Top 10 Best Goalkeepers Of All Time

Gianluigi Buffon is one of the greatest goalkeepers ever.
Gianluigi Buffon is one of the greatest goalkeepers ever. | Source

The Perfect Goalkeeper

The agility and concentration demonstrated by the greatest goalkeepers in world football surpasses that of any outfield player. Their job is to keep the ball out of a 7.32×2.44 meter goal in any way they can. A goalkeeper must remain vigilant for several minutes at a time before being called into action, and their split-second decisions can often decide the outcome of an entire match. The best goalkeepers of all time exhibit a common group of traits:

  • Pace: to charge down oncoming strikers.
  • Bravery: to smother or clear the ball by throwing themselves into dangerous collisions.
  • Strength: to dominate the penalty area without being pushed around.
  • Leadership: to organize their defense.
  • Concentration: to be ready for action at a moment's notice.
  • Positioning: to be in the best possible place to make a save.
  • Anticipation: to predict where a striker will place the ball.
  • Reflexes: to minimize response time.
  • Agility: to reach every corner of the goal.
  • Handling: to catch the ball or push it into a safe area.
  • Distribution: to find a team-mate by throwing or kicking the ball over long distances.

10. Edwin Van Der Sar

This Dutch legend once went 1,311 minutes without conceding a goal during Manchester United's 2008-09 Premier League campaign. Edwin Van Der Sar played 820 times over a 21 year career that began in 1990 with Ajax. He went on to play for Juventus, Fulham, and Manchester United. He also earned 130 caps for the Netherlands, and is their most capped player. Van Der Sar won the 1995 and 2008 Champions Leagues with Ajax and Manchester United respectively. He also won the 1992 UEFA Cup, 4 Premier League titles, and 4 Dutch league titles.

9. David Seaman

David Seaman spent the majority of his 22 year career playing for Arsenal during the 1990s and early 2000s. He made 957 appearances at club level, and earned 75 England caps. Seaman won 3 league titles, 4 FA Cups, 1 League Cup, and 1 Cup Winners Cup with Arsenal. He is known for making one of greatest saves of all time (see video at 0:52), but is also famous for being lobbed by Ronaldinho in the 2002 World Cup. This is perhaps a little unfair as the 39 year-old Seaman was close to retirement at the time.

8. Sepp Maier

Known as "the cat from Anzing", Sepp Maier was one of the greatest German goalkeepers. He spent his entire 17 year career with Bayern Munich, making 536 appearances and winning 3 consecutive European Cups in the 1970s. He also featured 95 times for West Germany, winning the 1974 World Cup and the 1972 European Championships. This legendary goalkeeper played in 442 consecutive matches from 1966 to 1979, and even won the `German Footballer of the Year' award 3 times.

7. Peter Shilton

This remarkable athlete made 1005 appearances over a 30 year career. Shilton had notable spells with Nottingham Forest, Southampton, and Derby County in the 1970s and 80's. He also earned 125 caps for England, playing in 2 European Championships and 3 World Cups. With Fabien Barthez, he shares a World Cup Finals record of having kept 10 clean sheets. With Nottingham Forest, Shilton won two European Cups and a league title.

6. Gianluigi Buffon

This popular Italian goalkeeper began his career with Parma in 1995, but has spent the majority with Juventus. Buffon has made over 600 club appearances and has more than 130 caps for Italy. He won the UEFA Cup and the Coppa Italia with Parma, and has 4 Serie A titles with Juventus. In 2006, Buffon helped Italy to victory in the World Cup. He only conceded 2 goals in the 7 matches; a penalty and an own goal by a team-mate.

5. Peter Schmeichel

Danish legend, Peter Schmeichel, is best known for his 8 year spell with Manchester United, though he was also a success with Brondby and Sporting Lisbon. With United he won the 1999 Champions League, 5 Premier League titles and 3 FA Cups. He also won the Portuguese league and 3 Danish league titles in a career with 740 club appearances. Incredibly, he also won the 1992 European Championships with Denmark and has 129 national caps. Schmeichel kept clean sheets in a record 42% of Premier League games.

4. Dino Zoff

Widely regarded as the greatest ever Italian goalkeeper for his exceptional agility and reflexes, Dino Zoff made 642 club appearances, and has 112 caps for the national team. In his 11 year spell with Juventus, Zoff won 6 Serie A titles, 1 Coppa Italia, and a UEFA Cup. He played in Italy's victorious 1968 European Championship squad, but his greatest triumph was the 1982 World Cup. At 40 years of age, he captained the Italian side to victory, and was named the best goalkeeper at the tournament. He is the oldest player to have ever won a World Cup, and holds the record for the longest period without conceding a goal in international football (1142 minutes).

3. Gordon Banks

As probably the greatest English goalkeeper, Gordon Banks is commonly ranked in the top 3 goalkeepers of all time. He made 628 club appearances and has 73 caps for England between 1958 and 1972. Banks' most notable achievement was victory in the 1966 World Cup. He played in every match and only conceded 3 goals. At club level, he won the League Cup with Leicester and Stoke. Banks won FIFA goalkeeper of the year on an incredible 6 occasions, but his career ended at the age of 34 when a car crash left him blind in one eye.

2. Oliver Kahn

Oliver Kahn made 780 club appearances and received 86 caps for Germany. His 21 year career involved 14 years at Bayern Munich. With Bayern he won the 2001 Champions League, 8 league titles, 6 domestic cups, and a UEFA Cup. With the German national team he won Euro 96', and in 2002 he became the only goalkeeper in history to win the `Golden Ball' at a World Cup. He was known as "The Titan" for his strength and leadership, and has been described as very disciplined and impatient.

1. Lev Yashin

Lev Yashin is widely recognized as the greatest goalkeeper of all time. From 1950 to 1970 he only played for one team, Dynamo Moscow, who he guided to 5 league titles and 3 domestic cups. Yashin appeared 75 times for the Soviet Union, winning the 1960 European Championships and the 1956 Olympic Games. His nickname was "The Black Spider" for his incredible athleticism and reflexes. However, Yashin epitomized the perfect goalkeeper by combining these skills with massive strength and power. Yashin's talents were so great that he was employed as an ice hockey goalie for a short time. He is also the only goalkeeper to ever win the Ballon d'Or.

Other Great Goalkeepers

This list of the 10 best goalkeepers must make some omissions. Honorable mentions go to Manuel Neuer, Petr Cech, Iker Casillas, Pat Jennings, Michel Preud'homme, Jean-Marie Pfaff, Angelo Peruzzi, Ricardo Zamora, Frantisek Planicka, Bert Trautmann, Abel Resino, Jose Chilavert, Vladimir Beara, and Mazarópi, who holds the world record for most minutes without conceding a goal (1,816, or 20 matches). If you think a great goalkeeper is missing from this list, please leave a comment below.

Goalkeepers are often forgotten in lists of the best footballers. However, they are perhaps the most important players on the pitch. Even with Messi and Ronaldo in your team, a bad goalkeeper will lose you a match. Indeed, it is very difficult to find a successful team without a talented goalkeeper. Their specific group of skills is unique in the beautiful game and, as such, they deserve greater recognition.

© 2013 Thomas Swan

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Comments 13 comments

muzzster profile image

muzzster 3 years ago from Karachi, Pakistan

Manuel Neuer!!

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

It'll be a few years before he can be considered here, but Neuer is one of the best in the world at the moment.

Elias Zanetti profile image

Elias Zanetti 3 years ago from Athens, Greece

Probably Petr Cech will be in that list sometime in the future. Peter Schmeichel was definitely my favorite in your list and one of the best ever!

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Good call, Cech has been very consistent over his career. Added him at the end in honorable mentions.

PositronWildhawk profile image

PositronWildhawk 3 years ago from London

I reckon that, players in every position nowadays are superior to their previous counterparts due to better coaching, lifestyle, knowledge of the game etc. So for me Casillas, Cech, Neuer and Buffon should all feature pretty highly. I suppose it depends if your judging them on overall ability or dominance in their own era. Either way, great hub!

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 3 years ago from New Zealand Author

Cheers PositronWildhawk! Well you may be right, but like my comment on the other hub, I think players/teams rise to match the competition they are faced with. Put Lev Yashin in the Premier League and he'd make sure he's fit enough and sensible enough to succeed.

FutbalTube profile image

FutbalTube 2 years ago

Hands down to Gianluigi Buffon. But I'd rather give credit to Thibaut Courtois this season. He really has a bright future ahead of him.

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thank for commenting. Buffon is certainly a popular choice. Courtois looks like a real prospect. It's a good time for him too with Petr Cech getting on a bit. When he returns to Chelsea, he'll be their number 1. I hear he's from Belgium too. I sometimes wonder if the Belgium government genetically engineered their team lol. How can they have so many great players at the same time!?

daedalron 2 years ago

I wondered about Vladimir Beara, as Yashin once said Beara was a better goalkeeper than himself. Kinda hard to have an opinion about it myself as it's not easy to find videos of that time...

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 2 years ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks for commenting daedalron. From reading about Beara I see that he saved a penalty from Puskas, and he was the Yugoslavia keeper for a long time. I agree though that it's very difficult to find videos of these times. I will give Beara an honorable mention at the end of this article.

Ryan 2 years ago

No Pfaff or Prudhuemme, you can't be serious!

Thomas Swan profile image

Thomas Swan 24 months ago from New Zealand Author

Thanks for the heads up :) I have given them both honorable mentions at the end of the article. Cheers.

askformore lm profile image

askformore lm 22 months ago

My favorite is Peter Schmeichel.

However, I might be biased, because I am Danish too.

Thumbs up!

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    Thomas Swan536 Followers
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    Thomas Swan has been an avid fan of the English Premier League and European football for more than 20 years.

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