Ali al Habsi’s football school graduates into an academy. The goals are grand: catch them young, train them and get them ready to raise the bar — in Oman and beyond, writes Alvin Thomas
Some address him as the ‘man with golden gloves’, a handful of others know him as the ‘redefining face of football in Oman’, while the rest fondly term him as ‘captain’. Be that as it may, Oman’s star goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi will always thrive in our hearts as the driving force behind the nation’s first ‘Gulf Cup’ title in 2009 – and subsequently the wall that many a time has saved not just Oman, but also Bolton Wanderers, Wigan Athletic and Saudi club Al-Hilal from attackers around the world.
Last week, however, the talented Omani wasn’t making waves for his performance but rather for something else: His role in shaping the future of several young kids and in turn securing the future of football in Oman.
To do so, he has called forth the support from his faculty, which is headed by none other than Andy Watson – the head coach of Ali Al Habsi’s football training institute.
While many of you readers will recognise the brand Al Habsi Football School, we must bring to notice that the coaching institute is shedding the moniker for a new name: Al Habsi Football Academy. And that’s also the core of the press conference that was held at the Holiday Inn, in Seeb, which was attended by several dignitaries from Oman Football Association and also the former Omani football team.
It may not seem like much on the face of it, but Ali is beyond enthralled to continue his journey with the new nameplate.
“We started this football training school two years ago from a thought that came to mind to shape the future of young kids who want to train and learn football,” said Ali with a smile on his face.
“But going into an academy level is a whole different league, so it took us a while to get there. And I am proud to say that with the support of Andy Watson and all the other coaches and trainers we have been able to achieve something truly special.
“I believe that the future of Oman football is in great hands and a lot of these kids will benefit from the level of training they get here. And thankfully, I have played outside Oman, so I have made some new connections. That can someday help a few of these talented youngsters to maybe break into the foreign grounds,” he added, before trotting off into the crowd.
Among the crowds were several prestigious guests, including Sayyid Khalid al Busaidi, the chairman of Sabco group, who was all smiles over the announcements that had just been made.
All the pride and glee seen in the hall was a testament to how strong the followership of football is in the Sultanate. And there’s little wonder that Ali Al Habsi’s academy is going to make a mark.
Andy Watson said: “Football is something that is in the blood of Omanis. They love the sport and cherish the wins of their beloved team. And, as you know, Ali Al Habsi has been an integral part of that team.
“With this academy, we aim to raise the bar of football in the Sultanate. So, our motto is to start them young.
We get hold of these kids and we train them so that they’re slowly becoming more and more competitive in the sport as time passes.
“And that’s very necessary if you’re looking to pave the way for a team that can go on to attain something truly special… like Ali did.” ν