Saudi legend Al-Jaber wants Al-Hilal to lift the Champions League for club stalwart

Saudi legend Al-Jaber wants Al-Hilal to lift the Champions League for club stalwart
Sami Al-Jaber is willing his former club to win the continental crown on Saturday. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Updated 23 November 2017

Saudi legend Al-Jaber wants Al-Hilal to lift the Champions League for club stalwart

Saudi legend Al-Jaber wants Al-Hilal to lift the Champions League for club stalwart

LONDON: If any Al-Hilal fan is seeking inspiration ahead of this weekend’s AFC Champions League final second leg against Urawa Reds, they need look no further than club legend Sami Al-Jaber.
The Riyadh giants head to Saitama in Japan this Saturday locked at 1-1 and as underdogs, without a continental title since 2000. But speaking to Arab News, Al-Jaber, part of the winning team 17 years ago, said Al-Hilal always have it in them to produce in big games describing them as “more than just a football club.”
Al-Jaber spent almost his entire professional career playing for the Riyadh giants, wearing the famous blue shirt almost 450 times over a decorated 20-year career.
“It’s like home, they call me the son of the club,” the 44-year-old told Arab News.
“I spent 20 years at the club, this is a great club. I was with so many presidents during the years, so many people who worked at the club. Al-Hilal is not just a football club, Al-Hilal is a legacy, it’s a very big legacy in Saudi Arabia and the region.
“(It’s) just like my family, just like home and my family. It’s a club that has a legacy and it’s more than just a football club. You can see the history, and in Asia I would say it’s No.1.
“All the presidents, all the workers, all the players — the secret is they are like a family, they act always like a family.
“They care about each other, they do so many charity things that no one knows about, they take care of everything. All the people that are working there, they love the club.
“I can’t say any more than the club is more than a football club, it’s a community.”
And, according to Al-Jaber, it is the loyal fans of the club that are its biggest asset.
“I would say if someone is born, the first thing that will come out of his mouth is Al-Hilal — it’s not mother or father,” Al-Jaber joked.
“The fans are the big secret (to the success) of Al-Hilal. They love the club and they travel everywhere that the club is going, they follow the club. This is one of the biggest secrets.”
Al-Jaber was a key man of the famous Al-Hilal side that last tasted continental success in 2000. On that occasion they defeated Japanese side Jubilo Iwata 3-2 in extra-time after a dramatic late comeback, with Brazilian Sergio Ricardo scoring an 89th minute equalizer to send the match to extra time, and followed it up with a golden goal in the 102nd minute to seal his hat-trick and the title for the Saudi Arabian club.
“This is one of the best matches in the history,” Al-Jaber said. “The match was very close to a European style, at the time they compared it to one of the games from (Europe).
“The whole King Fahd Stadium was shaking with 75,000 people.”
According to Al-Jaber, the win over the Japanese side had a greater meaning than just being crowned continental champions.
“We proved to people that Saudi football was going in the right direction,” he said. “If you remember Japan in 1992 won their first Asian Cup against Saudi Arabia. After that we also played the 2000 Asian Cup (final) again, and we lost 1-0 as well.
“This was the competition (at the time), we were the best two teams at the time and Japan tried to prove that they are coming and that they will be big in Asia.”
Amazingly, despite that Asian Club Championship success being 17 years ago, one player remains from the side — the legendary Mohammad Al-Shalhoub.
“What a great player, what a great player,” Al-Jaber said of the 36-year-old.
“He’s No.1 at Al-Hilal in history. This guy is very disciplined, very polite but he is a fantastic player. When you talk about the history of Al-Hilal you have to mention Mohammad Al-Shalhoub.
“He is one of the reasons I am saying Al-Hilal deserves to win the Asian Champions League. This guy played against Jubilo (Iwata) when he was 17-18-years-old and now after 17 years he will be there as a captain of Al-Hilal.
“To end his career with a competition like this, for Al-Hilal fans and us who played with this guy, it will be the best end for this legend.”
On Saturday’s crunch clash against Urawa Reds, Al-Jaber is confident his former side can claim the crown they so desperately want, even after last weekend’s frustrating 1-1 draw and loss of star attacker Carlos Eduardo to a season-ending knee injury.
“It doesn’t matter the score, if the score is 1-0 it’s more than enough,” he said.