Essam El-Hadary, the towering 6ft 2in Egyptian goalkeeper, was born in January 1973 making him 45 years old this year, and he will be the oldest man to play in a FIFA World Cup. Goalkeepers are like a fine wine, they mature and get better with age and are often football’s longest lasting players.
ESPN remarked in their profile on El-Hadary that goalkeeping is the only position where “wisdom can most often compensate for physical decline”. Now, after 28 years since Egypt’s last qualification at Italia ’90, El Hadary is about to accomplish his ultimate dream and compete in the biggest sporting event in the world.
El Hadary was born in the small town of Kafr al-Battikh, which literally translates as “Town of the Watermelon”. His father, a hard-working wood craftsman owned a small workshop in the town. 1970s Egypt was fraught with political and economic turmoil; the Arab-Israeli conflict and the oil crisis were taking a toll on Egypt’s population. Against that backdrop, a young boy was told by his father that he either worked hard at school and excelled, or work hard in the workshop making furniture. El-Hadary liked neither one of those options, instead opting to play football. A hobby he had to hide from his father.
In secret he would play at the local fields every day after school, while he took his schoolbooks with him so his parents wouldn’t know he was playing football. At 17 years old he was signed by Egyptian second division club Damietta, and only after a season with the academy did he finally tell his parents he was a professional football player.
Three years later at the age of 20 he made his full debut for Damietta and was called up to the national team a year later. With only a year left on his contract with Damietta, El-Hadary signed a pre-contract with top-tier club Al Ahly, and would spend 12 years establishing himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the country.
At 45-years-old, El-Hadary is an Egyptian national treasure. He has won over 30 trophies for club and country and has made 157 international career appearances for Egypt. He won the Egyptian Premier League 8 times with club Al Ahly, and four Africa Cup of Nations for Egypt. He has also won the Egypt Cup, Egyptian Super Cup, and the CAF Champions League in his career. With the World Cup in Russia coming up next week, El-Hadary has a chance to add to his priceless experiences by becoming the oldest player to play at a World Cup.
That honour was previously held by Colombian goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon, who played at the previous tournament in Brazil. The BBC informs that in 2014, Mondragon was the oldest man to play at the World Cup at the age of 43 years and 3 days. Much like El-Hadary, he also had an illustrious career. ’The Top 10 Oldest Football Players’ article published by Coral claims that Mondragon spent 24 years playing for clubs throughout the world, including in the Argentine and German leagues. In 2014, Mondragon broke Cameroon legend Roger Milla’s long-standing record of the oldest player to play at the famous tournament. Milla had played in the 1994 World Cup at the age of 42.
Even at 45, El-Hadary is still seen as a mainstay of the Egyptian team. He will need to be on top form, now more than ever, as we reported that star player Mohamed Salah is feared to miss the World Cup due to injury. With only a matter of days to go until the tournament starts, El-Hadary is looking to make his late father proud with his first ever appearance at the World Cup.
— By ActiveSports18