There is one topic that has always been, and always will be debated with no factual empirical answer: “Who is the best keeper in the world?”
Opinion will always be the final source of any individual involved in the debate.
Of course, it is easy to rate and differentiate top goalkeepers from the rest of the pack, but to say one is the best simply comes down to what one perceives a goalkeeper should be.
To borrow the proverb concerning the assessment of the most beautiful woman, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
While I will not answer this question for you, I will give a brief synopsis of the top five in the world today and rate them as I see it:
1. Julio Cesar- To rate a Brazilian as the world’s top keeper would have been comical over the last 30 years, but the Selacao has finally produced a netminder worthy of their legendary squad.
Also risky is putting a newcomer to the front of the line without the usual time proven performances.
Yet Cesar’s current form is top shelf and he is singlehandedly responsible for Inter Milan still having a chance to move on in the Champions League.
While it is not prudent to rate a GK over a short span of time, his recent performances have been stellar.
A solid match between the posts for Brazil against Italy and man of the match performances in the Milan Derby and the CL match against Man. United have made me a believer that he is no fluke.
I find him comparable to Iker Casillas in stature and style. Quick, alert, smart and decisive in his play, Cesar has shown that his technical abilities are as sharp as his mental components when it comes to stonewalling the opposition.
At age 29, there is still much to see (and prove), but I would not hesitate to put him in my World XI today.
At 30 years of age, Buffon would be a safe bet to be in just about everyone’s top 3, if not the top dog.
He has been on the scene for many years and is a seasoned and proven netminder worthy of mention in any debate of who is the best.
Buffon has been the backbone of championship teams in the 2006 World Cup, the UEFA Cup and all the possible domestic competitions in Italy.
His confident and assured presence in the box has inspired the backs that have played in front of him to praise him as the world’s best.
He has been in my top 5 since his move to Juventus in the 2001/02 scudetto, but I became convinced of his greatness with the performances in Germany in 2006 and Switzerland / Austria in 2008.
While Cesar is a experiencing a meteoric ascendancy, Buffon should be a permanent fixture in anybody’s top three. In reality, that is argument alone to make him the world’s top keeper.
If I was on a retreat from reality since the turn of the century and tuned back in today and was told about a kid who has been the first choice keeper for Real Madrid the last nine seasons, and for Spain the last seven years, and that he was only 27, I would put him in top five for that alone!
Having backstopped a Real Madrid team to every club competition trophy and Spain’s Euro 2008 glory, it is hard to not consider him amongst equals when the debate rages.
In truth, what keeps him from being considered No. 1 in my list is that I take him for granted. He is a permanent fixture in the world’s most recognized and decorated club and has been there since he was 18!
That is infancy for a GK. So what we have here is a prodigy who has matured into a steady, confident netminder in a market where the spotlight is bright and always probing for a weakness.
Casillas has handled the pressure as if it were non-existent and proceeded to cement himself as one of the world’s best.
At age 38, he is the paternal figure of the elite, and the recent form of Herr Van der Sar is worthy of all the accolades and recognition being sent his way.
Having broken all the records for clean sheets and time played without conceding a goal, he has earned the honor of being compared to fine wine.
It is no coincidence that Man United’s return to the pinnacle of world soccer runs parallel with the insertion of Van der Sar in goal.
Having won just about every club competition known to man, he is the most capped player for the Oranje of Holland and it is still the wishes of his country to represent them as their first shirt.
The ultimate illustration of Van der Sar’s ability has been the fact that he is deemed the heir to Peter Schmeichel in the eyes of the Red Devil faithful as Man United’s greatest keeper ever.
A polished professional now for Everton, he was actually chosen as the EPL Goalkeeper of the Year in his inaugural season at Man United in 2004.
His ability to pull off amazing saves rivals David James.
His inconsistent form at Man United led to him being loaned in 2006 to Blue Merseyside where he gained the consistency that Sir Alex was seeking.
But so impressed and dependent upon him became David Moyes that Moyes insisted on a permanent move for Howard. The fee is still undisclosed to this day.
The 29-year-old has claimed the first shirt for the US and has represented them most capably. He is a world class athlete and would have surely gone on to greatness in whatever sport he chose.
Luckily for the US that sport was soccer and his qualities will be tested in the upcoming World Cup in South Africa.
Just to make sure that there will be intense debate, here is a round off of the world’s top 10:
6. Brad Freidel- Steady and imposing, he was the reason the US reached the quarterfinals in the ’02 World Cup and has been a main reason for Villa’s rise in the premiership.
7. Shay Given- A permanent fixture at Newcastle, his January transfer to Man. City, in the years to come, will be looked upon as one of Mark Hughes’ most brilliant moves.
8. Justo Villar- The Paraguayan number one has been a brick wall in CONMEBOL Qualifying and should make a name for himself in 2010; injuries have kept him out of the spotlight.
9. Peter Cech- At this time last year he was easily in everyone’s top 5, but his disastrous form at Euro ’08 has dented his confidence noticeably.
10. Robert Green- It is just a matter of time before he is pegged as England’s number one.
I know putting Cesar at the top is a surefire spark for heated debate, but his form has been so good that I am convinced that right now he is the best keeper in the world. So stellar has his form been that I was inspired to write this article. A newcomer in an established order always has a controversial reception.
While there are many GK’s worldwide, who would you have play for you today? To me that is the litmus test of the world’s best GK. Let the sparks fly…..