Here is my definitive list of the 25 best custodians in the history of football.
These shot-stoppers have been presented in order of merit, starting with No 25, although I will leave it up to you, the reader, to decide whether you agree with me on who is the world’s greatest-ever goalkeeper, or whether I have left anyone off the list who you feel should have been included …
Forever remembered for his outstanding man-of-the-match display against England at Wembley in 1973 that prevented England from qualifying for the following year’s World Cup finals, Jan Tomaszeweski not only helped his team to an unlikely third-place finish in the tournament, but he was voted the best keeper in the competition.
And the 63-cap Poland international also made history at the 1974 World Cup when he became the first-ever goalkeeper to save two penalties from two different players in the history of the tournament.
Harald Schumacher is best remembered for his atrocious late foul on France’s Patrick Battiston in the semi-final of the 1982 World Cup that not only denied les Bleus a likely winning goal, but also left the defender himself unconscious and then in a coma.
However, if one treats that incident separately, then the keeper with the huge blond mullet was a wonderfully athletic shot-stopper who had a fondness for racing off his line to play as a semi-sweeper. He was also an incredibly brave and a fearsome opponent to face, representing West Germany on 76 occasions between 1979 and 1986, when he won Euro '80, before losing back-to-back World Cup finals with Die Mannschaft in 1982 and 1986.
Hans van Breukelen is an imposing blond-haired Dutch keeper who was one of the very best in his profession during the '80s and early-'90s for Nottingham Forest, PSV Eindhoven and the Netherlands, who he represented 73 times between 1980 and 1992, including at three successive major finals.
During an illustrious 16-year playing career, van Breukelen won six Eredivisie titles and the 1988 European Cup with PSV when his penalty-saving heroics in the shootout saw off the challenge of favourites Benfica.
Later that year the Dutchman was at it again with a crucial first-half save that denied the Soviet Union’s Igor Belanov a penalty spot. This went a long way towards helping the Oranje win their first-ever international trophy.
For a period in the mid-to-late 1990s, Angelo Peruzzi was the Juve and Italy's finest keeper. His strengths were his shot stopping and anticipation off his line. Injuries, unfortunately, prevented him from making the most of his talents, especially on the national stage.
Nonetheless, Peruzzi still won three Scudetti with Juventus, and was voted Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year on three occasions, with only Gianluigi Buffon having won it more times. Peruzzi shown in the Uefa Cup and the Champions League where his heroics in the penalty shootout helped beat holders Ajax in the Rome final of 1996.
The eccentric Paraguayan may be best remembered for his unlikely goalscoring records, which included an incredible 54 strikes in his club career and eight internationally.
A record kept until it was overtaken by Brazilian Rogerio Ceni. But it would be doing Jose Luis Felix Chilavert a disservice as he was also a fine shot-stopper and one of the best, if not the best, keepers to have ever emerged from South America.
Chilavert played 62 times for his country (1989-2003), including at both the 1998 and 2002 World Cups. The former at which he became the first-ever goalkeeper to take a direct free kick at the tournament as he led his country all the way to the round of 16 with a series of displays that led him to be voted as the world’s best goalkeeper of that year by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS), the third time he had won the award.
At a time in the late-'80s to early-'90s, Michel Preud'homme was considered to be if not the best, then certainly one of the top three goalkeepers in the world. He was voted the first-ever winner of the Yashin Award for the best keeper at the World Cup finals at USA '94.
Other than starring for Belgium, where he played 58 times between 1979 and 1994, Preud'homme also played domestically for Standard Liege, Mechelen, and Benfica. He helped Belgium minnows Mechelen win the 1987 European Cup-Winners’ Cup and the 1988 Uefa Super Cup thanks to his superb shot stopping and extreme agility that characterised his goalkeeping displays.
Better known as Gilmar, the Corinthians and Santos goalkeeper played in three World Cup finals for Brazil. In 1958 and 1962 he won the trophy, making him one of only a few goalkeepers to have lifted the biggest prize in football more than once.
Now, South American shot-stoppers, and particularly those from Brazil, tend to get a bit of a hard time when it comes to their abilities between the sticks; however, the man who won 94 caps for the Selecao in a glittering 16-year international career was not only voted as the best Brazilian keeper of the 20th century, but he was also chosen as one of the best goalkeepers in the world by the IFFHS.
Despite his slightly less successful period at Manchester United when his game was clearly in decline, Fabian Barthez still enjoyed a highly rewarding, memorable, and at times, eye-catching career for the likes of Marseille, Monaco and most recognisably France.
In fact, it was his performances between the sticks for les Bleus, who he represented 87 times between 1994 and 2006, that people will most recall. During a two-year period from 1998 to 2000, he was without a doubt the best keeper in the world as his nation won the 1998 World Cup and then Euro 2000. He also helped France make it back to the 2006 World Cup final, only to lose to Italy.
Domestically, Barthez won the Champions League with Marseille in 1993, when his clean sheet in the final in Munich helped the Ligue 1 champions cause a monumental upset with a 1-0 win over AC Milan.
However, his eccentric goalkeeping style should not mask the fact that at his peak the Frenchman was a seriously good shot-stopper who liked to command his box while also being exceptionally comfortable with the ball at his feet.
Without a doubt, one of the finest British keepers of the last 25 years, David Seaman's peak came while at Arsenal. He had a remarkable season in 1990-91 when he let in just 18 goals in 38 league games for the North London club as they were crowned first division champions, one of three league titles that he won with the Gunners.
However, on the international stage the man, capped 75 times by England, enjoyed both ups and downs. One highlight was his displays at Euro 96 when his performances went a long way to help the hosts reach the semi-finals. Seaman was voted the best goalkeeper at the tournament.
But he also experienced the lows with England as well. None more so than when he let a free kick from Ronaldinho sail over his head in the quarter-finals of the 2002 World Cup in Japan/South Korea, a mistake that ultimately handed eventual winners Brazil a 2-1 victory.
A giant of the British game, Pat Jennings played for distinction for both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur where he won multiple trophies. He was also recognised globally for playing 119 times for Northern Ireland, which at the time was a world record.
Perhaps best remembered for two things: scoring in the 1967 Charity Shield at Wembley, and representing his country at the 1986 World Cup finals at the age of 41 after retiring from club football the previous year, making him at the time the oldest-ever player to feature in the tournament.
Known as ‘The Cat’ for his outstanding agility, Rinat Dasayev will, for some, be best remembered as the goalie for the Soviet Union when Netherlands striker Marco van Basten scored, what many consider to be, one of the greatest goals of all time in the final of Euro '88, Dasayev was named the world’s best goalkeeper by the IFFHS that year.
Capped 91 times by his country between 1979 and 1990, the second most for the Soviet Union, Dasayev also featured in three consecutive World Cup finals. He was, during that time, considered to be the world’s best goalkeeper.
Despite having won no national honours with the Netherlands, who he won a record 130 caps for, Edwin van der Sar’s glittering club career still elevates him onto this list. Van der Sar represented Ajax, Juventus, Fulham and Manchester United with distinction—not a small feat.
Highlights include winning the Champions League with Ajax in 1995 and then United in 2008, when he was named man of the match, making him one of a select group of players to have won Europe’s premier club competition with two different clubs. He also claimed the Uefa Cup and multiple league titles in the Netherlands and England, the last of which at Old Trafford in 2011 made Van der Sar the oldest-ever player to win the Premier League at 40 years and 205 days.
The keeper who was perhaps the best ever with the ball at his feet, a vital skill in the modern game following the abolition of the back-pass rule, also holds the world record for the most amount of time without conceding a league goal at 1,311 minutes during the 2008-09 season at United.
Known as the ‘Die Katze von Anzing’ (the cat from Anzing) due to his outstanding reflexes, Sepp Maier was an integral part of the all-conquering Bayern Munich and West Germany teams of the 1970s.
He won virtually all there is to offer in the game, including four Bundesliga crowns, three successive European Cups, the European Championship and the World Cup. And what’s more, the three-times German Footballer of the Year still holds the Bundesliga record for having played the most number of consecutive matches (422).
The Athletic Bilbao, Barcelona, Valencia, and Spain's national team keeper is a legend, both in his homeland and in world football, after a hugely-successful 19-year career in which he played more than 950 matches.
‘Zubi’, as he was known, first came to prominence after winning back-to-back Liga titles at the San Mames in 1983 and 1984. Two years later, he moved to Camp Nou where his career really took off. In Catalonia, Zubizarreta claimed four league titles and was part of Johan Cruyff’s so-called ‘Dream Team’ that won the Catalan’s first-ever European Cup at Wembley in 1992.
However, it is probably his feats with La Furia Roja for which the keeper will be best remembered.
He represented his country on 126 occasions between 1985 and 1998, at the time a Spanish record, which included going to the finals of seven major tournaments, some as national captain.
Calm under pressure, steady under crosses, adept at using his feet and playing as a ‘sweeper’ (Cruyff encouraged him to do regularly while at Barca), he was also a phenomenal shot stopper and an expert at closing down angles when faced with an opposition player running through on goal.
The giant Chelsea and Czech Republic goalkeeper has been one of the most consistent and outstanding shot-stoppers of the last 10 years. Many consider Petr Cech to be one of the top three keepers on Planet Football for the period following his move from Rennes to Chelsea in 2004. Since then, he has remained ever present at Stamford Bridge, winning three Premier League titles and the Champions League, while also recording 98 caps for his country, the second most in Czech Republic history.
However, the man who once went 928 minutes without conceding a goal while at Sparta Prague in 2001-02 has perhaps lost just some of his aura in goal following the horrific broken skull that he suffered while playing against Reading in the Premier League in Oct 2006. But his sensational displays in goal as the West Londoners won their first-ever European Cup in 2011-12 has gone a long way to silence those whispers.
England’s greatest-ever goalkeeper?
Certainly, if you had asked Brian Clough, then it was not even close as he regarded Peter Shilton as the best acquisition that he ever made as a manager. Shilton was the catalyst behind Nottingham Forest’s subsequent league title win and two European Cup triumphs.
Shilton was also a calming influence between the sticks for England, making a record 125 appearances for his country, playing in the finals of five tournaments. In fact, the 63-year-old holds the record for the most number of clean sheets in the history of the tournament, 10, with France’s Fabian Barthez.
Whether with Juve or Italy, Dino Zoff was an imperious presence in goal. Winning six Scudetti with the Bianconeri while also captaining the Azzurri to World Cup glory in Spain in 1982 at the grand old age of 40 years, four months and 13 days, he is the oldest player ever to win the tournament, while also becoming just the second-ever captain/keeper to lift the trophy.
Zoff also still holds the incredible record of the most minutes in international football without conceding a goal, 1,142 minutes, set between 1972 and 1974.
Upon retirement from the game in 1983, he was considered to be the greatest keeper world football had ever seen.
Schalke 04, Bayern Munich, and Germany's national team goalkeeper may only just be starting out on his career, but he has, in the nine years he has been playing the game, shown that he is one of the best, if not the best, keeper currently operating on Planet Football.
In fact, it was the 26-year-old’s sensational displays for Schalke as they unexpectedly made it all the way to the semi-finals of the 2011 Champions League that persuaded Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich to shell out €22 million to secure his services.
However, Manuel Neuer has simply gone from strength to strength since moving to the Allianz Arena, gaining in confidence, with his remarkable shot stopping, reflexes, and agility defying belief.
Neuer carried his outstanding form on to the international stage, being the best goalkeeper at both the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 as he established himself as the undisputed German No. 1.
Considered by most experts as the best British keeper of the '80s, Neville Southall was unfortunate as he was never given the opportunity to showcase his exceptional agility and shot-saving abilities on the world stage with Wales. He made a record 92 appearances for Wales between 1982 and 1997, but Wales never qualified for the finals of a major international tournament during his career.
However, on the domestic stage for Everton, who he made a club-record 592 appearances for across a 17-year period (1981-98), the Welshman shone brightly, playing a major role in the Merseysiders’ league title wins of 1985 and 1987, as well as their 1985 European Cup-Winners’ Cup triumph. Southall was named as one the 100 'Greatest Players of the 20th Century' by World Soccer magazine, as well as being voted as one of the best 10 goalkeepers in the world on four separate occasions by the IFFHS.
Gordon Banks is forever remembered for making ‘That Save’ at the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico when he somehow managed to push Pele’s close-range goal bound header up and over the bar in what most experts still consider to be the greatest-ever save made in the history of football.
And, while Leicester City and England international may not have won the medals and trophies that some of his rivals did, he still played an integral role in his country winning their first and only World Cup on home soil in 1966. He conceded just two goals all tournament.
In pure goalkeeping terms, few could match his agility, reflexes and pure shot-stopping capabilities.
The first great modern goalkeeper, the ‘Black Spider’, as he was known due to his outstanding reflexes, played for just one club throughout his career, Dynamo Moscow. He represented Dynamo Moscow on 326 occasions between 1950 and 1970 while winning 78 caps for the Soviet Union (1954-67), playing in three World Cups, and winning gold at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne.
And, if you go along with the IFFS, then Lev Yashin was the best goalkeeper of the 20th century.
For many, the man with the Alice band in his hair is, and always has been, the world’s greatest keeper. Gianluigi Buffon first came into view as a 19-year-old when he replaced Gianluca Pagliuca for Italy’s crucial World Cup play-off first leg in Moscow. Buffon turned in a man-of-the-match display in the process, and ever since, he has been performing miracles in goal for his country, as well as for club sides Parma and Juventus.
It was the ‘Old Lady of Italian Football’ who bought the shot-stopper from Parma for a then world-record fee of £32.5 million in 2001. In the intervening 12 years, Buffon has won Serie A titles with Juve, and has been voted the best goalkeeper in Europe on numerous occasions.
Although, perhaps it is for the Azzurri that Buffon is best remembered. He has won 123 caps to date, and more importantly, played a crucial role in Italy’s 2006 World Cup triumph. He came in second in that year’s Ballon d’Or.
Peter Schmeichel is famous for his intimidating presence in the penalty area when confronting an onrushing player. His now famous ‘starfish’ saves, that he perfected so often throughout his long and glittering career, prove he was without a doubt the greatest ever to have represented Denmark and Manchester United.
Schmeichel played 292 times for United between 1991 and 1999, winning five league titles before his crowning moment at Old Trafford that fittingly came in his last game for the Red Devils. He captained the club to victory in the 1999 Champions League final where his man-of-the-match performance helped Sir Alex Ferguson’s side win the Treble.
However, he also shone for his country, playing a record 129 times for Denmark, which included causing one of the biggest shocks in the history of international football when they won Euro 92.
Credited with revolutionising the way modern keepers now play the game, acting as a sweeper behind his back four, his ability to come out on top when faced with one-one-one attacking situations was never better.
Schmeichel also remarkably scored nine goals during his career.
Oliver Kahn is an absolute colossus between the sticks for both Bayern Munich and Germany and probably the best keeper when confronted with a one-on-one situation with an opposition player.
The blond-haired, fiery No. 1 won everything there is to win in the club game while in Bavaria. The highlight of his career coming when his penalty-saving heroics in the shootout of the 2001 Champions League final against Valencia helped win Bayern their first European Cup for 25 years.
Meanwhile, his performances in goal for Die Mannschaft at the 2002 World Cup finals in South Korea/Japan virtually dragged his country single handedly to the final, where they lost to Brazil. Although Kahn made history when he became the first and only keeper to be named player of the tournament when he won the Golden Ball.
Where do you start with Saint Iker?
The man has won everything with Real Madrid and Spain, and when I say everything, I mean everything that there possibly is to win in the game. And what’s more, he is only 31.
Ever since Iker Casillas debuted for the biggest club in the world at the tender age of 16, he has enjoyed nothing but success, claiming five Liga titles, two Champions League crowns, one Copa de Rey, four Supercopas, the Uefa Super Cup and the Intercontinental Cup.
Meanwhile for La Roja, he captained the country to their first national title in 44 years at Euro 2008, a feat he repeated at Euro 2012, and in between he led Spain to their first and only World Cup triumph in South Africa, making him one of only a very select band of players to have won every major domestic and world title there is to claim.
Casillas could not have won all those medals, cups and a Spanish world record of 143 appearances by a keeper without being one of the greats of the game. Anyone who has watched him perform with such consistency and skill in the goal over the past 14 years will undoubtedly agree.