On Thursday, Albion announced their tenth signing of the summer when it was revealed that 37-year-old goalkeeper, Ali Al-Habsi, had joined the club as a free agent.
Although it was completely out of the blue, it seems a sensible move by the club given that, with Alex Palmer having gone on loan to Plymouth Argyle, Johnstone and Bond are the only two senior goalkeepers at the squad. Last season, Boaz Myhill acted as the backup and could offer the benefit of his experience to the two relatively young ‘keepers, and that is a role that Al-Habsi could perform just as well. Having said that, goalkeeping coach, Gary Walsh, has indicated that Al-Habsi hasn’t just come to make up the numbers and will be pushing the two incumbents for a place in the squad.
Al-Habsi is one of Oman’s most famous footballers having won 131 international caps for the Arab state. He was spotted by John Burridge when playing for the U19 team in 2001, but work permit issues prevented him from moving to Europe until the summer of 2003 when he moved to FK Lyn in Oslo.
He first moved to England in January 2006 when he signed for Bolton Wanderers on a free transfer that was highlighted by the Stevens Inquiry into football corruption due to the involvement of agent, Craig Allardyce, son of the then Bolton manager, Big Sam.
Al-Habsi didn’t make his first team debut for the Trotters until September 2007 when he played in the League Cup tie against Fulham. He also played in away games in the UEFA Cup at Bayern Munich and Red Star and finally made his Premier League debut against Wigan Athletic in March 2008.
It was at the Latics that he made his name, of course, originally moving on loan in July 2010. After making 39 appearances in that first season at the JJB, he moved permanently the following summer and went on to make more than 150 appearances for Wigan and was a member of the FA Cup winning squad of 2013. He played in the 2-0 semi-final win over Millwall at Wembley but was on the bench for the final against Manchester City.
While at Wigan, he developed a reputation as a great penalty-saver, saving almost half of the spot kicks he faced while at the club.
He was in and out of the team in the Championship for the next two seasons, and even had a brief spell on loan at Brighton, before he made the move to Reading in the summer of 2015. He was again successful making 91 appearances for the Royals before moving to Saudi Arabia in 2017.
He played for Al-Hilal against Slaven Bilić’s Al-Ittihad in the Saudi league earlier this year, but his contract was ended in July with Al-Hilal looking to free up one of the non-domestic player slots in their squad. He has been keen on a return to England ever since as was reported earlier in the summer.
Born: 30th December 1981 (age 37), Al-Mudhaibi, Oman
Signed: 29th August – Free transfer
Previous club: Al-Hilal
|Al-Mudhaibi||Jul 1998||Jul 2002||35|
|Al-Nasr||Jul 2002||Jul 2003||4|
|FK Lyn||Jul 2003||Jan 2006||66|
|Bolton Wanderers||Jan 2006||Jul 2011||18|
|Wigan Athletic (loan)||Jul 2010||May 2011||39|
|Wigan Athletic||Jul 2011||Jul 2015||115|
|Brighton & Hove Albion (loan)||Oct 2014||Nov 2014||1|
|Reading||Jul 2015||Jul 2017||91|
|Al-Hilal||Jul 2017||Jul 2019||44|