- El Hadary moved to the Saudi Professional League this season
- *Became the first foreign goalkeeper to score in the Saudi top flight *
- *Egypt veteran could make World Cup appearance aged 45 next year *
Having realised his 25-year dream of leading Egypt to the FIFA World Cup™, veteran goalkeeper Essam El Hadary is now writing a new chapter in an already storied career. The 44-year-old has been on the move again this season, continuing a long and winding football journey that has taken him to places as far apart as Switzerland and Sudan, by signing for Al Taawun in the Saudi Professional League.
When the door was opened for Saudi Arabian clubs to recruit foreign goalkeepers, Al Taawun considered the hugely experienced El Hadary as the best possible option, handing him the skipper's armband to boot. The move was just the latest in a series of tests the Egyptian star has set himself, and overcome, during his career.
"I accepted the offer without hesitation," El Hadary told FIFA.com of his current Saudi experience. "I love challenges. I have objectives I want to realise here. That's why I work really hard to keep in shape, and indeed to keep improving throughout this tough league, which demands a lot of concentration and effort."
*An historic goal *As you would expect, with each passing game El Hadary is proving himself up to the challenge. He has played in all 13 of his club’s league fixtures so far, tallying the most minutes (1170) of anyone in the team. And while his ambitious club are not competing for the title, the evergreen keeper is doing all he can to improve their fortunes.
Indeed, not content with protecting his own goal, with 48 saves thus far, he has also featured at the opposite end of the pitch. In the club's latest outing against Al-Ettifaq, El Hadary scored from a penalty kick to seal a 4-0 win.
"Since my job is to prevent the ball from entering my goal, I love to put it in opponents' goals," he admitted. "When we were awarded the penalty in that match, there was a quick discussion with the coach, and he gave me the opportunity to take it. The goal meant a lot to me, and I want to thank the coach and my team-mates for their full support."
In 2002, while playing for Egypt's Al Ahly in the CAF Super Cup, El Hadary scored another historic goal, firing an outrageous free-kick from well inside his own half against Kaizer Chiefs and helping his side win the title.
*Ambitions without limits *Although El Hadary will turn 45 in January 2018, this will be just another number for the Egyptian as he looks forward to further achievements.
"Since qualifying for Russia 2018, I’ve had the drive to push myself even further," he said. "I work out in the morning before I join group training sessions with the team. I thank God for all this. I’m always focused on constantly developing. I won't let anything stop me. I still have the ambition to play in the World Cup. I want to secure a place in the national team through my efforts and achievements, not through my name and history."
Russia 2018 will be Egypt's first World Cup since Italy 1990. Drawn into Group A, the Pharaohs were pitted against the host nation, as well as Saudi Arabia and Uruguay.
"At a World Cup, there are no weak teams," said El Hadary. "We have many examples of teams that were seen as ordinary but then defeated big-name sides. I heard many people saying they were happy we didn’t end up in a group with Germany, Brazil, Spain or Argentina.
"But we, the players, know the strength of our rivals in the group. Russia, as the host nation supported by legions of fans, will be doing everything to qualify. Uruguay are a vastly experienced South American team with top notch strikers like [Luis] Suarez and [Edinson] Cavani. As for Saudi Arabia, our encounter will certainly be wonderful. In all-Arab matches, you cannot say one side is a stronger favourite than the other."
He continued: "We’re a strong unit, and not just on the pitch: we’re one family with one objective, which is to raise the profile of Egypt and Egyptian football. We want to do it and put a smile on the faces of tens of millions of people."