Rarely has a player endeared himself to the Saudi Arabian public like the “Golden Boy” Nawaf Al Temiyat, who finally hung up his boots in 2008 after a career blighted by injury.
The former star of Riyadh’s Al Hilal and the Saudi national side bade a final farewell to his legions of fans last month when he lined up for the former at his testimonial against Italian champions Inter Milan. FIFA.com looks back over the absorbing career of the 2000 Asian Player of the Year.
A star on the rise
Al Temiyat made his debut with Al Hilal’s youth team at the age of 16 but was plagued with injury from the very beginning. A serious cruciate ligament problem threatened to end his career almost before it had begun, but the youngster showed great resilience and determination to come back stronger and force his way into the first team.
He full debut came in a Saudi Federation Cup match against Al Taawon in 1995, with the midfielder netting his first Premier League goal shortly after against Al Najma. Over the following seasons his keen sense of fair play won him many admirers, as did his commitment to bring about positive change in the community through football.
“Football is a means by which we young people can show our intelligence and our ability to participate in the development of society. Through sport, we’ve shown ourselves to be tolerant,” the player has been quoted as saying.
In the late 90’s, Al Temiyat continued to demonstrate his brilliance on the pitch, claiming a number of domestic titles with Al Hilal before being called up to the senior national team and handed his first cap against Namibia in 1998.
The midfielder represented his country at the 1998 FIFA World Cup™ in France, again four years later at Korea/Japan 2002 and finally at Germany 2006. He also participated in the FIFA Confederations Cup in 1999, when he scored against the hosts Mexico.
An array of silverware
Al Temiyat is the only Al Hilal player to have won every regional title with the team, including the Gulf Clubs Champions Cup, the Arab Cup Winners Cup, the Arab Clubs Champions Cup, and the Arab Elite Cup, in addition to the Asian Cup Winners Cup and the Asian Club and Asian Super Cups.
The 33-year-old was named Asia’s top player in 2000 in recognition of his achievements that year, which included winning the Asian Club Cup and Asian Super Cup. He also played an integral part in Saudi Arabia’s passage to the final of the 2000 AFC Asian Cup, where they finished runners-up to Japan.
Interviewed after that continental triumph, then Japan coach Philippe Troussier recognized the danger posed by the midfield maestro, saying: "I told my men not to man-mark the Saudi players, with one exception: Al Temiyat. I asked three players to keep him in check but even that was not enough, as he almost got an equaliser. Al Temiyat impressed me – he was a cut above our midfielders and could have a career playing in Europe.”
At the height of Al Temiyat’s success, the player sustained a series of long-term injuries, the worst being a ruptured cruciate ligament in 2000 that sidelined him for the best part of two years. To add to the player’s woes the same injury recurred in 2003.
His former coach at Al Hilal, the Brazilian Kandino, said of his one-time charge: "Those injuries destroyed him. If it hadn’t been for them, he would’ve been the best player in Asia for years on end. Al Temiyat could have played for Liverpool or Palmeiras."
And while Al Temiyat did return to play for Al Hilal and Saudi Arabia on several occasions, he never recaptured the kind of form seen in his heyday. He officially announced his retirement on 27 August 2008, saying: "I think I’m retiring at the right time. I feel like I’ve given all I can, so now I prefer to walk away and let others have their chance. "
His decision came as a shock to both the Al Hilal faithful and the Saudi public, who were greatly saddened by his departure. On bowing out, Al Temiyat said he hoped he’d be remembered more for his humanity than sporting achievements.
"I want the Al Hilal fans to forget Nawaf Al Temiyat the player, what he did on the pitch and the titles he won. I’m just like any other player and did nothing new or extraordinary. I want people to remember Al Temiyat the person, not the sportsman."