Palestine, for the first time in a long time, have a teen sensation on their hands. Given the less than spectacular youth development scheme this comes as a bit of a rarity.
So called “young” players in Palestine tend to be in their early 20s with very few actually garnering meaningful minutes with their WBPL sides. As a result, Palestine haven’t had their own version of Wayne Rooney, Landon Donovan, Lionel Messi, or Giuanliugi Donnarumma.
Only 13 players debuted as teenagers for Palestine. Objectively only three of them went on to have fruitful careers with the national team- Ramzi Saleh (18), Majed Abusidu (18), and Ahmed Keshkesh (19).
The jury is still out on other teenage debutants like Mohammed Sheikhqasem (19) and Mus’ab Battat (19).
While the other eight players dropped off the radar shortly following their debuts: Amjad Zidan, Hani Naboulse, Fadi Al-Ali, Maen Obeid, Samer Helsi, Mustafa Abukweik, Nadim Barghouti, and Ahmad Salameh.
With the exception of Helsi and Salameh who stuck around due to a shortage of left backs- the aforementioned names did little to convince onlookers that they belonged at that stage.
That might be about to change. In fact, many followers of the WBPL might contest the headline of this article, as Oday Al-Dabbagh has already lit up the domestic league.
More after the jump…
Rise to prominence at Hilal Al-Quds
Oday Dabagh turned 18 on the 3rd of December 2016. But he was celebrating fully fledged goals as a pro when most are celebrating their ability to watch an R-rated movie unaccompanied in an American movie theater.
At just 17 years and 23 days old he scored his first goal for Hilal Al-Quds. It mostly went under the radar as Hilal spent the rest of the 2015/16 season battling indifferent form and a serious flirtation with relegation. He finished the season with two more strong contributions off the bench to take his final haul to three goals for the season.
His 2016/17 season saw him overshadowed by the likes of Rodrigo Gatas and Ahmad Dhiyab to start with but he marked his intent with a goal in the Yasser Arafat Cup competition in the summer.
That goal served to give confidence to Hilal’s coaching staff who could see that the prodigious talent had the ability to deliver- even in limited action.
His first league goal this season was a scrappy effort- a late run into the box after Shabab Al-Samu’ keeper failed to deal with a set piece properly- helped Hilal grind out a 3-1 win.
The following week, Hilal turned to the youngster and this time he scored a beauty to clinch three points for the Blues.
Having scored in two straight games he followed up with a third in as many encounters. Unfortunately, the teenager would have his equalizer cancelled out by a rampant Ahli Al-Khaleel. To add insult to injury, he also scored an own goal as Hilal slumped to their first loss of the season.
His good run form didn’t go unnoticed and in November he joined his first national team camp for the matches against Lebanon and Morocco B.
In December, Dabagh returned to his goal scoring habits. He notched the winner in a 2-0 win against Dora on the eve of his 17th birthday. Two weeks later another winner against a valiant Shabab Al-Dhahrieh side saw his tally for the first 11 games of the season rise to five.
His form as a left winger led Hilal Al-Quds to part ways with veteran and joint top scorer Ahmed Dhiyab and the high profile Rodrigo Gatas over the break.
He has since added two goals to take him to seven on the season; the nature of the goals he is scoring only serves to prove that he is more than a one-trick pony. Late runs into the box, one two-s with national teamer Tamer Seyam, opportunistic pounces from set pieces, headers… you name it he’s scored it- or tried to score it.
Goals don’t tell the whole story; Dabagh’s build up play and decision making is a breath of fresh air. He plays quickly and is more likely to pass to the open man than to pull out an arsenal of flicks and tricks. His mature style of play can be credited to his father- Munir Dabagh who was a national team player himself two decades ago.
His inclusion in the initial list of 27 domestically based players to be called into the national team should come as no surprise. That said, the question will inevitably turn to whether or not he can win a spot in the national team. His teammate, Tamer Seyam, who is deployed centrally for Hilal Al-Quds, occupies the left flank for the national team often splitting time with Jonathan Cantillana.
There are reasons to gamble on the prodigious talent despite his inexperience. First, his speed of play is truly game changing and can only really be matched by Ahmad Abu Nahyeh and perhaps Carlos Salom. His battle to get into the final squad will most likely not be against the likes of Cantillana and Seyam but against the out of form players of Shabab Al-Khaleel.
With Yashir Pinto, Matias Jadue, and Carlos Salom available it is hard to envision a national team call up for a striker who has only mustered two league goals this season.
Ashraf Nu’man’s stats are better (five goals) but anyone who has seen him play will admit that he is far from his 2014 form.
With any contribution for the Dabagh, Abu Nahyeh, or Nu’man most likely coming off the bench- perhaps Barakat might just roll the dice on a player we are sure to see more of in the years to come.