European Football's Top 10 Best Goalkeepers of All Time
What Makes the Perfect Goalkeeper?
The agility and concentration demonstrated by the greatest goalkeepers in European football (soccer) surpass that of any outfield player. Their job is to keep the ball out of a 7.32-by-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 must demonstrate perfectly honed skills in a variety of domains.
World-Class Goalkeeper Skills
- Pace: Charge down oncoming strikers
- Bravery: Smother or clear the ball by throwing themselves into dangerous collisions
- Strength: Dominate the penalty area without being pushed around
- Leadership: Organize their defense
- Concentration: Be ready for action at a moment's notice
- Positioning: Be in the best possible place to make a save
- Anticipation: Predict where a striker will place the ball
- Reflexes: Minimize response time
- Agility: Reach every corner of the goal
- Handling: Catch the ball or push it into a safe area
- Distribution: Find a teammate by throwing or kicking the ball over long distances
10. Edwin Van Der Sar
Born: October 29, 1970
Height: 1.97 m (6 ft 6 in)
This Dutch legend once went 1,311 minutes without conceding a goal during Manchester United's 2008–09 Premier League campaign. 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, four Premier League titles, and four Dutch League titles.
9. David Seaman
Full name: David Andrew Seaman
Born: September 19, 1963
Height: 1.91 m (6 ft 3 in)
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. He won three league titles, four FA Cups, one League Cup, and one 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
Full name: Josef Dieter "Sepp" Maier
Born: February 28, 1944
Height: 1.85 m (6 ft 1 in)
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 three 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 three times.
7. Peter Shilton
Full name: Peter Leslie Shilton
Born: September 18, 1949
Height: 1.83 m (6 ft 0 in)
This remarkable athlete made 1,005 appearances over a 30-year career. Peter Shilton had notable spells with Nottingham Forest, Southampton, and Derby County in the 1970s and '80s. He also earned 125 caps for England, playing in two European Championships and three World Cups. He shares a World Cup Finals record of having kept 10 clean sheets with Fabien Barthez. With Nottingham Forest, Shilton won two European Cups and a league title.
6. Gianluigi Buffon
Born: January 28, 1978
Height: 1.92 m (6 ft 4 in)
This popular Italian goalkeeper began his career with Parma in 1995 but has spent the majority of his career with Juventus. Gianluigi 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 he also has four Serie A titles with Juventus. In 2006, he helped Italy to victory in the World Cup. He only conceded two goals in the seven matches—a penalty and an own goal by a teammate.
5. Peter Schmeichel
Full name: Peter Bolesław Schmeichel
Born: November 18, 1963
Height: 1.91 m (6 ft 3 in)
Danish legend Peter Schmeichel is best known for his eight-year spell with Manchester United, though he was also a success with Brondby and Sporting Lisbon. With United, he won the 1999 Champions League, five Premier League titles, and three FA Cups. He also won the Portuguese League and three 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 percent of Premier League games.
4. Dino Zoff
Born: February 28, 1942
Height: 1.82 m (6 ft 0 in)
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 six Serie A titles, one 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 he holds the record for the longest period without conceding a goal in international football (1,142 minutes).
3. Gordon Banks
Life: December 30, 1937–February 12, 2019
Height: 1.85 m (6 ft 1 in)
As probably the greatest English goalkeeper, Gordon Banks is commonly ranked in the top three goalkeepers of all time. He made 628 club appearances and has 73 caps for England between 1958 and 1972. His most notable achievement was a victory in the 1966 World Cup. He played in every match and only conceded three goals. At club level, he won the League Cup with Leicester and Stoke. He won FIFA goalkeeper of the year on an incredible six occasions, but his career ended at the age of 34 when a car crash left him blind in one eye.
2. Oliver Kahn
Full name: Oliver Rolf Kahn
Born: June 15, 1969
Height: 1.88 m (6 ft 2 in)
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, eight league titles, six 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
Nationality: Soviet Union (present-day Russia)
Full name: Lev Ivanovich Yashin
Life: October 22, 1929–March 20, 1990
Height: 1.89 m (6 ft 2 in)
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 five league titles and three 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. His talents were so great that he was also employed as an ice hockey goalie for a short time. He is also the only goalkeeper to ever win the Ballon d'Or.
By necessity, any top 10 list must make some omissions. Honorable mentions would certainly go to the following magnificent goalkeepers:
- Manuel Neuer: Germany - Bayern Munich
- Petr Čech: Czechoslovakia (present-day Czech Republic) - Chelsea
- Iker Casillas: Spain - Real Madrid
- Pat Jennings: Northern Ireland - Newry Town & Watford, Tottenham Hotspur, Arsenal
- Michel Preud'homme: Belgium - Standard Liège, Mechelen, Benfica
- Jean-Marie Pfaff: Belgium - Beveren, Bayern Munich
- Angelo Peruzzi: Italy - Roma, Hellas Verona, Juventus, Internazionale, Lazio
- Ricardo Zamora: Spain - RCD Espanyol, FC Barcelona, Real Madrid
- František Plánička: Austria-Hungary (present-day Czech Republic) - Slavia Prague
- Bert Trautmann: Germany - Manchester City
- Abel Resino: Spain - Atlético Madrid
- José Chilavert: Paraguay - Sportivo Luqueño, Guaraní, San Lorenzo de Almagro, Real Zaragoza, Vélez Sarsfield, RC Strasbourg, Peñarol
- Vladimir Beara: Yugoslavia (present-day Croatia) - Hajduk Split, Red Star, Alemannia Aachen, Viktoria Köln
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.
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© 2013 Thomas Swan