Essam, Essam, Essam. Let me tell you, as an Egyptian who regularly follows the Egyptian Premier League and the national team, I could easily write a book on how I feel about El Hadary. However, I will try to confine my thoughts on Essam El Hadary to this slide just for you guys.
El Hadary is, without a doubt, the best African goalkeeper to play the game. There is actually an African keeper above El Hadary on this list, but in terms of sheer, raw goalkeeping talent, El Hadary was and still is unrivaled among African goalkeepers, and probably would deserve a spot on the list of the best 50 keepers to ever play the beautiful game.
If you need evidence, you need only to look at Goal.com's Player Ratings for his match with Egypt against Italy in the 2009 Confederation Cup:
El Hadari - 10: This is one of the few 10's ever awarded on Goal.com. El Hadari single-handedly won the game for Egypt with countless world class saves. Of those that stood out, he denied Iaquinta three times, Montolivo and Rossi once - all of them stunning stops.
His saves from that game, and from other major games in his career, can be seen here (although you should know that after three minutes, the last minute is just repeat clips shown earlier in the video).
So, if Essam El Hadary is so great, why is he so low on this list?
Because he has ridiculously destroyed his club career and seriously hurt his last legacy. Up until 2008, El Hadary was well on his way to establishing himself as an Egyptian and Al Ahly (the biggest football club in Egypt) legend, having made over 500 appearances for the club, and picked up seven Egyptian League titles, four Egyptian Cups, four Egyptian Super Cups, three African Super Cups and one African Champions League title.
But in 2008, coming off the back of the 2008 African Cup of Nations title and winning the Best Goalkeeper award of the competition for the second consecutive time, El Hadary inexplicably ran off to join Swiss side FC Sion after Al Ahly refused to negotiate a transfer for him.
The insanity did not stop there. After FC Sion attempted to build a case for El Hadary's transfer's legitimacy, the Egyptian keeper ran back to Egypt with his tail between his legs and begging his old team, Al Ahly, to take him back. They instead reported the incident to FIFA, who banned the player from football for four months and fined him $1.2 million (a huge sum for an Egyptian player).
After El Hadary's contract was cancelled and the case referred to FIFA, El Hadary moved to Ismaily in an attempt to salvage his career. Yet, even though the club gave him the opportunity to be first-choice keeper ahead of their already-capable starting goalkeeper, Mohamed Sobhy, the player was unsatisfied with the poor performances of Ismaily and decided to leave.
His subsequent spell at Zamalek ended in less than a year, with El Hadary quarreling with management regularly and making only four league appearances. He was sold to Al Merreikh (of Sudan), and is reportedly already desperate to leave the club after only six months there.
El Hadary embodies the problems of the Egyptian footballer. Far too many Egyptian stars (think Mido, Amr Zaki and Emad Moteab) leave Egypt expecting the world to treat them as the kings they were back home, and are rudely awakened in Europe when they find out that they must act as professionals and work hard to make themselves into international stars. They do not think that contracts need to be respected, or that managers need to be respected; in the back of their minds, they believe their status as Egyptian internationals means they will always be wealthy and loved.
(Note: There are definitely exceptions to this, like Ahmed Elmohamady and Ahmed Hassan, but they are the exceptions, not the rule.)
Remarkably, Essam El Hadary continues to be the Egyptian national team's starting keeper, due to the lack of capable replacements for him (hence his inclusion on this list). Due to the fact that El Hadary was already easily the best African keeper in history prior to 2008, and still managed to pick up another Best Goalkeeper award and the title at the 2010 African Cup of Nations, his legacy will likely outlast all the controversy that has come upon him in the last three years, but he and Egyptian fans all over the world will have to live with the knowledge that he could've been so much greater.