Goalkeepers very rarely receive their due.
Though they perform one of the most important functions on the team—organizing the back line while keeping the ball out of the net—these sentinels of the goal line get overlooked time and time again for the flash players in the world: the wingers, strikers and dexterous central midfielders.
It’s time to give keepers their due. Here are the top 10 goalies in the world as of June 2011.
The Skinny: You can’t blame Tim Howard for the fact that the USA defense sucks. And it does. It really, truly sucks.
Howard himself can’t stand the incompetence of his own back line—anyone who saw the USA’s recent match against Spain witnessed Howard nearly coming to blows with Onyewu, Ream and others.
Despite this lackluster defense, Howard has been one of the shining lights of the US national team in recent years. He’s also put in a number of great performances with Everton, a team he inspires with his impassioned presence.
For the past two years, Howard has appeared on the IFFHS World's Best Goalkeeper list.
The Skinny: Italian legend Gianluigi Buffon has appeared on the IFFHS World's Best Goalkeeper list for 11 years running.
Buffon didn’t impress as much during the 2010-11 season with Juventus as he has in previous years, but this is mostly due to his advanced age. Still, he put in 16 admirable performances with the side.
All told, Buffon has won 27 personal honors for his goalkeeping exploits, as well as two Serie A titles and the 2006 World Cup.
Club: Manchester City
The Skinny: City keeper Joe Hart was the young star Englishman of the 2010-11 season, Jack Wilshere be damned.
Hart helped City keep an EPL season-high 18 clean sheets. The season before that, he was instrumental in helping Birmingham City set a club record of 12 top-flight unbeaten matches.
Hart conceded just one goal in three England friendlies in 2011 and makes his Champions League debut with Manchester City during the 2011-12 season.
Rumor has it, Hart looks quite dashing standing beside large trees with his arms folded across his chest.
The Skinny: Maarten Stekelenburg is a one-club man, having spent his entire career with Dutch side Ajax. He’s picked up nine club awards over the years and won AFC Ajax player of the year twice.
In 2010, Stekelenburg took over the top goalkeeping position with the Dutch national team. He led the Oranje to the finals of the 2010 World Cup, and though he allowed only one goal during the final, it was enough for Spain to win.
All said and done, Stekelenburg is a fantastic keeper who promises great things for the future of the Oranje. He’s also the only Dutch keeper to have received a red card in international competition.
Not in his house, kids. Not in his house.
The Skinny: If it weren’t for that pesky man between the posts at Real Madrid, Barcelona’s Victor Valdes would be the best keeper in La Liga. As it is, he’ll have to be content with second-best.
But it’s not like he can complain. Playing on the best club team in the world, behind the best backline, Valdes has helped his side win five La Liga titles, three Champions League titles and one Copa del Rey.
He is the most successful keeper in Barcelona’s history and the perfect compliment to the team around him.
The Skinny: Pepe Reina is an unlucky man. He’s one of the top five goalkeepers in the world and he’s only second choice for his national squad. Those are the breaks.
Reina has kept more than 100 clean sheets for Liverpool and won an UEFA Super Cup, an FA Cup and an FA Community Shield with the side.
Though he doesn’t have the long list of accomplishments many other keepers on the list do, Reina’s a monster between the posts.
He holds down the backline and kept Liverpool strong in its toughest moments of transition over the past two seasons.
Club: Bayern Munich (as of August 2011)
The Skinny: Manuel Neuer’s performance for Schalke against Manchester United in the Champions League semi-final was the best goalkeeping of 2011 so far.
The highlights of his performance during that match are nearly unbelievable to watch, as he saved multiple goals in a single play while his backline fell apart around him.
The 25-year-old Neuer’s incredible run of form extends all the way back to the 2010 World Cup, during which the German allowed only one goal in the group stages and even assisted a goal by Miroslav Klosse.
Expect very big things from Neuer in his first season with Bayern Munich. He joined the team just a few weeks ago.
Country: Czech Republic
The Skinny: The world can forgive Chelsea keeper Petr Cech’s bizarre headwear on account of his exceptional work between the posts.
With the Blues, Cech has won the EPL title three times, the Football League Cup twice, the FA Community Shield twice and the FA Cup three times.
He has also won 28 prestigious personal awards, including Special Achievement Award for being smashed in the head.
The head injury saw Cech sustain a skull fracture after a particularly reckless challenge from Reading's Stephen Hunt. Undergoing emergency surgery and nearly dying, Cech returned to the pitch two months later. Thug life.
The Skinny: Brazilian international Julio Cesar was the only goalkeeper other than Iker Casillas nominated for the 2009 Ballon d’Or. As of 2010, he sits just behind Casillas in IFFHS World's Best Goalkeeper votes.
At club level, Cesar has led Inter to five Serie A titles, three Coppa Italias, four Supercoppa Italianas, one Champion’s League title and one UEFA Club World Cup title.
He has won two Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year awards and one UEFA Club Goalkeeper of the Year award.
On the international state, Cesar has helped Brazil to a Copa America and a FIFA Confederations Cup. Reports indicate that drawing slips of paper from a crystal chalice makes him nervous.
Club: Real Madrid
The Skinny: Iker Casillas is the best goalkeeper in the world in 2011.
Casillas is a reigning world champion as a member of the Spanish national team and took his club, Real Madrid, to the Champion’s League semi-finals, second place in La Liga and the Copa del Rey. He allowed only 32 goals at club level for the 2010-11 season.
He is also current holder of the IFFHS World's Best Goalkeeper award, as he has been three years running.
There’s not much else to say about Casillas. He is captain of the second-best club team in the world as well as the best national team, and won the Golden Glove at the 2010 World Cup.
Because he retired.