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The Greatest Soccer Goalkeepers of All Time
The goalkeeper position in soccer is one of the most important on the field. While strikers get all the glory for scoring goals, it’s often the goalkeeper that makes the decisive saves to keep their team in the game. Throughout soccer’s long history, there have been many legendary goalkeepers who have cemented their legacies with incredible shot-stopping abilities, leadership, and trophy-winning performances. Here are some of the greatest goalkeepers of all time.
Manuel Neuer – Germany/Bayern Munich
The top choice for many as the best goalkeeper in the world today, Manuel Neuer has revolutionized the goalkeeper position with his unique “sweeper-keeper” style of rushing out of goal to intercept passes, stop breakaways, and act as an extra defender. This bold approach, combined with his quick reflexes, excellent positioning, and strong hands, has made Neuer a key player for both Germany and Bayern Munich.
After winning the 2014 World Cup with Germany, Neuer captained his national team to victory in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup. At club level, he was instrumental in Bayern Munich’s success over the past decade, winning seven straight Bundesliga titles and two UEFA Champions League trophies. Still in his early 30s, Neuer will likely add more silverware as he continues to be one of the best in the game.
Gianluigi Buffon – Italy/Juventus
With over 20 illustrious years playing at the highest level, Gianluigi Buffon is regarded as one of soccer’s greatest ever goalkeepers. The athletic Italian shot-stopper starred for Juventus, winning 10 Serie A titles with the club. He also backstopped Italy to the 2006 World Cup trophy.
Known for his acrobatic saves, leadership, and longevity, the now 40-year-old Buffon continues to play at a high level. He holds the record for most clean sheets in Serie A history and served as Juventus captain for many years. Buffon’s trophy case includes a World Cup, multiple Italian Cups and Super Cups, and trophies from spells with Paris Saint-Germain and Parma earlier in his career.
Iker Casillas – Spain/Real Madrid
Iker Casillas was the backbone of Spain’s golden generation that won two European Championships and the 2010 World Cup. For club, he manned the net during Real Madrid’s run of three straight Champions League titles starting in 1998.
With cat-like reflexes and an uncanny ability to stop one-on-one chances, Casillas made seemingly impossible saves look routine. He was voted into the UEFA Team of the Year five years in a row, highlighting his world-class status. In a career full of accolades, winning the 2010 World Cup stands out as the crowning achievement for one of soccer’s best ever goalkeepers.
Lev Yashin – Soviet Union/Dynamo Moscow
Widely regarded as the greatest goalkeeper of all time, Lev Yashin’s outstanding career is even more impressive considering he played in an era before gloves were regularly worn. Nicknamed the “Black Spider” for his dark uniform and seemingly extra arms that would emerge to block shots, Yashin helped the Soviet Union national team reach the 1958 World Cup quarterfinals.
For his club Dynamo Moscow, Yashin was a key cog in winning five league titles and three Soviet Cups. His individual honors include winning the Ballon d’Or, the only goalkeeper ever to do so, as well as earning the Order of Lenin honor from the Soviet government. Yashin remains the standard bearer at the position.
Peter Schmeichel – Denmark/Manchester United
A rock between the sticks during Manchester United’s 1990s reign under Alex Ferguson, Peter Schmeichel was one of the most intimidating keepers ever with his 6’4″ frame and penchant for punching away shots.
The Great Dane’s commanding presence in goal was a bedrock of United capturing five Premier League titles, three FA Cups, and the 1999 UEFA Champions League crown. For his national team, Schmeichel helped Denmark unexpectedly win the 1992 European Championship. His son Kasper continues the family legacy, tending goal for Leicester City and Denmark these days.
Edwin van der Sar – Netherlands/Ajax/Man United
Blessed with extraordinary reflexes and poise, Edwin van der Sar starred in goal for Ajax, Juventus, Fulham, and most notably Manchester United. The lanky Dutchman set a record by going over 1,300 minutes without conceding in the 2008-09 Premier League season and achieved a Champions League record 15 clean sheets in United’s 2008 title run.
For the Netherlands national team, van der Sar manned the goal for them reaching the 1998 World Cup semifinals and Euro 2000 semis. After hanging up his gloves in 2011, he has overseen the rise of Ajax as their CEO. Van der Sar is remembered as a pioneer for jump-starting the modern sweeper-keeper style.
Sepp Maier – Germany/Bayern Munich
The rock-steady keeper for West Germany’s national team triumph at Euro 1972 and the 1974 World Cup on home soil, Sepp Maier was also instrumental in Bayern Munich’s dynasty under coach Franz Beckenbauer in the 1970s. His proficient shot-stopping and distribution skills powered Bayern to four Bundesliga crowns, four DFB-Pokal titles, and three consecutive European Cup trophies from 1974-76.
Nicknamed the “Die Katze von Anzing” (The Cat from Anzing), Maier held the German national team record with 95 caps for over two decades. In his 442 club appearances for Bayern, he set a Bundesliga record by going over ten years between goals allowed in home matches. Maier rightly deserves mention alongside the great German keepers of any era.
Dino Zoff – Italy/Juventus
Dino Zoff became the oldest player to win a World Cup in 1982 at age 40, captaining Italy’s national team to glory. His 112 international appearances stood as the Azzurri record for several decades. For his stellar club career, Zoff manned the posts during Juventus’ ascendance in the 1970s and early 80s, winning six Serie A titles, two Coppa Italias, UEFA Cup, and Cup Winners’ Cup.
Calm and collected, Zoff positioned himself well and made difficult saves look effortless with a minimum of wasted movement. As both player and manager, he achieved the highest honors in the game and set the standard for leadership from the back.
A few other legendary keepers deserve recognition for their incredible skills guarding the net:
- Gordon Banks – England’s World Cup winner made the save of the century on Pelé in 1970
- Oliver Kahn – Captained Germany to second place in 2002, won eight Bundesliga titles with Bayern Munich
- Petr Cech – His heroics led the Czech Republic to Euro 2004 semis and Chelsea to numerous trophies
- Fabien Barthez – Eccentric Frenchman was instrumental in 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000 wins
Frequently Asked Questions :
Who is considered the greatest goalkeeper ever?
While opinions vary, Lev Yashin of the Soviet Union is most frequently cited as the best goalkeeper in soccer history. Yashin was an acrobatic and athletic innovator who revolutionized goalkeeping. As the only keeper to ever win the Ballon d’Or (1963), Yashin earned worldwide recognition during an era before keepers routinely wore gloves.
Who are the top 5 goalkeepers currently playing?
Most experts and analysts would say the current top 5 goalkeepers in the world are:
- Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich & Germany)
- Jan Oblak (Atletico Madrid & Slovenia)
- Alisson Becker (Liverpool & Brazil)
- Thibaut Courtois (Real Madrid & Belgium)
- Ederson (Manchester City & Brazil)
Marc-André ter Stegen (Barcelona & Germany) would also be in the conversation. The top keepers today all feature excellent shot-stopping reflexes along with superior skills with their feet to start attacks.
What skills make a great goalkeeper?
The attributes of a truly great goalkeeper include:
- Reaction time – the ability to quickly react to shots
- Agility – the mobility to dive, jump, and stretch to cover the goal
- Positioning – intelligence to anticipate shots and get in proper position
- Hands – strong enough to catch powerful shots and hold onto the ball
- Leadership – ability to communicate with and marshal the defense
- Foot skills – adeptness with their feet to pass, distribute, and move off their line
The best keepers combine these technical, physical, and mental abilities to give their team confidence from the back. Great positioning and anticipation can often offset a lack of pure reflex quickness.