A few years ago now, Oman GB ran a profile of football star Ali Al Habsi, who had then, at age 34, become the first Arab player to captain a club side in English football. A skilled goalkeeper and the captain of the Oman national team as well, Al Habsi had become the leader for Reading FC, which was at the time in the Football Championship (a division below the vaunted Premier League).
Fast-foward three years, and Al Habsi is back in the Championship - though now for West Bromwich Albion, which at least these days is a stronger club than Reading. In fact, West Brom has performed well enough in the first quarter or so of the 2019-20 campaign that it may be poised for promotion to the Premier League. Checking in with some of the top UK bookmaking sites, in fact, one would be hard pressed to find one that didn’t give West Brom favorable odds at promotion.
Whether or not that means Al Habsi will play in the Premier League next season is unknown. Even if West Bram were to capitalize on those favorable odds and earn promotion to the top flight, the Oman goalkeeper has indicated that this might be his final season. Upon signing with West Brom for 2018-19, he spoke about the opportunity to finish his career playing in England. Still, one wonders if another shot at the EPL would tempt him to stay another season (if West Brom would have him).
But might Al Habsi have been close to an even more prestigious Premier League role once upon a time? According to some recent reports that have emerged in the British media, it sounds as if that may have been the case. Per Birmingham Live, when legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson was still in charge at Manchester United, he gave Al Habsi a look.
What happened, evidently, is that former English player John Burridge - who eventually became the goalkeeping coach for the Oman national team - took a liking to Al Habsi earlier in his career. Burridge brought Al Habsi to the attention of Ferguson, and they agreed on a trial at Old Trafford. However, Al Habsi was apparently prevented from attending said trial due to a work permit issue. Evidently, the same thing happened at Manchester City immediately thereafter.
According to Burridge, Ferguson asked him how tall Al Habsi was, and if he was as “crazy" as Burridge. Upon hearing Burridge’s opinion that Al Habsi was in fact “crazier,” Ferguson wanted to sign him to a deal.If only it had happened. Ali Al Habsi has had a wonderful career. He’s done Oman proud and is no doubt very proud himself of what he’s accomplished in English football when so few Arab goalkeepers have made such a mark in Europe. Still, it’s exciting to wonder what might have been if he had indeed suited up for Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford.
Main image: ©joshjdss (CC BY 2.0)