Essam El Hadary: The Oldest African Player to Feature in the World Cup

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Football is a short career but for former Egyptian goalkeeper Essam El Hadary, he seemed like he’d go on forever. In 2018, he became the oldest player to feature in a FIFA World Cup match. Even though he retired from football, the goalkeeper remains involved. Let’s reflect on his career.

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Essam El Hadary’s Career Progression

When Essam began playing football, he did it secretly because he didn’t want his parents to know. He ran up to 7km away from home to satisfy his interest in playing football. While at it, a local club spotted him.

At the age of 20, he played his first game for the club and then moved to Al Ahly in 1996. Essam El Hadary played for Al Ahly for 12 years. During this time, he cemented his place as one of Egypt’s and Africa’s top goalkeepers. 

El Hadary played 412 games for the team and won every major trophy. These include: 

  • 8 Egyptian Premier League
  • 4 Egyptian Super Cups
  • 4 CAF Champions League
  • 4 Egypt Cups
  • 3 CAF Super Cups
  • 2 Arab Super Cups
  • one Arab Club Champions Cup  

During his time playing at the club, El Hadary sought a move away without the club’s consent. Al Ahly suspended him for four months and later FIFA and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld the suspension. He was further asked to pay the FIFA court fees by a Swiss court.

Nonetheless, his career continued. After a year in Sweden, the goalie went back to Egypt. He played for clubs in Egypt and Saudi Arabia before his retirement. Some of them are: 

In 2020, Essam announced his retirement from football. 

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International Football

The goalkeeper had a successful international career. He played for the Pharaohs 159 times having first started in 1996. Essam El Hadary is a four-time winner of the Africa Cup of Nations (2006, 2008, 2010, 2017). 

In 2018, El Hadary played against Qatar in the FIFA World Cup and became the oldest player to play at that level. 

Essam El Hadary was awarded the CAF Champions League Best Goalkeeper thrice. (2001, 2005, 2006). 

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Life After Football

Essam El Hadary hasn’t wasted any time after hanging his glove. He’s already served in multiple positions, building his managerial portfolio. El Hadary was the goalkeeping coach for the Egyptian national team. Currently, he works for the Syrian National team under Hector Cuper.

The player might be one of the last to have been in the game till the age of 45. With the demands of football, such longevity is becoming trickier. Players often report fatigue and that comes with its fair share of injuries, which makes it impossible to play at such an age. 

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