The Premier League: Top 10 Goalkeepers Today
''The goalkeeper is the crown jewel and getting at him should be almost impossible. It's the biggest sin in football to make him do any work''.
George Graham, former Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur manager, had idealistic views on the role of the goalkeeper in football. A man known for his ability to coach a team to dour 1-0 wins always put defence first...and he has been out of work for nearly a decade now.
Goalkeepers such as Paul Robinson, pictured, seem to play an increasingly crucial role in their teams' performances and thus have ever greater influence on its fortunes.
While once it was difficult to name a handful of great Number Ones, there are now several excellent goalkeepers in the Premier League who brave freezing cold rain, torrents of abuse from opposition fans and intense media spotlight to keep a small leather ball out from a net.
Not a glamorous job but an important one nevertheless.
On the one hand, goalkeepers enjoy longer careers than outfield players but one missed punch, one bobble in the pitch, one flap and they can be cast out by the media and fans. On the other hand, forwards often receive all of the plaudits for one decisive strike of the ball or header - even if they have missed a handful of goalscoring chances beforehand.
Forwards are glorious go-getters, instant heroes, selfish limelight thieves. Goalkeepers are heroic but foolish scapegoats.
But which poor, helpless scapegoats are the ten least culpable playing in the Premier League today?
In the following slideshow, I look at ten who have grabbed the headlines for the right reason - by displaying a safe pair of hands, composure, good reflexes and a great deal of courage.
No. 10: Mark Schwarzer (Fulham)
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Fulham lie in 16th position in the league this season, despite only having lost three games, one fewer than Tottenham Hotspur in sixth.
Were it not for their ability to defend their goal against even the best teams, fans at Craven Cottage may already be faced with the real threat of relegation.
Following on from last season's successes under now Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson, The Cottagers have continued with their brand of enterprising football, which often leaves them exposed at the back. Luckily for new manager Mark Hughes, he has a goalkeeper with valuable Premier League experience and a history of making important saves and not suffering many lapses of concentration.
In fact, there has been much talk of a move by Arsenal to acquire the services of 38 year-old Australian Mark Schwarzer to replace the neurotic Manuel Almunia and Lukas Fabianski. High praise indeed.
No. 9: Brad Friedel (Aston Villa)
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Another Premier League veteran who has survived and prospered for 13 years in the world's most end-to-end domestic football league, Aston Villa's American goalkeeper Brad Friedel has imposed himself on advancing opposition strikers and exerted his influence on his own team on countless occasions.
Now 39 years old, he is in the middle of another outstanding season between the posts. Tall and bulky, he has the ability, like Peter Schmeichel did at Manchester United, to deter forwards with his physical presence.
Like Schmeichel also, he is a great shot-stopper and it should be noted that, since leaving Liverpool in 2000, he has played for teams which traditionally concede many more goalscoring opportunities to their opponents than the Red Devils.
This year so far, Friedel is rated by Actim as the fifth-best goalkeeper in the Premier League but, unfortunately for him, I can think of eight stoppers in marginally better form.
No. 8: Ben Foster (Birmingham City)
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After seeing young English goalkeeper Ben Foster win a point for his team away to title challengers Manchester City, Birmingham manager Alex McCleish suggested that Joe Hart may have found his match in the race to take over permanently as England's Number One.
McCleish, having taken current England goalkeeper Joe Hart on loan last year from Manchester City, is in a fine position to judge Foster's ability and his confident that he has a £6 million player who can not only instantly prove his worth but also prove Sir Alex Ferguson wrong for letting young Foster leave Old Trafford, especially in light of Edwin Van der Saar reaching the age of 40.
Currently ranked as the eighth best goalkeeper in the league, Foster has more composure according to McCleish than Hart had at the start of last season and showed that again this afternoon with a solid display.
No. 7: Paul Robinson (Blackburn Rovers)
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There was not that much that Blackburn and former England goalkeeper Paul Robinson could do this afternoon to prevent his team losing 4-2 at White Hart Lane. But despite his defence failing him yet again, the Rovers stopper displayed all of his skills at the ground of his former club to prevent the likes of Gareth Bale and Rafael Van der Vaart from inflicting more damage.
In fact, such was his performance and that of Heurelho Gomes at the other end of the pitch - another mistake by the Brazilian costing Spurs Blackburn's second goal - that the Spurs faithful chanted 'England's Number One' long before the final whistle.
Ranked by the Actim Index as the ninth most impressive 'keeper, Robinson uses his experience and frame to excellent effect week in, week out.
No. 6: Tim Howard (Everton)
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Despite Everton starting the season slowly again, David Moyes's outfit has slowly climbed the league table with a series of hard-working, resolute performances.
American goalkeeper and Tourette Syndrome sufferer Tim Howard, since making the short move from Manchester United to Goodison Park, has won the hearts of the supporters with his individual brilliance. Impressively, he played every minute in both of Everton's last two league campaigns and made two crucial penalty saves against his old club to lead The Toffees to the 2009 F.A. Cup final.
This season, he is ranked as the tenth best goalkeeper in the Premier League by Actim but has also kept four clean sheets in 12 appearances. Known for his explosive power and shot-stopping ability, Howard still has at least five years of Premier League football ahead of him.
No. 5: Matthew Gilks (Blackpool)
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He plays for an unfashionable club, has no international recognition and wears a high-vis jacket. He has also been one of Blackpool's best players in their first season in the Premier League as the seasiders have stormed into action with memorable wins at Liverpool, Newcastle United and Wigan Athletic.
You may look at Blackpool's atrocious defensive record this season - they have conceded two goals per game - and wonder how I can put their goalkeeper so high in my list.
But anyone who has witnessed their matches will surely agree that, but for Gilks's heroic interventions, Blackpool may have half the points and twice as bad a goal difference by now.
Such has been his form that he has recently earned a call-up to the Scottish national squad. A lot has changed very quickly in the life of a lad who plied his trade for seven years in the lower leagues with Rochdale.
No. 4: Jose Reina (Liverpool)
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Liverpool supporters have not been able to smile very frequently this season as they have seen their team slip to embarrassing home defeats by Blackpool and Northampton Town and suffered from the protracted manner in which the club's ownership changed hands.
But Spanish back-up goalkeeper 'Pepe' Reina has just handed a tonic to manager Roy Hodgson and a boost to the club's outfield players by confirming that he is happy at Anfield and dedicated to the cause of turning his team's fortunes around this season.
Nevertheless, Manchester United legend Peter Schmeichel has recently called for Sir Alex Ferguson to sign Reina as his replacement for the outgoing Edwin Van der Saar. This statement in the press showed just how highly many rate Liverpool's goalkeeper.
Awarded with the Golden Glove award in both 2005 and 2006 for keeping an amazing 39 clean sheets in 78 appearances, Reina soon became the Liverpool goalkeeper who reached fifty club clean sheets in the shortest period of time.
This year, Actim rates him seventh but his influence on the pitch pushes him up my list.
No. 3: Joe Hart (Manchester City)
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Joe Hart's stock soared last season while out on loan from Manchester City to Birmingham City. For despite some early-season blunders, his performances were generally of the highest quality and befitting of a future England goalkeeper.
In fact, despite Fabio Capello regrettably favouring West Ham United's Robert Green over Hart during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Hart has now rightfully claimed the Number One jersey in the national team and seemingly goes from strength-to-strength.
Tall, agile and a natural leader, Hart has the chance to break Peter Shilton's all-time record for national appearances and may just lead his club to glory - so long as he can temper his sometimes wild off-field behaviour.
Rated No. 3 by Actim, he is certainly a world-class goalkeeper at the minute.
No. 2: Edwin Van Der Sar (Manchester United)
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Signed for a reported fee of just £2 million ($3 million) in 2005, Sir Alex Ferguson considers Van der Sar as the greatest Manchester United goalkeeper since Peter Schmeichel.
This is noteworthy praise given that Tim Howard also often excelled between the sticks at Old Trafford just a few years earlier.
In fact, at the beginning of last season, the 40 year-old Dutchman, currently the league's oldest player, broke the record for managing to not concede any goals for the longest period of time, more than eleven matches. He would actually break the world domestic record also with a staggering 1,302 minutes of exceptional goalkeeping.
This season, his colleagues have struggled somewhat but Van der Sar, aside from an uncanny error which handed West Bromwich Albion a goal, has yet again performed consistently well for The Red Devils.
Rated as the third-best by Actim, he pips Joe Hart to second place by virtue of his composure and experience.
No. 1: Petr Cech (Chelsea)
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Although some bizarrely consider Chelsea's goalkeeper over-rated, for 28 year-old Czech Cech (ah ha!) his actions speak louder than words.
Almost ever-present for The Blues since his 2004 transfer from French club Rennes, he has played a large part in the club's rise to prominence and success under both Jose Mourinho and new manager Carlo Ancelotti.
Like Liverpool's Reina, he is a double winner of the league's Golden Glove award, including last season's. Unlike Reina, he has the cherry on top of the cake being a Premier League champion.
In 2007, Cech became the first goalkeeper for seven years to win a Player of the Month award and he is rated as the best stopper so far this season by Actim.
Who am I to contradict the league's most sophisticated performance-rating tool and ignore the eight clean sheets the giant has kept already this season for the Champions?