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They Played for Both Clubs: Wigan Athletic

Chris takes a look at a player who has worn both Bolton and Wigan's shirt with distinction - but more Bolton, obviously

Chris Brunskill

Ali Abdullah Harib Al-Habsi was born in December 1981 in Muscat, Oman - hardly a hot-spot of professional football, much like Wigan.

He began his career at Al-Midhaibi, in his hometown of Al-Midhaib, in 1998. Al-Midhaib were a third division side, but it took Al-Habsi four seasons to catch the eye of Al-Nasr Salalah, a club famous for producing some of the greatest and most successful Omani footballers, such as Hashim Saleh, and Fawzi Bashir. Nope, me neither.

Ali Al Habsi would only stay for a single season at Al-Nasr Salalah, before moving to Europe and Norway with FC Lyn Oslo, where he would remain until 2006 when he moved to England and Bolton Wanderers. Upon joining the Norwegian side he not only became the first Omani to play international football in Europe but was voted "Norwegian Goalkeeper of the Year" in 2004.

This award coupled with fine performances saw him come to the attention of the greatest British manager of the 20th Century - Sam Allardyce. Allardyce was building a successful team at Bolton and needed a quality back-up goalkeeper to first choice Jussi Jaaskelainen.

Al-Habsi did not make any first team appearances in his first year at Bolton, but made his full debut in the 2-1 extra time League Cup victory over Fulham in September 2007. He proved a capable understudy to Jaaskelainen but rarely found himself in the team.

He would however find his place when Jaaskelainen suffered a back injury in the 2007/08 season. Al-Habsi made 15 appearances during the course of the season, notably against Bayern Munich in the UEFA Cup, making several good saves including a wonder save from Franck Ribery (Highlights here).

In a neat twist of circumstance, his first Premier League start for Bolton would come against future employers and local tinpot outfit Wigan Athletic. In December 2008, he was rewarded for his work with an extension to his contract until 2013. Despite this, when Jussi Jääskeläinen returned from injury Al-Habsi was again returned to the bench.

The arrival of manager Owen Coyle at Bolton Wanderers began to spell the end of Al-Habsi's time at a proper club, and it was no shock when in July 2010, he joined local minnows Wigan Athletic on a season-long loan making his full debut against Tottenham Hotspur.

Following on from a highly successful season, he was named Wigan's player of the season for the 2010-11 season, and made his loan move permanent by signing a four-year contract for an estimated £4 million transfer.

However, poor form at the back end of the 2012-13 season saw Al-Habsi dropped to the bench in favour of Spaniard Joel Robles. In hilarious circumstances, Wigan were relegated at the end of the season. Al-Habsi again started the new Championship season on the bench, no doubt thinking to himself "I wish I had stopped at a proper club instead of this shower of absolute mugs".

Al-Habsi has had a long and successful internation career, joining the ranks of the Oman under-19s squad first before being called up for the senior Omani side, and playing in all of their three group matches at the 2004 AFC Asian Cup in China.

He would also go on to make four appearances for the team in their qualifying campaign for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, which they excelled in the first group stage after finishing second in a group with Japan, India and Singapore. He was also Oman's first-choice goalkeeper at the 2007 AFC Asian Cup, appearing in all of their three group matches.

Al-Habsi also has appeared as main keeper in four consecutive Gulf Cups. In each tournament he earned the award for best goalkeeper. He kept a clean sheet throughout the 2009 tournament that Oman eventually won.

Al-Habsi has been capped 91 times for Oman.


FK Lyn Oslo
Norwegian Football Cup:
Runners-up: 2004

Wigan Athletic
FA Cup: 2012-13

Tinpot Muppets of the Decade: Permanent Holders

National Team
Gulf Cup of Nations:
Winners: 2009
Runner-up: 2004, 2007