It is no surprise that the most successful period in Reading’s history has coincided with a string of quality goalkeepers over the last decade or so. It started with Marcus Hahnemann, before moving onto Adam Federici and Alex McCarthy – all three of whom left for the Premier League. When the summer of 2015 arrived it was one of worry as with the departure of highly regarded goalkeeper coach Sal Bibbo and Federici; it was thought that the Royals would struggle to replicate the consistency between the sticks that they had had in recent seasons.
Ali Al-Habsi arrived at Reading in the summer of 2015 as a free agent; he was expected to be in a battle for the starting position against fellow new signing and England under-21 international Jonathan Bond. After a few shaky performances from both keepers it was eventually Al-Habsi who found himself as the preferred keeper. He went on to win player of the season after putting in consistently good performances in what was a difficult campaign and has firmly become a fan favourite at the Madejski Stadium.
In a recent interview, Jaap Stam admitted that it may be difficult to persuade the Omani international to remain in Berkshire as he continues to put in excellent performances for Reading and is consistently one of the top performers in the squad. According to Stam, one of the best qualities about Al-Habsi is his ability to adapt to the new style of play that Stam has applied to the team and is improving every game in using his feet and playing out of the back. While as a fan watching on you are still not fully confident that Reading will hold onto the ball every time – there has been a big improvement and a quick look at the league table will show that it is working.
The Oman international has also shown tremendous mental strength after several Reading fans were banned from attending matches following offensive chanting towards him during the EFL Cup fixture against Arsenal. Al-Habsi went on to produce one of his performances of the season just 4 days later in keeping a clean sheet in a 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest that saw his side rise into the playoff places. This would have impressed a number of clubs as Al-Habsi has always shown himself to be a great professional on and off the pitch and with his contract up at the end of the season, it will be a priority for the Royals to try and tie their starting keeper down.
One major detriment to Al-Habsi returning to the Premier League is the fact that age is against him. The former Wigan man will be 35 by the time the transfer window arrives and is therefore unlikely to get himself a long-term deal at any club that was willing to sign him. However, the current Reading man could definitely step in and feel a position if needed to and if he was able to carry his form with Reading into the top-flight it could see him end his career at the highest level.
In addition to this, it is also likely that a bid for Al-Habsi would not be an overwhelming amount of money given his age. It will always be in Jaap Stam’s best interest to keep hold of his star keeper given the ever-increasing fees required to bring in high quality players in the Championship.
There have been whispers about a potential return to the top-flight for Al-Habsi with Premier League undoubtedly always on the lookout for keepers capable of stepping in and making important saves week in week out. However, Reading are likely to fight tooth and nail to keep hold of their Omani star and won’t be willing to let him go easily should a bid be made. He is a huge asset for the Berkshire outfit and with them mounting a Premier League bid of their own, the former Bolton man will be crucial in any success Jaap Stam’s may have this season.