With rumours floating around for over a week, it has been confirmed today that Ali Al-Habsi has left Reading to sign for Saudi Arabian champions Al-Hilal on a three year contract.
It is a move that seemed incredibly unlikely only a couple of weeks ago, but it has been reported that the goalkeeper wanted to move back closer to his family having played his club football in Europe since 2003. It is also understood that Al-Hilal met the release clause in his contract.
The Omani signed for the Royals in the summer of 2015 on a free transfer following an initial trial period and spent most of the first half of his debut season competing with Jonathan Bond for a place in the starting XI.
It was a spell in which Al-Habsi made a series of high profile errors, such as gifting QPR a last-minute winner in December 2015 that would end up costing Steve Clarke his job. Yet following the turn of the year, he appeared to put these type of clangers behind him and went on to make the number one (well, twenty-six) shirt his own, even picking up the club’s official player of the season award at the end of the campaign.
He carried that impressive form into 2017/18, often keeping the Royals in certain matches with strings of spectacular saves - the 2-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday in March stands out the most. Once again, Al-Habsi was awarded the player of the season award - becoming only the fifth person in the club’s history to pick up back-to-back accolades, following in the footsteps of Steve Death, Robin Friday, Mick Gooding and Phil Parkinson. Esteemed company indeed.
The 35-year-old made a total of 91 appearances for the Royals, keeping 26 clean sheets. Off the pitch, Al-Habsi was kind, friendly, welcoming and a superb ambassador for the football club, with many commenting that you could not find a nicer man in football. So thank you for everything Ali, and best of luck in your new adventure!