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A look into Essam El-Hadary’s time in Sudan

Making his debut, Abdul Musa looks back at ’s spell with Al-Merreikh, cataloguing the best and worst moments for the Egyptian legend in Sudan.

In one of the most famous transfers in the history of Sudanese football, Egyptian footballing icon & four-time Africa Cup of Nations-winning goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary signed for Sudanese giants Merriekh Omdurman from Zamalek SC in December 2010 on a 3-year contract at the age of 37.

El-Hadary would earn 20,000 USD a month in wages with Al-Merriekh and his contract suggested that he would become first choice goalkeeper and play whenever available. Egypt’s (arguably) best-ever keeper was looking to open a new chapter in his career after being banned by FIFA for four months in July 2010 due to a transfer saga involving FC Sion.

2010-2011 Campaign

El-Hadary’s first season with Al-Merriekh probably didn’t turn out the way he wanted it to be, Al-Merriekh were knocked out in the first round of the by InterClube of Angola on penalties in Luanda. Al-Merriekh only had local silverware to play for. Despite this happening strong performances in the league lead Al-Merriekh to their first league title in 4 years. El-Hadary 21 times and conceded only 8 goals. He proved very hard to beat in his first season and was the main reason they managed to win the league.

El-Hadary El-Merriekh

First Press conference with Al-Merriekh

2011-2012 Campaign

El-Hadary had an unsuccessful trial with Hull City in the summer of 2011, after which he then came back to Sudan to continue with Al-Merriekh. Later on that year Al-Merriekh were having some problems financially, and players were being payed late and wages were delayed. Due to this he left Al-Merriekh for 3 months and at this time he was training and playing for Ittihad Al Sakandry, from December 2011 to March 2012. Al-Merriekh launched a complaint against El-Hadary for leaving the team without permission from the board, and his career with Al-Merriekh seemed to be coming to an end. However, Al-Merriekh needed El-Hadary for their CAF Champions league campaign and Al-Merriekh President Jamal Al Wali managed to pay El-Hadary all his wages.

He then returned to Al-Merriekh and participated in the CAF Champions league where they were knocked out in the last 16. However, he helped them qualified for the CAF Confederations Cup. El-Hadary’s fine performance throughout the Confed Cup group stages saw him only concede 3 goals in 6 games, and Al-Merriekh topped the group to face AC Leopard of Congo Brazzaville in the semi final. El-Hadary joined the team late in Congo and manager Ricardo Herriera was very annoyed by El-Hadary’s actions. Despite this, El-Hadary started the game and made some decent saves throughout the first half and Al-Merriekh ended the half 1-0 up.

In the second half, El-Hadary made the biggest mistake in his time with Al-Merriekh. In the 79th minute of the game, he tried to waste time by bouncing the ball inside the 6 yard box. As the ball was bouncing and the opponent closed in, the ball slipped from El-Hadary’s hands and the opponent was there to tuck away the equalizer, shocking the team and the fans. El-Hadary conceded again in the last 10 minutes and the game ended 2-1. This mistake proved costly as Al-Merriekh drew 0-0 in Omdurman and they were knocked out of the competition. The fans refused to blame El-Hadary and stood by their keeper and remembered him for his fantastic displays throughout the competition.

In the Sudanese League that year El-Hadary featured 16 times and conceded only 7 times, putting on fantastic displays in the league to lead Al-Merriekh to a 2nd place finish. Everyone claimed that if El-Hadary had played all 26 games, they would have won the league. El-Hadary was looking to redeem himself for his silly mistake against AC Leopard and the Sudan Cup final was around the corner, where Al Hilal, the other big club in Sudan was to face Al-Merriekh in Khartoum Stadium. The game finished 0-0 after 120 minutes of football and eventually the game was to be decided from the penalty spot. This was El-Hadary’s time to shine; he managed to save 2 of the 4 penalties and he lead his team to a 3-1 win and Sudan Cup glory. El-Hadary had redeemed himself and became a hero after leading his team to a famous victory over arch-rivals Al Hilal. This is by far considered the best season for El-Hadary in Sudan so far and he was starting to prove his worth.

Sudan Cup penalty saves:
[youtube id=”gCl5iYScHaI” width=”620″ height=”360″]

2012-2013 Campaign

At the start of this season President Jamal Al Wali resigned from Presidency and there were a lot of problems surrounding the club. The new president Essam ElHadj was guiding the club in the wrong direction and El-Hadary left to Egypt without permission. At this time he was training with Ittihad El Sakandry and didn’t even return to participate in the CAF Champions League where Al-Merriekh were knocked out in the first round by Recreativo Libolo of Angola.

El-Hadary’s wages were delayed for months and all the players at Al-Merriekh were suffering. Ivorian centre-back, Serge Pascal Wawa, said in an interview with a local newspaper, “We are finding it hard to eat and drink” when asked to describe the financial difficulties surrounding the club. Eventually, Essam ElHadj resigned, and President Jamal Al Wali returned to the club and every player was payed their wages. With this returned Essam El-Hadary after a 4 month absence to fight for the league and Sudan Cup. Al-Merriekh are now in the Sudan Cup quarter finals and El-Hadary featured in the last 32 and last 16 rounds, in those 4 games, he only conceded once against Khartoum Al Watani in a last 16 tie. This current season ends in November and Al-Merriekh are at the moment top of the league and are in a good position to win both competitions.

The man Didier Drogba referred to as his “best opponent” in an interview with Chelsea FC Magazine has been impressive recently and is trying to get back into Bob Bradley’s Pharaohs squad for the 2014 World Cup play offs. He is regarded the best keeper in Sudan at the moment and the giant pharaoh is certainly living up to his once-glorious reputation.

Follow @King_Fut on Twitter and Facebook for the latest on Egyptian football.

Abdul Musa is a Sudanese football fanatic living in England. Passionate Al Hilal Omdurman and Manchester United supporter who closely follows football across Europe and Africa and writes for various websites including KingFut. African footballing aficionado, Pep Guardiola enthusiast, currently studying BSc Chemistry at University.

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