ALI INKS THREE-YEAR DEAL WITH AL HI­LAL

Muscat Daily - - AUTO NEWS - Ashok Puro­hit

It was noth­ing short of a cel­e­bra­tion at the Riyadh-based Al Hi­lal Club late on Sun­day night as Oman football team cap­tain and English Cham­pi­onship side Read­ing’s goal­keeper Ali al Habsi penned a three-year deal with the two-time Asian cham­pi­ons. Hun­dreds of the Saudi club fans, pop­u­larly known as Hi­lali, greeted the Oman star on his ar­rival at the club af­ter ac­cord­ing a sim­i­lar rous­ing re­cep­tion at the Riyadh air­port on Satur­day night. had first re­ported on July 5 that Ali al Habsi would join the Saudi football gi­ants. Ac­com­pa­nied by his el­dest brother, Ahmed al Habsi, who played a key role in the sign­ing of the deal, Ali was un­veiled by the chair­man of Al Hi­lal Club, Prince Nawaf bin Saad af­ter pass­ing a med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion. In his ex­clu­sive re­marks to from Salzburg in Aus­tria on Mon­day where he joined the club's pre-sea­son camp, Ali said, “First of all I would like to thank Prince Al Waleed bin Talal bin Ab­du­laziz [club board mem­ber] for fund­ing my trans­fer to Al Hi­lal and also thank Prince Nawaf bin Saad for show­ing his in­ter­est and kee­ness to sign me.” “Al Hi­lal is a big club in Asia and has big tar­gets like win­ning the Asian Cham­pi­ons League, de­fend­ing the league ti­tle. It is not go­ing to be easy and I will do my best to achieve Mus­cat Daily Mus­cat Daily these tar­gets,” said Ali. The Omani leg­end said that Al Hi­lal en­joys mas­sive sup­port base not just in Saudi Ara­bia and Oman but in whole of Mid­dle East. “Such a fan base is very im­por­tant for a player. My nearly 15 years of ex­pe­ri­ence in Euro­pean football will help me deal with the fans and their ex­pec­ta­tions,” said Ali. The goal­keeper said he was 'very happy' to have signed the deal in Riyadh de­spite it be­ing a brief visit as he flew to Aus­tria soon af­ter ink­ing the deal. “I am look­ing for­ward to meet the team man­ager [Ra­mon Diaz of Ar­gentina], my team­mates and other staff.” Al Hi­lal, the de­fend­ing Saudi Pro­fes­sional League (Jameel League) cham­pion, was es­tab­lished in 1957, and is the most dec­o­rated clubs in Saudi Ara­bia with 56 of­fi­cial tro­phies at do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional lev­els. It won the Saudi league for a record 14th time ear­lier this year. Ali’s join­ing Al Hi­lal also means that he would be fol­low­ing the foot­steps of the il­lus­tri­ous Saudi Ara­bian goal­keeper, Mo­hamed al Deayea, who was with the club for more than a decade (1999-2010). Ali's de­ci­sion to move out from Read­ing and English football has a lot to do to be closer to home and, im­por­tantly, se­cure his fi­nances as he moves into the twi­light of his ca­reer. The Saudi club has re­port­edly of­fered Ali around US$2mn a year be­sides lu­cra­tive bonuses. The 35 year old Ali moved out of English football with his head held high af­ter win­ning the Player of the Sea­son with Read­ing. Ali guided Read­ing to third place and a spot at Wem­b­ley Sta­dium in the Cham­pi­onship play­off fi­nal. Dur­ing his 11-year ca­reer in English football, Ali played a to­tal 225 games for Bolton Wan­der­ers (2006-2011), Wi­gan Ath­letic (2010-2011 on loan and 2011-2015), Brighton & Hove Al­bion (2014 on loan) and Read­ing (2015-2017). He had signed a new deal with Read­ing un­til 2019 in Jan­uary but the Saudi Ara­bian club met a re­lease clause in his con­tract to seal Ali's move. Ali was the first goal­keeper from the Gulf re­gion to play in the English Premier League, ini­tially spend­ing four years as Jussi Jaaske­lainen's un­der­study at Bolton be­fore join­ing Wi­gan. The high­light of his ca­reer came in 2013 when he won the FA Cup in the mid­dle of his five-sea­son stint with Wi­gan, which ended when he signed for Read­ing in 2015. The move by Al Hi­lal to rope in Ali came af­ter a re­cent rule change in the Saudi Ara­bian Pro­fes­sional League to al­low for­eign goal­keep­ers. Ali is ex­pected to make his com­pet­i­tive de­but for Al Hi­lal when it takes on UAE side Al Ain in the quar­ter­fi­nals of the Asian Cham­pi­ons League next month.

Good­bye Read­ing

Late on Sun­day night, Ali tweeted a good­bye mes­sage for his Read­ing fans. "To­day I of­fi­cially an­nounce that I am mov­ing to Al Hi­lal, one of the great­est clubs in Saudi Ara­bia and Asia. It was surely a tough de­ci­sion to take. I have spent a great two years at Read­ing. It felt like home with friends, fam­ily and team­mates. No one can imag­ine the sup­port and love that I re­ceived from the fans and club. It was a one of a kind' ' ex­pe­ri­ence,” he wrote.

A file photo of Read­ing’s Ali al Habsi in ac­tion dur­ing a match in the English Cham­pi­onship ear­lier this year

Ali al Habsi (right) with Prince Nawaf bin Saad af­ter the Oman goal­keeper signed a three-year deal with Saudi Ara­bian Pro­fes­sional League cham­pion, Al Hi­lal, in Riyadh, Saudi Ara­bia on Sun­day night

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