With news of his imminent exit from English football going on for the past weeks, Ali’s eldest brother, Ahmed al Habsi, confirmed on Tuesday that the Reading player of the season is bound for Al Hilal.
In his exclusive remarks to Muscat Daily , the first by Ali’s family on the transfer deal, Ahmed said, “It is a new challenge and Ali is excited about it. He will soon fly down to Saudi Arabia to sign the deal, which is for two years."
“There is only one technical clarification that Ali has sought from Al Hilal before signing. Once the Saudi club confirms that he will be part of the Asian Champions League squad, it is all done,” said Ahmed, who has been entrusted by Ali on many occasions in the past to speak on his behalf.
“Both Al Hilal and Reading clubs have been informed about the deal and it is just a matter of days for Ali to complete the signing,” said the eldest of Habsi siblings.
The signing assumes greater significance as Ali is in the twilight stage of his career and would like to secure his finances before hanging up his boots. The Saudi club has reportedly offered Ali around US$1.9mn a year.
“Ali is bowing out of English football with his head held high after winning the Player of the Season and producing some excellent performances during the season. He will now be more involved with Asian football,” said Ahmed.
Ali was present at Hogwood Park for pre-season training with the Royals on Monday. He had quickly established himself as a fans’ favourite following his switch to Berkshire from Wigan Athletic and has won the club’s Player of the Season accolade for two years in a row.
The 35 year old went from strength to strength under Royals’ boss Jaap Stam last season and guided Reading to third place and a spot at Wembley Stadium in the Championship play-off final.
And his heroics almost continued when he denied Michael Hefele during a gut-wrenching penalty shootout, but Royals eventually lost out to Huddersfield after Liam Moore and Jordan Obita missed their spot-kicks.
Earlier in January, the Oman stopper had signed a fresh deal that would have kept him in Berkshire until the summer of 2019. The move by Al Hilal came after a recent rule change in the Saudi Arabian Professional League to allow foreign goalkeepers.
Ahmed said it was Ali’s wish to end his career much closer to his native land while also ensuring that he plays with a top club.
Besides Al Hilal, other Saudi clubs who were interested in Ali include Al Ittihad, Al Nassr and Al Batin. The Omani goalkeeper was also linked with a move to English Premier League West Brom and Leicester last week.
While Saudi Arabia isn’t that known for European-style high calibre football, better financial benefits were likely to have turned the scales, with Ali now set to depart from English football.