The rags-to-riches stories of many a football great have inspired fans across the world to fall in love with the beautiful game.
Ali Al-Habsi is one of Oman’s most celebrated personalities today. With long stints in English Premier League clubs such as Bolton Wanderers and Wigan Athletic, Al-Habsi, who is also the captain of the Oman national team, has towered over other sports personalities in his country.
His initial years though were one of the most intriguing phases of his life. Residing in a small town on the outskirts of Muscat, Al-Habsi’s life revolved around football. But before he could set the football field ablaze with his skills, he found himself dousing a different blaze.
Employed at the Seeb International Airport in Muscat, Al-Habsi was assigned to the fire-fighting division, where he spent nearly a year. “It was a challenging choice. Frequent fire-fighting drills occupied my days and though I never got the opportunity to douse an actual fire, I gained quite a few lessons on life,” he said. “Had it not been for football, I would have continued to be a fireman.”
Al-Habsi soon realised that his calling was not to be a fire-fighter but a goalkeeper. His rise has been astronomical ever since. Since 2002, the 6'3" goalkeeper has guarded the Oman citadel in over a hundred games.
He was part of the Oman side which won the Gulf Cup of Nations in 2009, and also has an FA Cup medal for his stint at Wigan in 2012-13.
At 33, Al-Habsi now has only one goal in his mind — to represent his country in the World Cup. “It is my dream to play in the tournament. I feel we have always been close but this time around, we are certainly in a position to make the cut,” he says.
Though football is his first love, Al-Habsi also devotes time to socials causes. With his NGO, Safety First, Al-Habsi aims to reduce the cases of road accidents in Oman. “In Oman, car fatalities are a big concern. In my own small way, I wanted to spread the message of safety. I co-founded it (the NGO) to make that little difference and give something back to the society,” he added.