soil — although there are lingering regrets about what might have been having stunned defending champions Japan to reach the semi-finals.
But the UAE dismally failed to reach the final after losing 2-0 to hosts Australia. Afterwards, a devastated Abdul Rahman sat slumped on the pitch, his shirt pulled over his face.
“Of course, it is my worst memory in football,” he says. “We had aspirations of finishing first or at least reaching the final. But fate was not on our side that day.”
By Euan Reedie
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