Said Aweys Ali: Somalia’s Young Goalkeeping Talent

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Said Aweys Ali was born in the Somalian capital Mogadishu on 1 January 2000. The 21-year-old started his club career at Somali club Waxool and made his debut for them during the 2016/2017 season. He subsequently moved to Mogadishu City Club in 2018.

Since joining Mogadishu City Club, Ali has not yet established himself as their undisputed number one goalkeeper. Last season (2019/2020) he started some matches but was on the bench for others. In late September 2020, towards the end of the last campaign, he suffered a bad leg injury. It took him four months to recover from the injury as he only returned to the first team in early February 2021. He has started the last five league matches of the 2020/2021 Somali Premier League. 

Despite Ali’s tender years, he has already started six matches for the Somalian national team. All his international appearances came in 2019 including in 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifying matches and the 2019 CECAFA Cup.

Goalkeeping Attributes

Standing at 1.88m+ Ali is a good height for a goalkeeper. His size gives him an aerial presence and provides him with the ability to be commanding when dealing with aerial balls. However, he is not as dominant in this area as he should be. He appears to lack the vertical spring to tower above opponents to claim aerial balls. He, therefore, needs to work on improving the timing of his leaps and the height of his spring as this will aid him when performing jumps to collect the ball. He can improve the timing of his jumps by working repeatedly on training ground exercises that force him to have to claim aerially balls when challenged by opponents. Alongside this, he could implement a squat-based exercise regime focused on increasing the strength and power of his leg muscles. In turn, this would increase how high he can jump. Together these exercises would enable him to enhance his aerial dominance and make him more effective when dealing with aerial balls.

In the international matches reviewed Ali generally preferred to tip or punch crosses or high balls into the box away from goal and push or flick shots away from goal rather than attempt to catch them. This was sometimes the right thing to do to deal especially when dealing with powerfully struck crosses or shots. In other instances, it created uncertainty for his teammates as he did not catch or collect the ball and defuse a potentially dangerous situation. Instead of tipping or parrying the ball for a corner which his team has to defend or into an area where an opponent could take a shot at goal or produce a goalscoring opportunity. Having the ability to catch crosses when under pressure or catch threatening shots can give confidence and reassurance to the defence as well as give the defence and team as whole a rest if they are facing sustained pressure.

In more recent matches against Horseed (See full match) and Raadsan (See full match) in the 2020/2021 Somali Premier League Ali seems to have made some improvements in terms of catching crosses and high balls. In these matches, he demonstrated his ability to claim crosses and high balls rather than pushing them away from goal. However, he still needs to improve this area of his game if he wants to play at a higher level. This can be done by performing different training ground drills that focus on his ball-handling from different types of aerial balls for example whipped balls, floated balls, looping balls that come towards him at varying speeds and heights. He also needs to focus on enhancing his shot-catching skills to enable him to better deal with shots fired at him that are capable of being caught. Again, this requires work on the training ground with the goalkeeping coach whereby they strike different types of shots at him from different angles, heights, and speeds and he has to try and catch the shots. Repeating this over time will improve his handling of shots. If he can improve his ball-catching skills from aerial balls and shots this will give him the platform to better judge when he should catch or parry an incoming cross or shot.

To be an effective goalkeeper you need to have quick reflexes and reactions. Ali certainly has these traits. He has decent hand-eye co-ordination that enables him to react quickly and decisively to unexpected, and/or close-range shots. He can divert these shots away from the goal by quickly lifting his arm/s or a leg to block goal-bound shots. He is also able to move in one direction to try and reach a shot but rapidly readjust his feet and body position when the ball is deflected in a different direction and still be able to outstretch his arm/s and or leg to prevent the ball from going into the goal.

When preparing to face a shot Ali adopts a partially crouched stance with his arms spread marginally away from his body and lower arms raised upwards towards his chest with his hands facing away from his body. At the same time, his legs are bent somewhat allowing him to push off them to generate the spring necessary to dive towards the direction the ball is heading in. A good example of where this stance benefitted him was in the stunning save he made versus Eritrea in the 2019 CECAFA Cup (See second half). A low cross was played into an unmarked Eritrean player near the penalty spot. They hit a right-footed shot with bend and whip towards Ali’s right corner. As the ball flew towards the corner of the net, he was able to quickly shift his feet a few paces across his goal line. His partially crouched body stance and slightly bent legs enabled him to dive to his right side, extend his arms and make a fingertip save to parry the ball onto the post and away from danger. This also highlighted his good footwork, quick reactions, and agility as he moved across his goal-line smoothly and quickly to save the incoming shot heading towards the corner of the net.

Ali has shown himself to be effective in 1v1 situations. When facing a player in a 1v1 situation, he bends his legs slightly and places them quite wide from each other. Simultaneously he has a partially crouched stance and his arms close to his body and bent at around a 120-degree angle. This body positioning helped him block a 1v1 in the first leg of the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Zimbabwe (See full match). The Zimbabwe player charged towards goal via a counter-attack and Ali raced from his goal to close down the player. The player sought to beat Ali by placing a shot past him on his left-hand side and into the goal. However, Ali’s slightly bent legs enabled him to quickly and easily outstretch his left leg to block the shot and prevent a certain goal. His stance for dealing with 1v1’s is good although it can be improved if he spread his arms a little further away from his body to make himself a larger obstacle to beat while also making it easier for him to extend his arms if he needs to save a shot in these circumstances. He can implement this by moving his arms slightly wider from his body in 1v1 training ground drills so that it becomes second nature during matches.

Ali has adequate ball control, short and medium-range passing, and composure on the ball for a goalkeeper. He is relatively comfortable passing out from the back but tends to play simple sideways passes to his teammates as opposed to forward ground passes. To help the build-up play he should look to play more forward ground passes. However, he should refrain from doing so if there is an obvious risk of his pass being intercepted due to the likely close proximity between where the interception would occur and the goal. His calmness on the ball under pressure was exemplified in the 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifier first-leg win over Zimbabwe. A bouncing ball was kicked towards him and as he sought to bring the ball under control he was sharply closed down by a Zimbabwean player. As the player approached, he controlled the bouncing ball on his chest let the ball bounce, and then side-footed the ball over the pressing player’s head to his teammate standing behind the opponent who then cleared the ball. The ball control, accurate pass, and composure he showed here allowed his team to maintain possession. Whereas he could have chested the ball and kicked it out of play in turn surrendering possession to the opposition.

It was noticeable that Ali did not take goal-kicks that required a long kick up field, in the games reviewed. This was left to his teammates. Due to the number of games reviewed where this took place including 2022 FIFA World Cup qualifiers and Somali Premier League matches it is likely that he did not take these types of goal kicks because his kicking technique is poor. He cannot have a hugely successful career as a goalkeeper if he struggles with his kicking to the extent that teammates must take all of these types of goal-kicks. He, therefore, needs to work hard on improving this aspect of his game. He can do this by placing balls inside the penalty box in every training session and continuously attempting to kick the balls as high and as far away from his goal as possible. As part of his kicking technique, he should look to lean back as he strikes the ball and makes sure the laces of his boot go under the ball to generate the power and upwards trajectory needed for a sound goal-kick.

An impressive aspect of Ali’s game is his communication and leadership skills. During matches, he is constantly communicating with his defenders, telling them where to stand and where to position themselves when he has the ball and is looking to throw or pass the ball to a teammate. He is also vocal at set-pieces organising his defenders and gesticulating where he wants them to stand despite being significantly younger and less experienced than most of his teammates. To be this confident and assertive when building up the play from the goal and defending set-pieces shows his leadership qualities and a willingness to take responsibility for decision making.

Long-term Potential

Ali has demonstrated that he has the tools to develop into a solid goalkeeper. He has the potential to become a mainstay for his country and one of the better goalkeepers in East Africa. He could reach an even higher level if he can make the required improvements and do so quickly.

Potential Future Clubs

Since returning from injury Ali has established himself as Mogadishu City Club’s number one goalkeeper with some impressive performances in the Somali Premier League in recent weeks against Horseed, Raadsan and Dekedaha (See full match).

Providing Ali maintains his current form a potential transfer to a foreign club in a stronger league should hopefully present itself for him. If it does, he should be willing to move. However, he should only move if he has a clear pathway to becoming the first-choice goalkeeper.

Let’s look at two clubs that would be a good step-up for Ali and where he could become number one goalkeeper:

Saint George SC

Saint George is Ethiopia’s most well-renowned and successful club. They have won the Ethiopian Premier League title on numerous occasions, most recently in the 2016-2017 season.

Having reviewed the Saint George squad it is evident that they need to sign a new younger goalkeeper. Currently, they have Patrick Matasi as first-choice goalkeeper and Lealem Birhanu as the back-up goalkeeper. Both are in their mid-thirties and coming towards the end of their careers. They will therefore need to sign a younger goalkeeper who can either be first-choice straight away or supplement the squad with a view to replacing Matasi as first-choice in a years’ time. A good option for them would be Ali. He is only 21 years of age, has international experience, decent fundamentals physically and technically for a goalkeeper with plenty of room for development, and would likely be available for a very low fee.

Transferring to Saint George would be ideal for Ali. He would have the opportunity to develop his goalkeeping attributes while representing a prestigious East African club and playing in a better league. The transition from Somalia to Ethiopia would not be too significant from a footballing and personal point of view making it easier for him to adapt. Additionally, as their first-choice goalkeeper is 33 it is likely that if he moved there, he could be an understudy for 6-12 months and then become first-choice goalkeeper. Alternatively, if he performed well on arrival he could become first-choice earlier.

Al Amal Atbara

Al Amal Atbara is currently in the Sudanese Premier League and has played at that level for numerous seasons. Last season (2019-2020) they finished in an impressive fourth place. They have had an acceptable start to the 2020-2021 season and currently find themselves in sixth place. They will be hoping to improve as the season progresses and cement a top-six spot.

Looking forward to the 2021-2022 season if Al Amal Atbara wants to have a successful season and potentially challenge Sudanese giants Al Hilal Omdurman and Al Merrikh they will need to have an astute summer transfer window. One position where they need to improve and do so wisely is in goal. Their first-choice goalkeeper is Akram Salim is 34 and is heading towards retirement. They, therefore, need to sign a younger goalkeeper who can be an upgrade on him. A good choice would be Ali. He is only 21 years old, would be a low-cost option, and could provide long-term stability in this position. Alongside this, if he were first-choice and was able to improve his weaknesses he could potentially become a valuable asset for the club who they could make a profit on after 2-3 seasons.

A move to Al Amal Atbara would be great for Ali. They are a respectable club that performs in a more competitive and higher quality league. He would therefore experience training and playing against better players that would help him improve his game. Moving to Sudan from Somalia would be a relatively smooth change for him and it is unlikely that it would take long for him to adapt to his new surroundings if he joined them. In turn, he would be able to focus purely on football and improving his skill set every day rather than having to worry about settling into a new country with a totally different culture and lifestyle.

Additionally, Al Amal Atbara’s number one goalkeeper is 34 and they will likely be looking for a younger first-choice goalkeeper for next season. Therefore, if they signed Ali for next season, they would probably be doing so with the intention of making him their first-choice goalkeeper. Becoming a first-choice goalkeeper at a club like Al Amal Atbara and being provided with plenty of first-team opportunities would help him grow and develop as a goalkeeper rapidly. Such an opportunity to be a regular starter at a club like Al Amal Atbara is unlikely to be available at many other clubs of their stature for him.

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