After many weeks of speculation, it is finally official Oday Dabbagh will get his high profile European move.
Football Palestine can now confirm that the Palestinian will move to FC Arouca of the Portuguese topflight on a two year deal. The details of the contract were finalized in early July but the club withheld on announcing the move until the player was able to obtain a work permit and visa from the Portuguese authorities.
The Jerusalemite’s success this past year did not spark a regional bidding war (the only offer on the table was from Qatar’s second division) and he initially took the option of renewing his contract with Al-Arabi but did include a clause that allowed him to leave if he received an offer from a more renowned league. It was not the ideal situation, but it offered him the chance to stay with the same coaching staff and teammates for a period longer than six months.
FC Arouca won promotion to the Primeira Liga last season by virtue of winning a playoff against Rio Ave 5-0 on aggregate. That was the side’s second promotion in two years- a stunning turnaround in fortunes for a team that was playing in the third division as recently as February 2020.
The side from Aveiro district are not newcomers to the Portuguese topflight they spent four seasons in the Premeira at the start of the last decade and finished as high as 5th place and even played in the Europa League.
The move to FC Arouca represents a real breakthrough not just for Dabbagh, but for Palestinian football in general. Dabbagh is only the second product of the Palestinian football structure to move to Europe following Mohammed Saleh who signed for Floriana of the Maltese top tier in 2018.
There was a general consensus that in order to fully unlock his potential, Dabbagh had to get to Europe as quickly as possible. To do so before his 23rd birthday is an achievement and just reward for consistent good play.
Oday Dabbagh departs the region and the continent having proven his quality at every single turn. He turned pro as a 16 year old and scored his first top flight goal aged 17 and 23 days. His goals in his first year helped Hilal Al-Quds survive a disastrous relegation. Things just got better from there. Hilal Al-Quds would win three successive titles before Dabbagh left for Kuwait and in each season, his goal tally went up- 9, 12, 16 (a total of 40 league goals and 12 cup goals). He also departed the Palestinian leagues as the country’s all time top scorer at the AFC Cup (Asia’s equivalent of the Europa League), with six goals.
In the midst of this amazing run of form Oday Dabbagh announced himself to the Asian continent- first at Palestine’s first ever U23 Championship finals- notching two goals and two assists in a performance that saw Al-Fida’i reach the quarterfinals. He followed that up by winning a spot in Palestine’s 2019 AFC Asian Cup squad 12 months later, where he impressed despite limited playing time.
His move to the Kuwaiti leagues with Al-Salmiya was cut short after he cancelled his contract following the club’s failure to play him. He suffered an injury and was struck with COVID-19 in his short time with Al-Qadsia who bizarrely gave up on him- loaning him to Al-Yarmouk for the reordering phase of the league and then to Al-Arabi.
It was his time with Al-Arabi that really saw Dabbagh hit new heights. 13 goals made him the league’s top scorer and allowed Al-Arabi to pip Al-Qadsia to the title- their first in 19 years. He leaves the Kuwaiti League with 23 league goals and 1 cup goal to his name in two seasons there.
In a win against Yemen last month, Dabbagh notched his 100th goal since turning professional. He has notched 8 goals and 4 assists in just 24 caps (17 starts) with the senior national team.
Dabbagh becomes the third Palestine national team player to play in the Portuguese top flight following in the footsteps of Daniel Kabir Mustafa who played for Estrela Amadora and Belenenses between 2008 and 2010 and Javier Cohene who played for Vitoria Setúbal and Paços Ferreira from 2010-2014.
FC Arouca has gotten off to a slow this season and will be hoping Dabbagh can spark their attack. Arouca did not scored in three straight games until they beat Famalicão 2-1 last night- whilst Dabbagh watched from the stands. The 22 year old should be available next week when they make the short trip north to face FC Porto.