• Welcome to the Albion, Ali Al-Habsi..

    Today, the Albion took the step of using the emergency loan system to cover David Stockdale's finger injury. His temporary replacement, rather than a callow youth from a top club, is one of the more interesting characters to tread the boards of British football in recent years. Step forward Omani footballing legend, Ali Al-Habsi.

    There can have been few more unusual routes to the Premier League, than that followed by the Albion's newest Number One.

    As one of no less than ten brothers, the young Al-Habsi was immersed in sport throughout his childhood, playing not just football, but also basketball, volleyball and handball. Al-Habsi began playing football at the age of eight. Originally playing as a striker, the imposing Ali (now a hulking 6'5") was encouraged by one of his older brothers, to try his hand in goal. By the age of 17, he was playing senior football for a club founded by his own father, in the town of Al-Mudhaibi in Oman, and embarking on a career as a firefighter at the nearby Seeb Airport.

    At the age of 21 his performances and growing reputation earned him a professional contract at Oman's biggest club Al Nasr, and a first call up to the full national team. He had already made appearances for various age group Oman sides, which is where he came to the attention of John Burridge - a man Al-Habsi regards as a mentor. Burridge worked extensively with the young keeper, and helped to facilitate his move, after some work permit complications, to a European league - something he was the very first Omani to achieve - moving in the summer of 2003 to Norwegian side Lyn Oslo. He was a huge success in Norway - winning the league's Goalkeeper of the Year award in his very first season.

    In the 2006 January transfer window, he got his big move - to Premier League Bolton Wanderers, where he set to further learning his craft as understudy to their excellent, long-serving keeper, Jussi Jääskeläinen. After four seasons in the Finn's shadow, and keen for more than the handful of first-team opportunities he'd been given, Al-Habsi agreed a season-long loan to fellow Premier League Wigan Athletic. Here, his career really took off - he was Wigan's Player of the Season in that loan year, playing a huge role in keeping them up against the odds, and joined the club permanently the next summer, for a fee in the region of £4m.

    He was a huge character in Wigan's side during their Premier League stay - instantly recognisable to all armchair fooball fans, due to his huge frame, big smile and resplendant beard. He gained a reputation as an extremely brave keeper with incredible reflexes, and also as a specialist penalty stopper - Robin Van persie and Carlos Tevez amongst his many 'victims'. Whilst Wigan's eventual relegation has denied the Premier League of Al-Habsi's presence, his status in his homeland is now elevated to national hero. He has won close to 100 caps for his country, in the process picking up the Goalkeeper of the Tournament award at four succesive Gulf Cups. The Omani website 'KnowledgeOman' refers to him as "unspoiled by fame", opining that he is "A gentle giant - chivalrous, courteous and charming, with time and a smile for everyone".

    A devout muslim, Al-Habsi credits his religion and his family as the two cornerstones of his life, to which he owes all his successes. He seems a truly humble man despite his achievements, and one that Albion fans should be delighted to welcome aboard.

    THE BIG DISCUSSION: Ali Al-Habsi joins the Albion

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. sagaman's Avatar
      sagaman -
      great film
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