ALI AL HABSI: A Goalkeeper and a Gentleman

This week’s interviewee needs no introduction. Can there be one single person in Oman who does not know and revere the name of Ali Al Habsi?  Ali has brought glamour to goalkeeping. Who could forget his marvelous performance in 2009, which secured the Gulf Cup for Oman, and won him the best goalkeeper award for the fourth time in a row? Now Ali is fast becoming a celebrity in UK football circles as a player in the prestigious English Premier League. While n loan from Bolton Wanderers to Wigan, Ali saved Wigan’s place in the Premier League and received awards as Wigan’s Player of the Year and Away Player of the Year. But although highly sought after, Ali remains unspoiled by fame. This gentle giant is chivalrous, courteous and charming, with time and a smile for everyone. 

1. Could you please introduce yourself to Knowledge Oman
My name is Ali Al Habsi and I’m a professional goalkeeper. I’m originally from the village of Al-Mudhaibi in Oman, but now I divide my time between Oman and the UK.
2. How old were you when you first kicked a ball around?
I can’t remember exactly, but it would have been when I was 8 or 9. Like all the kids in my home town, I started playing football when I was very young.
3. Are you from a football loving family?
Yes, indeed. My dad founded the club in my home town. I’ve got nine brothers and six sisters, all of whom are interested in football.
4. Was football always your favorite sport? 
Definitely.  I also played basketball, volleyball and handball.  But it was always football I enjoyed most.
5. How were you ‘discovered’?
By John Burridge, the former English goalkeeper and coach. John saw me playing for the Oman national team when I was seventeen years old, and he spotted some kind of talent in me, some potential.  He told me that if I was prepared to train really, really hard, I would be capable of playing football in Europe. So that’s what I did. He and I spent a lot of time together – hours and hours – training.
6. Have you always been a goalkeeper? What special qualities does a goalkeeper have to have?
I started playing as a striker, but then my brother Abdulaziz advised me to become a goalkeeper. A goalkeeper must be brave, and able to stay calm, and have a high level of concentration. 
7. What differences did you notice when you started playing as a professional? 
When you turn professional, football becomes your job. That means you have to take it very seriously and treat it as any other job. You have to train hard and give it 100% every single day. I feel so lucky, playing in the Premier League. It’s like a dream come true. When I play football, I’m not playing for myself. I’m playing for my country.
8. Was it hard to learn English? 
Yes, very. When I first left Oman, I didn’t speak any English at all. I’ve never taken any formal courses – I’ve just learned from the people around me. I think I’m OK at communicating in English now, but it was difficult at first
9. What are the best and worst things about living in the UK?
I love the footballer mentality in the UK. Everybody’s interested in football, and all the kids dream about becoming a footballer. The worst thing? Definitely the winters! All that cold weather and rain is really hard to put up with. But I still try and enjoy myself.
10. What do you miss most about Oman?
My family and friends. I’m very close to them and I miss them a lot.
11. You’re a role model for so many young people. Who is your role model? 
My dad. He worked really hard for all of us. I learned so many things from him, the most important being that there’s no short cut or easy way to get what you want. The only way is through hard work.
 12. If you weren’t a footballer, what career would have chosen? 
I’d like to be a fireman. In fact, I was a fireman before I became a footballer – in Seeb Airport nine years ago.
13. What’s been the best moment of your career so far?
I’ve had quite a few amazing moments. One of them has to be when Oman won the Gulf Cup in 2009. Also receiving a medal from His Majesty. And earlier this year, keeping Wigan in the Premier League and getting the Player of the Year and Away Player of the Year Awards.
14. What are your plans for the future?         
I’d like to set up a school in Oman where kids can train to be goalkeepers.
15. What’s your message for the youth of Oman?
Focus on studying first and think about football later. Everyone wants to be a footballer because they think it’s very glamorous and exciting. But it means a lot of hard work. You can’t just go in at the top; you have to start right at the bottom and give it everything you’ve got. That’s the only way you can succeed.
16. Any final word for Knowledge Oman?
I’m happy to have had a chat with you, and many thanks to all your members for the great support!
– Interviewed by Anne Collins