By 45 years of age, most footballers would have long since retired and been off on the golf course, doing various media work, or trying to make it as a coach. However, that’s not the case for Egypt goalkeeper, Essam El-Hadary, who will be the oldest player at this summer’s World Cup in Russia. Nicknamed the ‘High Dam’ after a popular Egyptian blocking barrier, El-Hadary, should he play, would become the oldest player to feature in a match in the tournament’s history.
El-Hadary: Career in brief
El-Hadary made his first team debut – then aged 20 – way back in 1993 for his hometown club from the port city of Damietta, Egypt. He later went on to play for Egyptian giants Al-Ahly where he won eight league titles and four Confederation of African Football (CAF) Champions Leagues in 12 seasons. El-Hadary controversially left Al-Ahly in 2008 after not telling the club he was leaving, despite being under contract. Al-Ahly complained to FIFA and El-Hadary was banned for 4 months, but he eventually moved to Swiss side FC Sion and won the Swiss Cup in 2009.
He later had short stints at various Egyptian and Sudanese clubs including Al-Ahly’s great rivals Zamalek. He also underwent a brief trial at Hull City in 2011 but he did not sign terms with the Tigers. Last season, the 6ft 2in stopper played 27 times for Al-Taawoun as they finished 7th in the top tier of Saudi football.
Internationally, El-Hadary has made 157 appearances for his country with the first of those coming in 1996. His debut actually occurred 10 months before Egypt’s youngest squad member for Russia – Stoke City’s Ramadan Sobhi – was born. El-Hadary also won the African Cup of Nations with Egypt four times and was chosen as the best goalkeeper for the 2006, 2008 and 2010 tournaments. He most recently came on as a substitute in Egypt’s 0-0 friendly draw with Columbia on 1st June.
Egypt – who are going into just their third World Cup – have quite a difficult group. They open their campaign against Uruguay whose squad includes dangerous attackers Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani. Egypt then play hosts Russia who have an element of home advantage on their side, and finish off their group stage matches against Saudi Arabia; the latter comprising something of an Arab local derby in terms of geography.
If selected, El-Hadary will have to be on top form to ensure Egypt stand a chance of progressing through to the knockout stages. He will be joined by teammate and Liverpool talisman Mohamed Salah. The striker has been included in Egypt’s squad despite having suffered a shoulder injury in last month’s Champions League final less than three weeks from the start of the World Cup.
World Cup history?
Columbian goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon is currently the oldest ever player to appear at a World Cup, coming on as a 85th minute substitute in Columbia’s final group game against Japan in 2014 aged 43. El-Hadary will be desperately hoping Egypt boss Hector Cuper puts him on the pitch in one of the group matches in order that he might surpass Mondragon’s record and make World Cup history.
One thing is for sure, at age 45, it seems El-Hadary is showing no signs of slowing down. Who knows, if he continues at this rate he might be rewriting the record book again at the next World Cup.