In the first part of this interview we discussed Oday Al-Dabbagh’s remarkable performances in the Palestinian Premier League. Al-Dabbagh has had quite an underdog story from being a young player from the old city of Jerusalem – lining up for Hilal Al Quds – to blazing his trail to the top football leagues of Europe regardless of all the challenges he has faced. In this part we discuss the journey that propelled him to stardom.
A shining light in a very rough start in the Gulf
After catching the attention of scouts working for clubs in the Arabian Gulf leagues, Al-Dabbagh moved to Kuwait in July 2019 to join Al-Salmiya Club, but was transferred to Al-Qadisiyah Club in January 2020. Later that summer, he was loaned to Al-Yarmouk Club for six months before signing with Al-Arabi Club in January 2021.
His initial stint with Al-Salmiya didn’t go as planned. He suffered from a collarbone injury in one of his early games and upon his return, struggled to secure sufficient playing time. This pattern repeated itself when he joined Al-Qadisiyah, another prominent Kuwaiti club that hoped to give the Palestinian sensation the opportunity to shine. Unfortunately, Al-Dabbagh’s journey was further complicated when he tested positive for COVID-19 and struggled to make his mark on a team packed with expensive foreign talent.
“My move to Al-Arabi marked a pivotal turning point in my career.” Al-Dabbagh stated. It led him to clinch the Kuwaiti League title for the 2020-2021 season, where he also earned the award for the league’s top scorer, despite playing for only six months. During that time, he scored 13 goals in 18 matches.
This viewpoint is widely shared among those who have worked with Dabbagh during his time at Al-Arabi. His manager at Al-Arabi, Ante Mise, made a favourable comparison between Dabbagh and one of his former players, Mario Mandžukić, a prominent figure at clubs like Juventus and Bayern Munich. “I credit a lot of my success to coach Ante Mise former Croatian assistant manager, he really showed me the ins and outs and was always advising and telling me exactly what I needed to do to reach my full potential.”
Long awaited arrival into the European scene
Al-Dabbagh’s agreement with Arouca was finalised at the start of July 2021, but the player had to wait for his work permit and visa to be processed before he could travel to Portugal. “I went through a lot of issues, it took me 3 months to get to Portugal after signing the contract and by that time preseason training was already done, So I missed the first three games against my will but that didn’t stop me.”
August 28, 2021 marked Al-Dabbagh’s first game for Arouca, as he made his debut as a substitute against Porto in the Primeira Liga. “It was a dream come true, I couldn’t believe it here I am walking into Estádio do Dragão, where legends have played and still play.” His first goal in the competition came on September 18, 2021, against Vitoria, resulting in a 2-2 draw. He wrapped up his inaugural season in the Portuguese league with 23 appearances, during which he netted four goals.
At the beginning of his second season in the Primeira Liga, Al-Dabbagh’s performance showed significant improvement to his game as he managed to score 11 goals in 21 matches across all local competitions.
Al-Dabbagh’s performances didn’t go unnoticed as he was approached by multiple European clubs. Since his contract with Arouca was set to expire in July, it allowed him to sign with any other team for free. It was officially confirmed on February 1, 2023, when he signed a three-year contract with Charleroi, that came into effect this July.
Since then Al-Dabbagh has managed to contribute to 4 out of the 8 goals Charleroi has scored this season. “The opportunities in Belgium are great, Charleroi has had a decent amount of good strikers in the past Victor Osimhen springs to mind,” he said. The Belgian Pro League not only excels in facilitating player transfers but also boasts a more evenly distributed wealth.
Anderlecht, Brugge, Gent, Genk, Standard Liege, and Charleroi have all contributed towards producing players who have made top-10 transfers abroad. Charleroi’s most significant high-value transfer was the sale of Victor Osimhen to Lille for 22.5 million euros. In the most recent season, the club also completed a noteworthy transfer by selling the Moroccan rising star Anass Zaroury to Championship leaders Burnley for four million euros.
What the future holds for the Palestinian star
Like so many players who dream of playing at the highest levels, Al-Dabbagh aspires to compete for top-tier European clubs. He named the Premier League as a league he’d love to play in one day, and when asked about a player he’d love to play with, he said, “De Bruyne, it has to be De Bruyne. I would love to play with him, he’s an artist, a very good one.”
It is certain that Al-Dabbagh’s success in his professional journey in Europe stands as a symbol of Palestinian resilience against decades of Israel’s oppressive occupation. As well as serves as an inspiration to Palestinian athletes who possess extraordinary talents waiting for the spark that ignites them. This spark can come from a manager, just as it can be ignited by the talented individuals themselves when they believe in their abilities and persist in pursuing their goals, no matter the obstacles that stand in their path towards success.