Egypt's iconic keeper Hadary brings down curtain on glittering 27-year career

Hatem Maher , Wednesday 18 Nov 2020

El-Hadary's distinguished never-say-die attitude was key in helping him defy critics over and over again

Essam El-Hadary

Essam El-Hadary, the oldest keeper in history to play at a World Cup and Egypt's iconic shot-stopper, announced on Wednesday that he is retiring from the game after a hugely successful career characterized by on-field heroics and unyielding determination to carry on in his 40s.

The 47-year-old, who has been without a club for over a year, moved to formally announce that he is quitting football to quell widespread reports linking him with a couple of Egyptian Premier League clubs, including the newly-promoted Ceramica Cleopatra.

"I'm today bringing down the curtain on my footballing career," El-Hadary said on his social media accounts.

"I'm not joining a new club; I'm instead on the verge of a new challenge. I took coaching training courses in Europe … and I'm ready to begin a new career as a coach."

El-Hadary's distinguished never-say-die attitude was key in helping him defy critics over and over again.

He proved doubters wrong on many occasions, not least when he stepped in as a substitute for the injured Ahmed El-Shennawi in Egypt's opening game of the 2017 African Cup of Nations.

Detractors thought he was too old to even break into Egypt's squad as the number-three choice between the sticks. But he rose to the occasion in a typical manner, producing a number of jaw-dropping displays at the age of 44 to lead the Pharaohs to a place in the final.

Little more than a year later, he was set for one last personal milestone, perhaps the most remarkable of his career.

When he played in Egypt's final group-stage game against Saudi Arabia at the 2018 World Cup in Volgograd, which was a mere dead-rubber after the team had lost their opening two matches, he became the oldest keeper to appear in the football's most prestigious showpiece.

At 45 years and 161 days, El-Hadary beat the record set by Colombia keeper Faryd Mondragon when he participated at the 2014 World Cup at the age of 43 years and three days.

"What I accomplished in this tournament was the result of years of hard work, dedicated training and suffering that only a few know about," he told at the time.

"God helped me crown my football career with a participation in the World Cup. This in itself is an accomplishment. We must benefit from both the positive and negative aspects. There are many lessons to learn."

The international accomplishments of El-Hadary, whose World Cup gloves went on display at the FIFA museum, did not stop there.

He won four Nations Cup titles with Egypt, including three on the trot in 2006, 2008 and 2010, thwarting the likes of then Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o and Ivorian hitman Didier Drogba with some brilliant stops.

Chelsea great Drogba did not hide his admiration for El-Hadary, describing him as his best opponent.    

Rise to fame

El-Hadary came through the youth ranks of Damietta and made his name with Ahly, Egypt and Africa's most successful outfit where he succeeded Ahmed Shobeir, one of the country's most decorated keepers of all time.

He came across as a solid guardian after making his Ahly debut in 1996 but only exploded in the 2000s, cementing his place as Egypt's number one and leading Ahly to a host of titles, including eight domestic league triumphs and three African Champions League crowns.

But his iconic status at the Red Devils took a battering when, out of nowhere, El-Hadary simply packed his bags and flew to Switzerland to join Sion without Ahly's consent in 2008 after unilaterally rescinding his contract, enraging the team's faithful who branded him a "traitor."

It's a move he still regrets as Ahly's door was shut for good. He enjoyed less fruitful campaigns at a handful of clubs, including Ahly's perennial Cairo rivals Zamalek, Ismaily and Sudan's Al Merreikh.

"I have not and will never forget that all the credit for my career, after God, goes to Ahly, the African Club of the Century and the best club in the world," El-Hadary fondly said of the record eight-time African champions.

"Ahly's great fans are the ones who made me who I'm today, and I owe them and the club everything."

El-Hadary's last club adventure was with the little-known Nogoom, whom he joined in early 2019. The brief spell came to an end quickly, with age finally taking its toll on the larger-than-life goalkeeper.

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