40-something goalkeepers are so hot right now
At Euro 2016, 40-year-old Hungary goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly emerged as a cult hero, beloved for his age, his sweatpants, and his undiminished skill. Hungary provided a shock by winning their group before getting blown out by Belgium in the round of 16, but Kiraly had his moment in the sun and, at the time, it seemed that was all a player of such advanced age could hope for. But now along comes 44-year-old Essam El Hadary of Egypt—with his short sleeves and full head of hair—who went over 10 hours of play without conceding a goal and has his team in the Africa Cup of Nations final.
El Hadary handily beat the tournament’s previous record for oldest player, set by former teammate Hossam Hossan in 2006, who was a sprightly 39 years old. But becoming the answer to a trivia question and making a few saves wasn’t good enough for El Hadary. He kept a clean sheet in each of the first four matches he played and didn’t concede a goal until Burkina Faso scored in the 73rd minute of the semifinal. He then made up for this by saving two consecutive penalties in the ensuing shootout to put Egypt in the final
Again, this man is 44 years old. He began his international career in 1996. That’s a year before his youngest teammate, Ramadan Sobhi, was born.
El Hadary has already won the Africa Cup of Nations four times and has been named to the team of the tournament three times, so he isn’t some late bloomer finally making his mark on the international stage before triumphantly slipping into retirement. In 2012, Didier Drogba named El Hadary his “best opponent.” And if you think he’s doing this as a last hurrah of sorts, you don’t know how wrong you are. He’s already thinking about playing at the 2018 World Cup.
“I will fight to reach the World Cup,” he told reporters. “I don’t care about my age; I train like I am 20 years old.”
So I guess in 2018, he’ll be training like a 21/22 year old and just coming into his own. By 2030 he’ll really be at the top of his game. Look out.