When you’re growing up, the unwanted job usually falls to the last picked or the athletically challenged kid. No-one wants to be a goalkeeper, right?
And yet, when you grow up, you realise the No1 spot is actually the most specialist position on the field – and there have been some pretty special players to don the gloves.
Lev Yashin, Dino Zoff, Peter Schemeichel, Gordon Banks, Oliver Kahn. Some of the legendary figures to wear the No1 jersey. But some of the names below will be able to sit at the top table when their careers wind down, while the younger ones will also feel there is a seat for them there when they hang up the gloves.
We’re talking best players by position of the last decade. And we start with the men between the sticks.
Simply put, Neuer is the modern-day pinnacle, and the other seven guys on this list are chasing him. He changed the game for goalkeepers when he started striding out of defence and essentially created a new position – the sweeper/keeper.
You might remember another German who went against the grain back in his day, yet also ended up changing football forever. Franz Beckenbauer.
Der Kaiser’s legacy is that he was a protagonist who took football forward. Neuer’s, when he finally hangs up his gloves, is that he will be remembered as the best goalkeeper of the last quarter of a century.
Neuer first came to the attention of the world in the two-legged 6-1 shellacking Schalke suffered at the hands of Manchester United in the 2010/11 Champions League semi-finals. Sir Alex Ferguson said of the 25-year-old’s heroics in the 2-0 home leg defeat: “In my time at United it is probably the finest display of goalkeeping against us.”
Bayern Munich eventually came calling and thus began his rise to the overall No1 spot among modern keepers.
Yashin is the only keeper to ever win the Ballon d’Or but Neuer is one of only five others to finish second or third since its creation over 60 years ago. His 2014 World Cup win with Germany wasn’t enough to push him past either Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
DAVID DE GEA
He’s fallen from grace in the last year or two, but is still comfortably among the most elite goalkeepers in the world. And, over the course of the last decade, there have been few better.
After being nurtured lovingly by careful hands at Atletico Madrid, De Gea showed promise, as well as fallibility, during his tentative Premier League steps.
His maiden season was punctuated by both high-profile blunders – against Manchester City in the Community Shield – and high-calibre brilliance; the gravity-defining one-handed save with his left paw from Juan Mata at Chelsea.
The following year he received a robust ‘welcome to English football’ when Andy Carroll transformed himself into an Exocet missile and launched into him at Upton Park. But rather than be cowed by the experience, it was the making of him at Manchester United. And for a three to four-year period De Gea could hold claim to being the best in the business.
It’s unfortunate from an individual standpoint that De Gea’s rise to prominence dovetailed with United’s empire crumbling – he has won the club’s Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award in four of the six seasons following Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure. A period in which De Gea’s superhuman hands have almost single-handedly held the club together.
MARC-ANDRE TER STEGEN
His ascension while Neuer enters the twilight of his career is a fascinating battle gripping Germany. But as the professor and the student battle for supremacy in Joachim Low’s classroom, in the grand scheme of things there might be no better keeper in the world right now than the Barcelona custodian.
Some might think it easy to bestow that accolade into the hands of someone who plays for such a supreme team, one that has the best player on the planet in their ranks. But in truth Ter Stegen has had to deliver some stellar performances to keep the Blaugrana on top.
He’s hardly a bystander to the Lionel Messi Show. His save from Sergio Reguilon’s diving header in Barca’s 3-0 Copa del Rey semi-final second-leg clash with Real Madrid last season, plus his heroics – highlighted by a stunning penalty save – in the Champions League group draw with Borussia Dortmund earlier this season, are indicative of both his burgeoning ability as well as his increasing importance to the Blaugrana.
As he has kept guard between the Camp Nou sticks he has in turn been rewarded by getting his hands on silverware – four La Liga and four Copa del Rey successes, as well as a Champions League. There is surely more to come for and from the 27-year-old.
Oblak might have something to say about the best in the world right now debate. He is a one-man embodiment of spirit and tenacity that the defensively stout Atletico present in the face of Spain’s unstoppable force(s) in Real and Barca.
Los Rojiblancos lamented the loss of De Gea to United in 2011, but found a new love when they picked up Slovenian Oblak from Benfica three summers later.
Since then they have not finished outside La Liga’s top three and reached two Champions League finals. They might not always be thrilling to watch but have established themselves as resolute and tough to beat under Diego Simeone – qualities needed when trying to break the dominant Real-Barca cycle.
They are closer than you’d think too, winning the title more recently than their city rivals, and their stoic style all starts with Oblak.
The 26-year-old is nicknamed ‘The Wall’ by team-mates, with good reason. He created history last term when keeping a clean sheet against Dortmund in the Champions League. It was his 100th for Atleti, in just his 178th game – a European record.
Incredibly he has won both the La Liga Best Goalkeeper and Ricardo Zamora Trophy – awarded by Marca for the keeper with the lowest goals to game ratio – for the last four years in a row. Last year Oblak won the latter with an all-time record low of 18 goals.
The phrase ‘old but gold’ has never been more befitting a footballer. Not only is 41-year-old Buffon (he’ll be 42 in January) still playing at the highest level back at his beloved Juventus, but he truly is a player you can proudly show off to your children as a modern-day footballer to aspire to.
One of the best of all-time, he has been hugely consistent throughout his decorated career. Blessed with lightning-quick reactions, outstanding shot-stopping ability, great anticipation and bravery. A calm, composed presence while at the same time a frenetic, animated bastion of passion and leadership.
The stats speak for themselves. Buffon was the first, and remains the only, goalkeeper to win Serie A’s Footballer of the Year award, in 2017. Gigi was named the league’s Goalkeeper of the Year a record 12 times.
He is one of only 25 players to have made at least 1,000 career appearances and was runner-up for the 2006 Ballon d’Or.
As for the gold, there’s been plenty of that. The 2006 World Cup with Italy, nine Serie A titles and five Coppa Italias. The one lingering disappointment will be if he ends his career without a Champions League winners’ medal.
Real clearly didn’t want him, but we definitely do on our list – which successor Thibaut Courtois is getting nowhere near.
Represented the most glamorous club in the world, yet was never a glamorous enough figure for the Real hierarchy. His Bernabeu exit this summer was sad, verging on embarrassing. Like seeing your dad go through a mid-life crisis and trying to reinvent himself by getting a BMW Coupe. Except, in Courtois, Real traded in a Camaro for a Corolla.
Sure, the best of the Belgian is yet to come, but getting rid of a player who was the consummate professional and the bedrock of recent success, is bewildering.
A bargain €10 million signing from Levante in 2014, Navas became one of the world’s elite No1s. Providing a sturdy platform from which a shaky Real nevertheless navigated their way to three straight Champions League titles. Navas ushered the club through one of its most successful periods in recent history, winning 11 titles in five seasons in the Spanish capital.
He was also instrumental as tiny Costa Rica reached the 2014 World Cup quarter-finals – their best-ever showing – where they exited on penalties at the hands of the Netherlands.
Like De Gea, Lloris has had had his troubles of late – a loss of form and high-profile errors, not to mention the ugly dislocated elbow against Brighton in October that has ruled him out until the new year
But in the wider picture, he’s been a beacon of brilliance for Tottenham as they’ve become a formidable Premier League force under Mauricio Pochettino over the last decade.
Spurs marched into a maiden Champions League final last year, where their fairytale had a nightmare finish as they were beaten by fellow Premier League giants Liverpool.
There’s that other thing he did win though, the World Cup last summer. Skippering a France team full of flair to their third Jules Rimet trophy.
In the process he entered rarefied air as the fourth keeper to captain their team to global glory – after Gianpiero Combi and Dino Zoff (Italy in 1934 and 1982) and Iker Casillas (Spain 2010).
Spurs may be going through a crisis. However, so far from being elite during much of the Premier League era, they now haven’t finished outside the top four in four years and Lloris – 13th on the league’s all-time list for saves (644) – has had a huge hand in that.
Along with Ter Stegen and Oblak, along with Ederson – who misses out simply as he’s only played three full seasons – Alisson is leading the new wave.
The Liverpool plan for success, which for so long looked like an unsolvable puzzle, finally looks to be fitting into place under Jurgen Klopp, with his acquisition of Virgil van Dijk and Alisson hugely significant pieces of the jigsaw.
Burdened with being the world’s ‘most expensive goalkeeper’ (at least for a month before Chelsea splashed £71m on Kepa Arrizabalaga), Alisson hasn’t played like the £66m price tag has fazed him. In fact hardly anyone has had reason to question either it or him as he has been instrumental in the Reds’ recent rise.
In his first season at the club he won the Premier League’s Golden Glove for most clean sheets (21) and kept another when Liverpool beat Spurs in the Champions League final – the Merseysiders’ sixth title.
It led to him being named The Best FIFA Goalkeeper this year while he also threw in success with his nation to boot, winning the Copa America with Brazil and also earning the tournament’s best keeper accolade.
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