Omani legend Ali Al Habsi transfer to Al Hilal imminent
July 16, 2017 | 11:43 AM
by Gautam Viswanathan / [email protected]
File photo

Muscat: Legendary Omani goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi could confirm his move to Saudi Arabian club Al Hilal as early as today.

According to his brother, Ahmed Al Habsi, the duo are currently in Riyadh after arriving in the Saudi capital on Saturday night.

"Ali Al Habsi arrived last night," said Ahmed, speaking to Times of Oman from Riyadh. "We hope he will sign today."

Signing for the Middle Eastern giants would put paid to weeks of speculation on the part of Al Habsi, who currently plays for Reading in the English Championship, and also captains the Oman National Football Team.

The 35-year-old, who is the first Middle Easterner to play in the Premier League, hinted at his next move about a fortnight ago, when he tweeted a picture of himself alongside a caption of two blue hearts, blue being the colours of Al Hilal.

His message saw fans of the goalkeeper take to the internet quickly, with some eager to welcome him to Saudi Arabia, while others were sad to see him leave England.

"What is happening to Al HabsI? I'm not sure I'll be able to cope if you and he are parted," exclaimed Leslie Land, a staunch Reading supporter, even as Abdulaziz Al Saleh said, "welcome grand keeper to the stronghold of the leaders."

Should he complete his move back to the Middle East, it would mean the end of Al Habsi's 11-year stint in England. He joined Bolton Wanderers from Norwegian club Lyn Oslo in 2006, before jumping ship to Wigan Athletic, winning the FA Cup with them in 2012.

He signed on with Reading - managed by former Manchester United and Ajax legend Jaap Stam - in 2015, and came within a hair's breadth of returning to the Premier League, as the Royals beat Fulham 2-1 on aggregate in the Championship Play Offs before losing 5-4 to Huddersfield Town on penalties in the final.

There are personal memories which attach Al Habsi to Saudi Arabia: he was in goal when Oman beat Saudi Arabia 6-5 on penalties in the 2009 Gulf Cup Final, the Sultanate's first regional triumph, which took place at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex in Muscat.

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