It’s difficult to play professional football or represent your national team before the age of 23. Only the very best and future superstars generally get this honor. But at no position is it more rare to see a young player than at goalkeeper.
To take a role between the sticks is generally about experience and chemistry with the defense rather than pure athleticism. It is also the one spot where you will regularly see the very best play well into their late 30s.
However, there are some that have excelled ahead of schedule and already make an impact in the game.
Here is a list of some of the best keepers under the age of 23.
This up-and-coming Greek teen has been beyond impressive and has already broken multiple age records for both his club and country. In his first season with the Panathinaikos senior team, he has already made 11 appearences and has already been described as a rising star, attracting interest from bigger clubs such as Inter Milan.
At 17 years and 241 days old, he became the youngest player to ever represent the Blue and White at the national level last November. It was surely the first of many starts the youngster will make.
Stegen is just another great keeper in a long line of legends that the Germans produce. At only 19 years old, no one else on this list has accomplished as much as the teen up to this point.
The Borussia Mönchengladbach player took over between the pipes last season when veteran keeper Logan Bailly was not up to the challenge. Stegen stepped in and immediately made the position his and kept them out of relegation.
This season, he was the number one from the start and has statistically been the best keeper in this year’s Bundesliga, conceding only 15 goals and challenging for the title.
When we will see him at the national level is a little more difficult to tell. With Manuel Neuer undeniably the number one, it will take him falling apart to give Stegen a shot. But Germans will rest easy knowing that their future is set.
Asenjo has been one of the stars of the Spanish youth teams. He has played in 37 matches since he first wore his nation's colors for the U-17 squad back in 2006.
In 2009, he announced himself as he replaced the injured starter in the U-19 European Championship. In the semifinal against France, he made two saves in a shootout to advance the team to the finals, where his clean sheet against Greece gave them a 1-0 win.
Asenjo has always been in the veil of David De Gea, starting when the two played together at Atletico Madrid. Injuries have also plagued him and held his development back a bit.
But he still shows real promise. And with De Gea becoming questionable at United, he could become the successor to Iker Casillas.
The 21-year-old Spaniard began his career with Atletico Madrid and replaced a struggling Sergio Asenjo in 2009. The next season, he was the number one keeper and performed well enough to get the attention of Manchester United.
Sir Alex Ferguson pegged the youngster to fill the shoes left by United Legend Edwin van der Saar. He started shaky—the pressure of replacing a great like van der Saar was getting to him—but soon made the position his own.
Some erratic performances in recent months have seen him come under pressure again. But he is still the apparent heir to the Casillas throne and will only improve over time.
The Chelsea teen on loan to Atletico Madrid is having nothing short of a sensational first season. Allowing only 26 goals in 24 matches, he is only bettered by the league’s top teams' keepers.
At 19 years old, he is another product of the Belgian “golden generation” and is expected to lead them in the back as they make a push to glory over the next decade.
With Petr Cech not going anywhere soon, he will probably spend another few seasons out on loan before he makes his debut at Stamford Bridge. But when the time comes, it will be a seamless trasition from a retiring great to one of the future.
The Polish born keeper arrived at Arsenal back in 2009 as a prospect. After a successful loan to Brentford for the 2009-10 season, he established himself as one of the up-and-coming goalies in the game.
He became the first choice man at age 21 this season and has not looked back since. He has been the fourth best in the league at the position, according to EA Sports Player Performance Index, and has been the backbone of an Arsenal defense that has been at its best this season over the past few weeks.
His incredible double save against a Liverpool penalty last Saturday was an example of his skill. He back peddled, keeping his balance (something he must have learned in his youth days as a ballroom dancer) and saving the rebound.
He will really be on stage as he hopes to keep Poland competitive as hosts of this summer's Euro Championships.
There was little doubt Zieler was a goalie worth note. When the game’s best manager brings you to his side at 17 years old, it really gets your name out there. That is exactly what Sir Alex Ferguson did when he brought the German to United. He even earned cap at age 20, as an unused sub against Middleborough.
Since then he has moved back to his homeland, where he has been earned number one honors this season for Hannover 96. His 32 goals against this season represents the second best record of any keeper outside of the top three.
At 22, he debut for the German senior squad in a 3-3 draw against Ukraine. Though all three goals were conceded in the first 17 minutes of the match, there was little he could have done to prevent them. He went on to make a few excellent stops to keep the score down.
Perhaps no keeper on this list has been as important to their team as the 23-year-old Albanian born Ujkani.
Ujkani moved to Italian third division side Novara in 2009. From there he has helped them earn successive promotion first to Serie B and then to Serie A, ending the club's 55-year absence.
Though the team in struggling now, impressive performances turned in a draw against Napoli and victories home and away against Inter, marking him as premier keeper on the rise.
The 23-year-old Schalke keeper established himself as their number one this season when he turned in a historic performance.
At the 2011 DFL-Supercup, Fahrmann earned man of the match honors, stopping two shots in a penalty shootout. It was enough to give Shalke their first ever title in the competition.
While his skill and experience may not be quite up to par, at 1.96 meters he is a monster of a youngster. You can teach and train reflexes and agility, but that kind of size cannot be earned through hard work. Some team will almost definitely take a shot at him in the future for just that alone.
The 20-year-old Frenchman has been nothing short of outstainding in his first campaign as the number one keeper for Toulouse. Not only does he have them competing for a top four finish, but he is a huge reason why with 23 goals against, the second best defensive record in Ligue 1.
He has made six appearances for the Fench U-21 squad but is yet to debut for the seniors. It should only be a matter of time though, as he continues to prove that he is one of the country’s top young players.
Costa Rica has never been known as a goalkeeping Mecca, but the 22-year-old Alvarado can carry his own with anyone.
The AZ Alkmaar keeper is the first choice on the top team in the Eredivise. His five clean sheets this season has him with the best defensive record in the league, conceding only 25 goals through 24 games.
However, he may best be remembered for one of the worst red cards ever. A pitch invader attacked the Costa Rican and Alvarado retaliated in defense. For whatever reason, Alvarado was given a red card and sent packing.
If there is one contribution American’s have made to this sport, it has been at this position. Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel, Tim Howard and many more keepers have gone across the pond and enjoyed successful careers. Hamid may be the next.
The 21-year-old keeper for DC United became the youngest goalkeeper in MLS history, at 19 years 161 days, besting Howard by four days.
He has already been looked at by several European sides including Celtic and West Brom, where he had a successful 10-day trial with the team. It is really only a matter of time before he makes a permanent move.
This list was gathered together through research but is by no means complete. I am sure there are plenty of other young keepers out there who will impress in the future that I happened to miss.
So please, if you have any other names to mention, leave them in the comments section below. I want to compile the go to list for every fan trying to find the keepers of the future and I need your help!
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