Al-Habsi wants more frequent opportunities to play at global tournaments

  • Former Oman goalkeeper never featured at a FIFA World Cup

  • Al-Habsi says calendar can’t place major confederation tournaments in middle of European club seasons

  • Players and fans at the heart of comprehensive review on global schedule

Ali Al-Habsi represented Oman with distinction for almost two decades but his member association is one of 133 that has never been represented on the truly global stage of the FIFA World Cup. Increasing opportunities for that to happen through a “suitable solution for players, clubs and national teams” is his wish from the review process into the post-2024 calendar. Oman are in the shake-up for a place at FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, winning their opening match in the third round of AFC qualifying away to Japan and losing narrowly at home to Saudi Arabia last time out. Their quest continues this week with a double-header against Australia and Vietnam in Doha and Muscat respectively, but a clearer calendar is among the future priorities in Al-Habsi’s view.

“I believe that when playing for the national squad, the nature of the fixtures has a different feel and atmosphere,” said the goalkeeper who played his club football for over a decade in England. “It brings about more desire and motivation on the part of the players. In order to develop the match scheduling, changes need to be made to those fixtures.

“These days, you are playing in Europe and go back to your country only to jet off again to a far-flung country to play a friendly. I think it’s important that we develop a mechanism for managing official fixtures rather than focusing on international friendlies. There is a lot of effort exerted playing for club and country. This could have a physical and mental strain on players themselves and, equally, it would determine their future and coaches’ decisions about their retention.

“For example, the [AFC] Asian Cup and the [CAF] Africa Cup of Nations always take place in the middle of the season for European major leagues and that causes issues for some players and coaches when making selection decisions in their respective clubs. I think a solution can be reached. That is a suitable solution for players, clubs, and national teams. That can also have a positive impact on football fans.”

DOHA, QATAR - SEPTEMBER 09: Ali Al Habsi poses for a portrait following an interview during the FIFA Technical Advisory Group on the future of men’s football sessions on September 9, 2021 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Harold Cunningham - FIFA)

Al-Habsi is among the stars of the global game from across FIFA’s six confederations who has been invited to give feedback on the men’s calendar, with a view to optimising the schedule after 2024 when no calendar is currently in place.

As well as players, media, fans, leagues, member associations, partners and confederations are among the wide range of groups being consulted as part of a thorough review process being led by Arsène Wenger, FIFA’s Chief of Global Football Development. Everything is on the table in those discussions, including the frequency of global tournaments.

“Sometimes you play the qualifiers and you end up playing top teams like Japan or Korea [Republic] or Iran and then risk an early exit,” reflects Al-Habsi. “You then have to wait six more years before you get the chance to play qualifiers for the next one. But if we could experiment with the two-year option, there would be a faster turnaround to prepare for it and there would be more progress in terms of the countries that have not yet had the opportunity to participate in the World Cup.”