After scoring his 100th goal for Najran recently, former Saudi Arabia international Al Hasan Al Yami joined the likes of Majed Abdullah, Sami Al Jaber, Fahad Al Bishi and Youssef Al Tunayan in the pantheon of Saudi footballing greats.
The striker, nicknamed the ‘Bird of Prey’ for his pace and killer instinct in front of goal, began his career at Al Okhdood before moving on to fellow Saudi outfit Najran. After an undistinguished spell there he made the move to Al Ittihad in 1996, and it was with the Jeddah outfit that his career really took off.
During almost a decade at the club, Al Yami picked up no fewer than 16 titles, starting with the Gulf Club Champions Cup in 1999. His list of honours also includes winner’s medals from the 2004 AFC Champions League and the Arab Champions League a year later.
I have lots of great memories from my time at Al Ittihad and playing for Saudi Arabia, but one of the best has to be reaching the finals of the 2002 World Cup.
His sparkling performances for Al Ittihad eventually earned him a call-up to the national team, with whom he won the Gulf Cup on home soil in 2002. That same year he participated at the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™, starting against Germany and Ireland Republic and coming on as a substitute against Cameroon.
Speaking recently in the local media about his long career in football, the Khafji native said, “I have lots of great memories from my time at Al Ittihad and playing for Saudi Arabia, but one of the best has to be reaching the finals of the 2002 World Cup. I played in the qualifying rounds and scored several times, my strike against Iran being especially memorable.”
“I also appeared at the Gulf Cup of Nations in 2002, when we claimed the title. I played well and was in contention for top scorer. Overall, I’m satisfied with my performances for the national team. It was a great honour for me to represent my country, albeit for such a short time.”
Al Yami also reminisced about his club career, saying, “Playing for Al Ittihad was the best period of my professional career. It was also a turning point as my performances there allowed me to play for my country and make a name for myself at local, Gulf and Arab level.”
That successful spell at Saudi Arabia’s biggest club came to an end in May 2005, when he opted to return to his former side Najran. “At the time, I needed to be in Najran for family reasons and so my old club kept trying to convince me to come back. I finally agreed to join them as this would help me meet my family obligations. Also I felt I owed a debt to Najran,” he explained.
His long career has also had its low points, as he freely admitted. “I was injured playing for Al Ittihad against Algeria’s ES Setif in the second round of the Arab Champions League. I broke a rib and suffered a punctured lung. That was a low point for me and I was on the verge of retiring from football.”
However, Al Yami returned stronger than ever, finishing the 2006/07 season as top-scorer in the country’s second division and helping Najran secure promotion to the Premier League. “Winning promotion was a dream come true in my first season back with the club - and exactly what we’d aspired to do. Lack of experience hampered us a bit on going up, but the following year we were quite successful.”
Despite turning 38 last August, Al Yami is still going strong. He scored his 100th goal for Najran against Al Qadisyah on matchday nine in the league, before making it 101 against Al Hazm two weeks ago. Commenting on this achievement the player said, “I’m very proud of what I’ve done. If you’re striving to achieve something like that, you need to be totally professional and have a great deal of self confidence.” The striker also added that having had a long and eventful career, he was keen to retire while still at the top of his game.
Hamzah Idris, Al Yami’s former team-mate at Al Ittihad and one of the stars of the national team, had this to say about his compatriot: “I hope he continues to set an example for young players and that they see what he has achieved in the past as well as what he is still doing at his age. It’s been an honour to know him both on and off the field. Words alone cannot do him justice. He is a player of fantastic skill and ability who has competed at the very highest level.”