How the world's oldest footballer realised a dream
Ezzeldin Bahader is the oldest professional footballer to play in an official game
He set a Guinness World Record for this aged 74 and 125 days
A civil engineer by trade, he has six grandchildren
"Nothing is easy, but nothing is impossible,” said Egyptian Ezzeldin Bahader, describing his entry into the Guinness World Records after he became the oldest footballer to take part in an official match when he played in Egypt’s third division back on 6 March.
A grandfather of six who turned 75 last Tuesday, Bahader lined up for his club October 6 against El Ayat last month to realise a dream that began last March, when he played his first official game for the club and scored a goal, setting a record that will take some beating.
FIFA.com spoke with Bahader about his experience, how he managed to achieve his dream, and his future ambitions.
FIFA.com: You recently made football history when you became the world's oldest professional footballer. Where did that idea come from and who encouraged you to pursue it?
Ezzeldin Bahader: I’ve always longed to play for a big club but it remained just a dream. So I began to pursue another goal when I found out that the oldest person to play professionally was a 53-year-old striker [Kazuyoshi Miura from Japan]. Seeing the enormous age gap between me and him, I decided to give it a try. At first, I didn't tell anyone about my objective, and I was trying to motivate myself, but when my family learned about it, they encouraged me a lot.
What impact did the pandemic have on your bid, and how did you prepare over the past six months?
The pandemic had a negative impact on me, especially since the league was suspended just two days before the [second] game I was going to play. This was a shock to me, but during that downtime I practiced with my son and watched a lot of training exercises online so I could do them at home. This period impacted on my match preparation, because training with a club is very different from training at home.
How did your team-mates at October 6 feel when you trained with them for the first time?
They gave me a warm reception. We talked and laughed a lot, but then they told me that they’d expected an old person who’d treat them like kids! They quickly put me to the test, asking me to take some shots on goal. I did that and they were good, so they were pleased in the end.
Your first match was back in March against Genius. How did it go given it was your first official appearance?
I was so nervous and what made it more difficult was that my knee and hamstring muscle were swollen, but my team-mates encouraged me a lot. As soon as the match started, I got swept up by the atmosphere and the nerves disappeared.
Not only did you take part in that game, but you also scored a goal from the spot and became the oldest goalscorer. Was that record on your mind too?
Indeed, I was hoping to score a goal, but it wasn’t that easy. We played against a tough team that were battling to avoid relegation to the next division. We were awarded a penalty in the final minutes and I successfully converted it.
On 17 October, you played the whole match against third division side El Ayat to officially become the oldest player to complete two matches. How did you feel before and during that game?
It wasn't easy because I got a middle-ear infection two weeks before the game. I lost some balance and my movement was affected, so I couldn’t finish a training session and feared I’d miss the game. During the match, I also felt a bit dizzy. Moreover, the two teams wore similar shirts which made things more difficult. However, all my team-mates and the technical team insisted that I play the whole match. I managed to score my team’s second goal from a set-piece that we’d practiced in training.
How did the El Ayat players deal with you, given you were so much older than them, and did you face any difficulties?
The El Ayat players looked surprised and a bit uncomfortable before the game, but I broke the ice by shaking their hands. They even took pictures with me before the game. I also asked them not to make any crunching tackles on me so that I wouldn’t get injured.
Do you think what you’ve done will motivate others to continue playing longer?
Of course, this will give an incentive to players, particularly as many retire at relatively young ages. That said, I’d like to propose the idea of organising a tournament for players over 40. It would give an opportunity to many players who we used to watch to maintain their fitness and show their skills. It’d provide continuity and prove that age is just a number.
The oldest player ever to take part in a FIFA World Cup™ is Egyptian goalkeeper Essam El Hadary. Could we see Ezzeldin Bahader playing for the Egyptian national team one day?
This is a very long shot (laughs)! I’ll continue to train hard and improve my skills and fitness, and if an opportunity arises, I’ll definitely seize it.
The only thing harder than getting to the top is staying there. What are your future ambitions?
I believe that I’ve achieved something which anyone with willpower and determination can do. Maintaining a good level and fitness, especially at this age, is difficult, but getting fit in the first place was difficult as well. I’ll try to continue to play and train because I enjoy playing football so much, and no one knows what the future holds.