BOLTON // Ali al Habsi has warned his Bolton rival Jussi Jaaskelainen that he will not be giving up his No 1 spot without a fight. The Omani keeper was a revelation when he replaced the injured Jaaskelainen for the closing stages of last season's Premier League campaign, and his efforts - including four clean sheets in the crucial last eight games - undoubtedly helped the club avoid relegation.
But Habsi's position and future is now in doubt after his Finnish rival signed a four-year contract to stay at the Reebok Stadium when many had expected him to leave on a Bosman free transfer this summer. Habsi, 26, has one year left on his deal and has yet to discuss a possible extension to stay at the Reebok Stadium. But with clubs, including Galatasaray, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Blackburn and Premier League newcomers Hull City keeping tabs on him, the Premier League's first player from the Gulf said: "I won't rush into any decision just yet and am keeping my options open.
"We shall see what happens, but it is down to Bolton to see what comes next. I am waiting for them to come to me with an offer and I am concentrating on my game. "I still have a year left on my contract and I showed everyone what I can do last season. Jussi is a good player and has helped me a lot, but at every club there is competition and players fighting for a starting position in the team. "He has signed a new contract, but that doesn't mean he is going to be the first choice. Jussi was the No 1 before he got injured, but I came in and feel I did very well and deserve to keep the shirt.
"Like every player, I want to play first team football and feel I have proved I can be a No 1. I like it at Bolton, but if that doesn't happen here then I may have to look at other options." Sam Allardyce, Habsi's former Bolton boss and the man who brought him to the Premier League from the Norwegian side Lyn Oslo, admits the Omani is now in a difficult predicament. "Ali wants to play first team football and after what he did last season, he deserves that. He made a massive contribution in keeping them in the Premier League and Bolton have a problem now in keeping both Ali and Jussi happy.Ali is good enough to be a No1 in the Premier League and waited patiently for his chance at Bolton so it would be disappointing for him to be back on the bench.
"I am surprised Jussi stayed at Bolton to be honest. I cannot believe another club did not take a keeper of his calibre on a free transfer. When you see teams like Aston Villa, Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester City all linked with keepers, why has someone with Jussi's experience and quality been overlooked? "He was superb for me at Bolton and I think he's one of the top three or four in the country. Doing well is not all about scoring goals; you need a good keeper and Jussi can get you a lot of points. But he will have to look over his shoulder now as Ali will push him all the way for a starting spot."