Goalkeepers have been football’s unsung heroes since its formation in the 19th century.
The best provided the upmost assurance as a last line of defence, plus set the foundations for attackers to claim all the glory. A few too many mistakes, however, and even the grandest side will come unstuck.
Using only retired players, we’ve reviewed the all-time greats.
Yashin left an indelible impression on the game – and society at large.
Clad head to toe in black (in truth, it was dark blue), he revolutionised the position and became a hero of the Soviet Union. Yet, both his remarkable life and career began auspiciously.
After he survived the rigours of World War Two, a nervous breakdown aged 18 sent him to a military factory. But he would fortuitously come into view of scouts when playing for the factory team, beginning a life-long affiliation with Dynamo Moscow.
An unpropitious start to this partnership, however, contained a first-team debut in 1950 during which he conceded straight from a clearance by the opposing shot stopper.
Astonishing gifts would, though, soon shine through. Where goalkeepers had previously, with precious few exceptions, stood passively on their line waiting for the game to come to them, Yashin barked orders at defenders and sprinted out to meet onrushing attackers.
The Moscow-native is still the only goalkeeper to be awarded the Ballon d’Or (1963), plus was influential in Soviet triumphs at Euro 1960 and the 1956 Olympics. FIFA records further state that he stopped more than 150 penalty kicks and kept over 270 clean sheets.
More than 50 years since his last international cap and nearly 30 years since his death, Russia’s official World Cup 2018 poster featured a distinctive figure, in dark attire, pulling off a superb stop. There could be no other choice for the eternally grateful host nation.
The nicknames accrued by Kahn throughout his exceptional 21-year playing career evidence how force of personality spliced with world-class ability can concoct an icon.
Der Titan, Vol-Kahn-o and King Kahn speak volumes about the man who would go on claim eight Bundesliga titles, six DFB-Pokals, the 1995/96 UEFA Cup, plus the UEFA Champions League and the Intercontinental Cup in 2001 with Bayern Munich.
So too his singular response when quizzed in 2002 about whether there was anyone who could tell him what to do. “Who can? The only thing which engages me is what I can do to be successful.”
Kahn’s 86 Germany caps also included victory at Euro 1996. There was also the runners-up spot at World Cup 2002, even though he made a high-profile error in the final, where he became the only goalkeeper in the tournament’s history to win the Golden Ball.
Some ride for a legend whose course towards greatness was set upon at an early age by the gifting of a Sepp Maier goalkeeper shirt by his granddad.
Schmeichel made a habit of defying expectations. A trademark XXXL shirt, shock of blond hair and weight close to 100 kilograms provided an imposing image.
Yet, the Great Dane produced astounding acts of agility. His famous ‘star save’ – a skill credited to handball – against Inter Milan’s Ivan Zamorano was a key moment during Manchester United’s quest to land the fabled ‘treble’ in 1998/99.
He was also a relative unknown when plucked from Brondby in August 1991.
Within a year, the domineering shot stopper – whose implacable iron will crushed attackers in one-on-one situations and then traumatised defenders who’d allowed the chance – was a surprise Euro 1992 champion with Denmark and well on his way to establishing himself as the Red Devils’ greatest-ever shot stopper.
Consistency was the bedrock of Zoff’s 22-year career. He rebounded from being rejected as a teenager for being too small – with the reputed help of his grandmother’s recommendation to consume eight eggs a day – by Inter Milan and Juventus, becoming one of Italian football’s defining characters.
Zoff eschewed the fervour present in Yashin’s game, instead mastering the traditional arts of positioning and efficiency of movement.
He was perfect for the cagey ‘catenaccio’ approach that defined this era, winning nine major honours after Juve finally purchased him as an established professional in 1972 and a decade later lifting the World Cup with the Azzurri.
This longevity marks him out as the global competition’s oldest winner at 40.
Only one man can lay claim to executing the finest save of all.
Banks’ unfathomable low dive across goal to claw away the great Pele’s firm header at World Cup 1970 still produces audible gasps when replayed, regularly, to this day.
The precision of the Brazil icon’s attempt and the speed at which it ricocheted of the baked Mexican turf only added to the spectacle. Banks’ renowned technical acumen and supreme physical fitness made him uniquely placed to pull it off.
This was just a solitary highlight on a career arc that saw him ignored by the Sheffield giants as a teenager, become a World Cup winner on home soil in 1966 for England and then be forced into early retirement after the debilitating loss of an eye aged only 34.
There was one near constant during German football’s rise from the second half of the 20th century – Maier.
Die Katze von Anzing” (“the Cat from Anzing”) gained an appropriate moniker to match his lightning reflexes, stupefying agility and miraculous flexibility. The one-club man won 13 major honours with Bayern Munich, including three European Cups from 1973-76, plus added the 1972 European Championships and 1974 World Cup with West Germany.
His was a talent to match that of the venerated Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller and Paul Breitner.
Maier’s jocular and eccentric disposition, however, set him apart, famously chasing a duck that had wandered onto the Olympiastadion pitch to ease boredom against shot-shy opposition. His overlong shorts and – now de rigueur – thick, oversized gloves added to the image.
A car accident at 35 provided a premature end to his playing days. An already formidable legacy would then be buttressed in retirement when long stints as goalkeeping coach with Germany and Bayern Munich saw him successfully mentor Kahn – among many others.
Even a fabled ‘Dream Team’ needs someone to prevent nightmares.
Zubizarretta was that man for Johan Cruyff’s all-conquering Barcelona. He was also the conduit between squad and a genius head coach, plus gained renown as captain for his calming presence.
The imperturbable Basque donned the Catalans’ colours from 1986-94, winning 11 major trophies – including a club-first European Cup in 1991/92. He was the hero of that hallowed night at Wembley, making several stupendous stops to keep out the likes of Gianluca Vialli and Roberto Mancini.
Zubizarreta’s longevity was also legendary. His 622 run-outs for Athletic Bilbao, Barca and Valencia remains a La Liga record, while 126 Spain caps across four World Cups and two European Championships was his nation’s high before the emergence of the recent ‘Golden Generation’.
EDWIN VAN DER SAR
If asked to craft the ideal form of a goalkeeper, Van der Sar would suffice.
Imposingly tall, yet lean and full of spring. Blessed with a refined football intelligence to match the sweepers of yesteryear, perfect positioning and an ability on the ball that would shame most midfielders.
This rare holism was also matched by the Netherlands No1’s durability.
Champions League successes with Ajax and Manchester United were separated by 13 years. He kept a clean sheet against AC Milan in 1994/95 and decisively repelled Nicolas Anelka’s final effort in 2007/08’s penalty shootout against bitter rivals Chelsea.
A miserable stint at Juventus from 1999-2001 is the only true black mark from an association with the professional game that continues to provide fulfillment long past 2011’s retirement.
His union with former team-mate Marc Overmars at Ajax – he’s CEO, the ex-Arsenal winger is director of football – has rejuvenated a sleeping giant.
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Wayne Rooney‘s time in MLS ended on a low as DC United were crushed 5-1 after extra time of their play-off clash against Toronto.
The 33-year-old former Manchester United and England forward, who is joining Championship side Derby as a player-coach in January, sent over the stoppage-time corner from which Lucas Rodriguez turned in a dramatic equaliser.
But Rooney will not have fond memories of his last game in the US, with Jonathan Osorio’s brace adding to Richie Laryea’s 93rd-minute effort and Nick DeLeon sealing the win with a stunning curling shot in time added on at the end of the first period of extra time.
Reigning champions Atlanta progressed with a 1-0 win over New England Revolution, with Franco Escobar scoring the only goal of the game with 20 minutes remaining.
United States international Jordan Morris scored a hat-trick to help Seattle Sounders to a thrilling 4-3 extra-time victory over FC Dallas.
The home side were 2-0 up after 22 minutes, only for New England to pull level with goals from Reggie Cannon and Matt Hedges.
Morris’ second of the game from close range put Seattle back in front, but Bryan Acosta’s 82nd-minute header forced extra time.
Another header at the end of a scruffy passage of play in the 113th minute secured Morris his hat-trick and Sounders a place in the next round.
Jefferson Savarino’s late strike snatched Real Salt Lake a 2-1 win over Portland Timbers after Dairon Asprilla had cancelled out Damir Kreilach’s opener for the hosts.
Bad decisions are inevitable. By anyone, any group or any organisation, it’s almost a given that bad calls will be made. However, how they are reacted to is often just as important as the good decisions.
When the Netherlands failed to qualify for the European Championships in 2016 after finishing fourth in their qualifying group – behind the Czech Republic, Iceland and Turkey – huge changes were required.
This was a side that had finished third at the World Cup just two years prior, but now finished fourth in a group behind nations they would ideally have been expected to overcome with ease.
After Louis van Gaal left his role following the World Cup, the Dutch had a merry-go-round of managers.
Guus Hiddink first tried but resigned a year into his role and his replacement, the inexperienced Danny Blind, failed to inspire with failure to qualify for Euro 2016 following.
Dick Advocaat came in temporarily and oversaw the failure to make it to the 2018 World Cup, although that was largely down to his predecessor’s ineptness.
Recognising the need for a massive overhaul, the KNVB went for a man long chased and out of work.
Ronald Koeman took charge of the national team in February 2018 and has overseen a Dutch revolution.
CHANGES APLENTY UNDER KOEMAN
The most notable change under Koeman is the team’s style.
Hiddink, Blind and Advocaat’s teams were directionless but Koeman has sought to keep Dutch traditions of ‘totaalvoetbal’ alive.
Koeman initially experimented with the 3-5-2 formation used by Van Gaal at the World Cup but quickly ditched it for a smooth 4-3-3 when the Nations League began in September 2018.
A confidence-boosting victory against World Champions France arrived in November as they dominated possession, moved the ball quickly and maintained a firm structure.
The numbers provide a window into the improvement. His side score an average of 2.11 goals per game and concede one and in 11 competitive fixtures, they’ve averaged 59 per cent possession.
Those competitive fixtures have seen results such as a 4-2 and 3-0 success against Germany in European Championship qualification and the Nations League respectively, the 2-0 success against France, a 3-1 win over England in the Nations League semi-final and the come-from-behind 3-1 win over Northern Ireland last week.
They have shown resilience and they are growing in confidence.
Koeman has also blended youth and experience while replacing iconic figures like Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder and transferring responsibility to the likes of Matthijs de Ligt, Virgil van Dijk, Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum.
De Ligt, in particular, has been impressive. Having led a wonderful Ajax side last season, he has proven his quality for the national side as well, flourishing with the helping hand of Van Dijk next to him.
THE RESURGENCE OF MEMPHIS DEPAY
No player has scored more goals under Koeman’s management than Depay. When Koeman took over, however, he was a forgotten man.
He had a bust-up with Robin van Persie in 2015 and then Danny Blind dropped him in 2017, raising questions about his attitude. However, since the forward’s move to Lyon, not picking him for the national side has been an inconceivable.
The 25-year-old has scored 11 goals under Koeman, six of which have come in 2019. In addition to that, he has also provided eight assists in 2019, becoming the first Dutch player in the 21st century to be involved in 14 or more goals in a calendar year.
Modern attackers are dynamic and the evolution of Depay over the past year is worthy of high praise. Since leaving Manchester United, he has adapted well to a more central role improving vastly in his link-up with his creative team-mates.
A big change has been his willingness to drop deep and create chances for teammates, spending much of his time in creative zones around the box and averaging 3.4 key passes per game.
The forward has matured well on and off the field. Gone are the days inconsistent wing-play – he is now the focal point of the Dutch attack, leading the charge down the middle and getting support from the wings through Steven Bergwijn and Ryan Babel.
His technique and excellent reading of the game makes him one of the key components.
CONTROL AND BALANCE IN MIDFIELD
Every great Dutch team has always had a great midfielder. Whether it was Johan Cruyff or Sneijder, the midfield has provided the X-Factor.
In the current era, Georginio Wijnaldum is stepping up to be that spark.
His role for the Dutch largely contrasts his one for Liverpool as he is tasked with getting high up the pitch.
This more advanced role has always suited Wijnaldum. In his final season at PSV Eindhoven in 2014/15, when they won the Eredivise, he was involved in 18 goals and six assists. The next season at Newcastle he recorded 11 goals and five assists.
These have been his two best individual seasons from a goal production perspective and it’s been replicated at international level as he both creates and scores, as seen in the most recent qualifier against Belarus, where he netted twice.
His partner in midfield, Frenkie de Jong, has been just as good. De Jong hasn’t quite hit the heights for Barcelona but for the Dutch he dominates, although in Oranje he plays in a more suited No6 slot as opposed to further forward in Blaugrana.
The 22-year-old is key to the fast-moving transitions that Koeman wants to deploy. Smooth as silk on the ball, he can move, pass and direct play with ease.
These two midfield pieces are vital, but they are joined by the hard-working Marten de Roon, another key component. His defensive work-rate and adherence to Koeman’s pressing system aids De Jong in the double pivot as he does much of the dirty work.
A TEAM OF LEADERS
Following the retirements of players like Van Persie, Robben, Sneijder and Dirk Kuyt, new leaders had to emerge.
While Van Dijk dons the armband for the nation, others such as De Ligt (20), De Jong (22), Depay (26) and Jasper Cillessen (30), have shown great composure and made the transition between coaches, eras and players much easier.
In tough situations, the team steps up collectively and shows the character that is required to succeed. Together, they are a united bunch hungry to succeed and make it back to a major tournament for the first time since the 2014 World Cup.
We saw in the Nations League semi-final against England, where the team went into extra-time, held their own and came out with a victory whilst their success against Germany in a qualifier in September was another testament to their character, as they dug deep and came from behind to win 4-2 in Hamburg.
The leadership of Van Dijk at the back has done them wonders and the fact that he has been in the running for top individual honours will be of great inspiration.
Having won both their qualifiers this month, they are in a strong spot and only need a draw in their next game away against Northern Ireland to seal qualification for the European Championships next year.
Should they succeed, they will be place in Group C, where they will have a fair bit of home support, seeing as that group will be shared between the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam and Arena Naționala in Bucharest, Romania.
Maarten Wijffels, a journalist for Algemeen Dagblad, recently said of the team: “Back then it was difficult to find faces for a billboard or poster because the public was fed up with them. Now with Van Dijk, Wijnaldum, Depay, De Jong & De Ligt the public likes the national team again.”
And he is right, the Dutch now have so much to be proud of, and come next year, a strong performance in the Euros – perhaps even going as far as the semi-finals – should not be a surprise.