Very few players around the globe can match the success enjoyed by Egyptian legend Hossam Hassan during his long and remarkable career. The most-capped and highest-scoring player in African football history, Hassan racked up 83 international goals and 170 appearances over an incredible 21 years with the Pharaohs.
FIFA.com takes a closer look at the past and present of a living legend.
For Hassan, 1985 was the year in which it all really began with his first appearance for Cairo giants Al Ahly preceding a call-up for the national team just months later. Although he only played a few minutes of Egypt's CAF Africa Cup of Nations triumph the following year, Hassan was thrilled to come on as a substitute for his idol, Mahmud El Khateeb, the only Egyptian to be voted Africa's top player by France Football. At the time, it seemed impossible that Hassan would force his way into such a star-studded team - especially as his technique was clearly inferior - but the steely resolve that would become his trademark ensured that he was soon enough established as his country's first-choice forward.
In 1988, Hassan met the man who would become his mentor. Mahmoud El Gohary took over the Pharaohs reins for the first time and steered the team to their second and, to date, last FIFA World Cup™ appearance two years later. "El Gohary to me is like a father," Hassan told FIFA.com. "He is the greatest person I have ever met and I have to say that he should be credited for most of Egyptian football's current success."
This deep affection and respect was mutual, and El Gohary's faith in Hassan was rewarded when he scored the decisive goal in Egypt's historic 1-0 victory over Algeria to book a ticket to Italy 1990. "That was the best moment of my career," Hassan recalled of the goal that made him a national hero. "I remember that the whole country was behind us and supported us to achieve that dream."
After Italy 1990, he joined Greek outfit PAOK before switching to Swiss side Neuchatel Xamax, but Hassan could not adapt with the European way of life and returned home within two years. It was to prove a lasting regret. "I should have continued my European career; it could have given me more international fame," he said. "I would have loved to play in Italy but I decided to return home in the spur of the moment to help my former club regain their pride."
That former club was Al Ahly, who were suffering at the time, and Hassan did indeed help them to regain their former glory. The player himself reached the peak of his career when he led his country, once more under the guidance of El Gohary, to glory at the Africa Cup of Nations in 1998. Soon after, however, he faced embarrassment when Al Ahly, the club to which he had devoted his career, released both him and his twin brother due to disciplinary issues.
At 35, the striker was seen by many to have little left to offer. As it was, he decided to move to Al Ahly's great rivals Zamalek and duly led them to several titles, including the CAF Champions League. "Leaving Ahly was a very tough moment, but when I look back at it now I see it as a blessing because I also played for Zamalek and had the same success," he said. "That made me one of the most popular players in Egypt."
And the Hossan story wasn't finished yet. There was still time for a last hurrah on the international stage when, at the age of 40, he was part of the Egypt team that regained the Africa Cup of Nations in 2006.
Last year, Hassan accepted a coaching job at one of his former clubs, Al Masry, and made an immediate impact by saving the club from relegation. Controversy continued to accompany him - he was suspended three times in one season - but the 42-year-old insists he will be around the game for a long time to come. "Football is the core of my life and I just cannot stop thinking about it," he said. "It is not a job or hobby for me; it is my whole world. I am keen to learn and to develop my coaching skills and I am confident of success."
Hassan is currently in charge of Telecom Egypt, another relegation-threatened club, but he makes no secret of the ambition that drives him. "I hope one day to take charge of the Egyptian national team," he reveals, "and I believe that I will achieve that very soon."
Clubs: Al Ahly (EGY), PAOK (GRE), Neuchatel Xamax (SUI), Al Ain (UAE), Zamalek (EGY), Masry (EGY), Tersana (EGY) Ittihad (EGY)
National team: 170 appearances, 83 goals
Honours: CAF Africa Cup of Nations winner with Egypt (1986, 1998 and 2006), CAF Champions League with Al Ahly(1987), CAF Champions League with Zamalek (2002) CAF Cup Winners Cup with Al Ahly (1986 and 1993), Afro-Asian clubs cup with Al Ahly (1989), 11 Egyptian League titles with Al Ahly (1985,1986,1987,1989,1994,1995,1996,1997,1998,1999 and 2000), three Egyptian league titles with Zamalek (2001,2003 and 2004) four Egyptian Cup titles with Al Ahly (1985, 1989,1993 and 1996) and 1 CAF Super Cup with Zamalek (2003)