“Al-Hilal is not just a club, Al-Hilal is a culture.”
That’s the view of one of the club’s greatest players, Nawaf Al-Temyat, who played almost 500 games for the team across his glittering 16-year career.
Having won all there was on offer in Al-Hilal’s famous blue kit, including five league titles, three Crown Prince Cups, two Asian Cup Winners’ Cups, along with one each of the AFC Champions League (then known as the Asian Club Championship) and Asian Super Cup, Al-Temyat knows a thing or two about what it means to play for Al-Hilal and play under pressure.
As Leonardo Jardim’s team prepare for another AFC Champions League final on Tuesday night, their fourth in the past eight years, Al-Temyat offered some timely advice to the modern generation of players about what it means to play for Al-Hilal.
“The club has to be at the top, always,” the 45-year-old, who retired in 2008, told Arab News, “to meet our fans’ hopes, to win the most trophies.
“Any player who can’t play under pressure won’t be a superstar,” he added. “Playing under pressure is a key factor to show the real personality of the player. This is what the young players must learn.”
While it may be 13 years since he has had the honor of donning the club’s iconic blue strip, once Al-Hilal gets into your soul – he said - it can never be removed, and his passion for the club is just as strong today as it was during his playing career.
With the Crescent on the brink of becoming Asia’s most successful club, with the winner of this week’s clash between Al-Hilal and South Korea’s Pohang Steelers becoming the first to win four Asian club championships, Al-Temyat said he is proud of the current generation for restoring the pride to the club.
“I believe that the glory from the past will continue through the generations,” he said.
“This is why I am proud of this generation, because they have put the club in the place it deserves – as the club of the century in Asia.”
Al-Temyat is one of Saudi Arabia’s and Al-Hilal’s most decorated footballers, with an honor roll to match the very best.
A classy midfielder, Al-Temyat debuted for Al-Hilal in 1993 at just 17-years-old, and played for the Green Falcons at the 1998, 2002, and 2006 FIFA World Cups, an achievement he says he cannot put into words.
Crowned the AFC Player of the Year in 2000, a year of immense personal success, guiding Al-Hilal to the Asian Club Championship and Saudi Arabia to the final of the AFC Asian Cup, he rates golden goal against regional rivals Kuwait in the quarter final as the best goal he scored in his career – and he scored a few.
“The most beautiful goal,” Al-Temyat said of his effort, “because it was a Golden Goal and also I scored two goals in the same match. The moment was crazy and captivating for the national team.”
While Saudi Arabia wouldn’t be successful in winning the title, losing to Japan in the final in Lebanon, Al-Temyat came out on the right side of the ledger earlier that year when Al-Hilal defeated the J.League’s juggernaut team of that era, Jubilo Iwata, to win the Asian Club Championship.
As was the case this year, the semi-finals and finals were held in a centralized hub in Riyadh, with that home ground advantage paying off for Al-Hilal when they defeated South Korea’s Suwon Bluewings 1-0 in a tight and tense semi-final.
Jubilo Iwata presented an even greater challenge in the final.
Having opened the scoring in just the third minute courtesy of Brazilian striker Ricardo, a veteran of Gulf football, Al-Hilal were stunned by two goals in two minutes midway through the first half, that saw Jubilo Iwata take a 2-1 lead.
As the seconds ticked down towards full time, Iwata looked like they would spoil the party for the 40,000-strong crowd, but with just one minute remaining Ricardo popped up again to level the scores and send the match into extra time.
In extra time it was Ricardo again that proved to be the ultimate hero for Al-Hilal, netting his hattrick in the 102nd minute with a Golden Goal that sent the crowd, and the Al-Hilal players into a frenzy.
“The most beautiful memories (I have) are from 2000,” Al-Temyat explained.
“We won six trophies with an exceptional generation of players. Winning against Jubilo in the final made me win the best player in Asia as the first Hilal player (to do so). This personally made me so proud.
“These memories mesmerized because we wrote history.”
And now a new generation of Al-Hilal players get their chance to create their own history and add to the rich history and culture of one of Asia’s most storied football clubs.