Al Ain and UAE national team star Omar Abdulrahman has reiterated his desire to see out his contract with the Pro League champions, but has again refused to close the door on a move to Europe one day.
Abdulrahman is the poster boy of UAE football and continues to be linked with a host of clubs on the continent after impressing at last sumemr's Olympic Games and January's Gulf Cup.
Work permits issues prevented him from joining Manchester City last summer while he rejected a move to Europa League finalists Benfica at the start of the year.
For the time being Abdulrahman, whose performances have dipped in recent weeks after a gruelling 12 months for club and country, is content with life in the Garden City.
“It has been a great season for Al Ain for sure, but we are definitely looking at improving further from here on. I am very happy at the club and I would like to complete my two remaining years of contract.
"However, if there are any interesting offers from some of the top European clubs that I like, I might consider taking it up.”
Eyes on youth
Meanwhile, Abdulrahman has promised his complete support to the junior team as they prepare to take on the finest teams from across the globe in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup on home soil later this year.
Speaking during a special unveiling ceremony of the tournament mascot at the Burj Al Arab, the 21-year-old Abdulrahaman, who is also the UAE ambassador for the showpiece, said: “This tournament is going to be great for the UAE and for football in the country.
“The eyes of the football world will be on us and it is a great platform for our juniors to showcase their talent against some of the best young players in the world.
“On my part, I consider myself very much a part of the team. I am going to support them fully during the build-up to the tournament, visit them at the training camps as many times as possible and I can assure you I will be there in the stadium to cheer them on.”
Abdulrahman feels the South American countries will be the teams to watch when the 15th edition of the tournament is played across six UAE cities – Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Al Ain, Ras Al Khaimah and Fujairah – from October 17 to November 8.
“Of course, all the teams that have qualified are going to be here with just one aim – to win the World Cup. And because all the players know how important this is for their future career, they always try very hard,” said Abdulrahman.
“But if I have to name a couple of countries as favourites, I will go for Brazil and Argentina. They have very good junior teams and they have historically done very well in the FIFA Under-17 World Cup.”
Shaqran, the happy young blonde falcon, was introduced as the official mascot of the tournament. The blonde falcon is a very popular type of the birds of prey found in the Emirates and is synonymous with the UAE’s heritage and tradition of falconry.
Tournament Director Mohammed Abdulla bin Bdoua said: “I am delighted to introduce our tournament mascot, Shaqran, to all football fans in the UAE, many of whom are familiar with the falcon that the mascot is named after.
“Falcons are a potent symbol of our nation and represent great strength and determination, two qualities present in all 24 qualifying teams for this tournament.”
Inaki Alvarez, FIFA Deputy Director of Competitions, added: “We continually aim to select FIFA U-17 World Cup mascots that fans from the host country can relate to and are familiar with.
“Shaqran was the best pick for this tournament as he not only represents the Emirates’ heritage of falconry but he is also a symbol that many UAE nationals identify with in the same way that they identify with the nation’s oldest sport – football.”
The 24 teams that have qualified will begin the tournament in six groups of four, with the top two teams in each group automatically qualifying for the Round of 16. The four best third-placed teams from the Group stages will also progress to the knock-out stages.
UNDER-17 WORLD CUP
Date: October 17 - November 8
Teams taking part (24)
Europe (6): Italy, Russia, Croatia, Swede, Slovakia, Austria
Asia (5): UAE, Japan, Iraq, Iran, Uzbekistan
Africa (4): Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Tunisia, Morocco
Concacaf (4): Mexico, Canada, Honduras, Panama
South America (4): Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela
Oceania (1): New Zealand