Goalkeeping it is often considered the most thankless job football.
Unlike outfield players who are right in the middle of the action, bouncers have limited opportunities to even touch the ball during a match. However, most of the touches a goalkeeper has to make during a competition are crucial.
Even the slightest mistake by a goalkeeper can spell disaster for a team, and more often than not, goalkeepers are responsible for turnovers, regardless of how good their performance was for the rest of the match. And when a team wins, the credit almost always goes to the goal scorers.
Therefore, on the football field, the goalkeeper’s role is always to walk a tightrope, where nothing but perfection is acceptable.
While it is almost impossible to maintain this level of consistency throughout a career, usually spanning 10-20 years, several individuals have managed to set high standards to be hailed as legendary goalkeepers.
Here are some of them best goalkeepers of all time who played football.
The best goalkeepers in the world
Iker Casillas (Spain)
Iker Casillas is a modern legend and the cornerstone of Spain’s golden generation that dominated the international scene from the early 2000s to the mid-2010s.
In addition to possessing all the qualities of a great goalkeeper, Casillas was known for his ability to stay calm under pressure and make astonishing saves at key moments in matches to save his team. This earned him the nickname “San Iker” or “Saint Iker”.
This quality also made him a natural captain, arguably one of the best in football. In addition to leading Spain to European Championship trophies in 2008 and 2012, Iker Casillas spearheaded Spain’s first FIFA World Cup triumph in 2010.
With 102 clean sheets in 167 matches for Spain, Iker Casillas is the only goalkeeper to keep over 100 clean sheets in international football so far. He cut opponents in more than 60 percent of matches – an astounding number.
Casillas is also considered a Real Madrid legend having won numerous trophies with Los Blancos, including five La Ligas and three UEFA Champions League. In the second half of his career, he represented Portuguese outfit Porto.
Iker Casillas also holds the record for the most clean sheets in UCL by any goalkeeper with 57 in 177 matches.
Heart complications unfortunately cut short Iker Casillas’ career and the Spaniard had to end his career in 2020 at the age of 39 – relatively young considering the longevity of top-class goalkeepers in modern football.
Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)
Speaking of the longevity of modern goalkeepers, perhaps the best example of them all is Gianluigi Buffon from Italy. In his 40s, the Italian legend still plays football.
Perhaps Casillas’ biggest rival for the title of the greatest goalkeeper of the 21st century, Buffon has a wardrobe of trophies almost as impressive as his Spanish rival.
The former Juventus star was a key player in helping Italy win the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Buffon conceded just two goals in seven matches in the tournament and none in open play. One was an own goal and the other was a free-kick.
After making his debut in 1997, Buffon was the Azzurri’s first-choice goalkeeper for nearly two decades before retiring from international football in 2018 after Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia. He is still the player with the most caps for Italy in history.
In his 176 appearances for Italy, Gianluigi Buffon has kept 77 clean sheets – the second best tally in international football after Casillas.
The Italian, who still plays club football for Parma in Serie B – the second tier of Italian football – is also the only goalkeeper with over 500 clean sheets in history.
Manuel Neuer (Germany)
Germany has a tradition of producing great goalkeepers and the like Oliver Kahn, Bert Trautmann and Sepp Maier are legends in themselves.
Manuel Neuer, the current Germany No. 1, however, deserves a special mention. The former Schalke player and current Bayern Munich player seems to have perfected the style of the modern goalkeeper.
Neuer’s natural pace, physicality and ball control, which rival many top outfield players, make him a unique type of goalkeeper. This allows him to get out of his penalty area and participate in the preparation game, as well as putting out dangerous situations by playing as a goalkeeper, allowing his teams to play really high to put pressure on the opponent.
While this seems like a risky ploy, Neuer’s presence makes it a worthwhile strategy for coaches. Neuer is also a great passer and can pass the ball from deep with ease, making him the perfect deep playmaker if his team needs it.
The tall German is a top athlete with great reflexes, allowing him to make amazing saves. Neuer has won 10 Bundesliga titles and two UEFA Champions League trophies, and helped Germany win the 2014 FIFA World Cup, ending Die Mannschaft’s 24-year wait for a world cup.
In his thirties, Neuer may still break many more records before he finally considers it a day.
Nadine Angerer (Germany, women)
In a rich career that spanned over two decades, Nadine Angerer was a member of the German women’s soccer team that won two FIFA Women’s World Cups (2003 and 2007), five consecutive European Championships (1997-2003) and three Olympic bronze medals ( 2000, 2004 and 2008).
Interestingly, Nadine Angerer was not the first-choice goalkeeper at the 2003 World Cup, but she got a chance to play in the 2007 edition after an injury to Silke Rottenberg, for which Angerer was a deputy in the national team for over a decade.
It proved to be a watershed moment for both Angerer and world football as she went through the entire tournament without conceding a single goal in over 540 minutes played.
Nadine Angerer is also the first goalkeeper in history to win the FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year award in 2013.
In addition to the players mentioned above, Gordon Bankshero of England’s 1966 World Cup triumph, Manchester United legend Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der SarUSA women’s team icon Solo’s HopeItalian World Cup winner Dino Zoff these are some noteworthy great goalkeepers.