10. Neville Southall
Big Nev’s greatest glory days came before he was a Premier League player (and, if you follow him on Twitter, perhaps afterwards too), but even at the tail end of his peak years he was a brilliant keeper.
His reflexes might not have been as lightning as in the 1980s, but his job was often harder because he was playing in (broadly speaking) bad Everton teams, escaping relegation a couple of times. That said, the Welshman kept five clean sheets en route to the 1995 FA Cup Final, when they beat Manchester United, and in 1994 he was in goal for all but one game in a spell where Everton went 735 minutes without conceding.
9. Joe Hart
It's easy to forget after his assorted mistakes for England and unceremonious binning by Pep Guardiola, but Hart was once a brilliant goalkeeper. When he was on loan at Birmingham, and after breaking into the Manchester City side thereafter, the pulsing confidence that would eventually give way to a slightly destructive alpha personality was a huge strength, giving him the air of certainty that all goalkeepers need.
You only have to look at the compliments paid to him when he left City for Burnley last summer to realise what he did for them. The loan at West Ham didn’t work out, but Hart’s move to Turf Moor seems to be suiting him much more: he might not be back to his best, but he could get close again.
8. David James
Does a player deserve a place on this list for long service? That might sound like a backhanded compliment, but you don’t get to play 572 times in spells with five different clubs (and throw in 53 England caps too) without being an excellent goalkeeper. At times during his long career, James was.
The former Watford man was written off in his early years at Liverpool, with no consideration given to the fact he was 22 and in the middle of a team which was disintegrating around him. Later on he had the misfortune of playing behind poor defences, for West Ham and Manchester City in particular, but still managed to perform well.
7. Brad Friedel
It took Friedel a while to get into English football. Attempts to sign for Nottingham Forest, Sunderland and Newcastle were all scuppered by work permit regulations, but he eventually arrived in 1997, joining Liverpool.
He had trouble establishing himself at Anfield, but after moving to Blackburn in 2000 he gradually became one of the most reliable shot-stoppers in the country. Perhaps it’s because he was in his early 30s by the time he got a foothold in the Premier League, but Friedel always had the air of a wise old man; a sage of goalkeeping with whom any defence would feel comfortable.
Plus, he’s one of five goalkeepers to score a Premier League goal (top points if you can name the other four*), which undoubtedly adds an element of fun.
6. Shay Given
There was once a time when the debate around Given focused on whether he was underrated or overrated. Arguments raged, furious barbs were thrown and families were split asunder (sort of), but now with the passage of time everyone can probably agree that he was pretty good.
The Irishman spent much of his career playing for a Newcastle side that lurched from near-glory to near-crisis, before eventually earning a move to Manchester City just after all the money rolled in. An underrated (sorry) aspect of Given’s career was that, for years at St James’ Park, he competed for his place with Steve Harper – an eerie lookalike but also a custodian who would have been No.1 at plenty of other clubs.
5. Edwin van der Sar
“He's right up there with my best signings,” said Sir Alex Ferguson in 2009. Considering the company Edwin van der Sar is in on that list, it’s some compliment. Ferguson admitted that Manchester United should have signed Van der Sar in 1999 when Peter Schmeichel left, but in one of football’s great ‘better late than never’ cases, he still did rather well at Old Trafford.
Schmeichel is the only goalkeeper who won more than his four Premier League titles; saving the penalty that wins your team the Champions League, as the Dutchman did in 2008, isn’t bad either. And let’s not forget his four years at Fulham: Van der Sar was arguably their most important signing as the Cottagers established themselves as a top-flight team after promotion in 2001.
4. David de Gea
If you think times have been grim at Old Trafford since Ferguson’s retirement, imagine Manchester United without David de Gea. His relative struggles for Spain only serve to emphasise how astonishingly good he has been since arriving in the Premier League in 2011, overcoming initial struggles to establish himself as arguably the best goalkeeper in the world.
Former United goalkeeping coach Eric Steele tells a story that he can only ever remember Ferguson missing two first-team games: the first was for his son’s wedding, the other was to scout De Gea. Former team-mate Dimitar Berbatov was slightly pithier: “De Gea, you’re superhuman, man. You could catch a bullet.”
3. David Seaman
It’s vaguely tempting to disqualify a man who gave himself a self-congratulatory nickname, but in fairness ‘Safe Hands’ was pretty apt. Seaman was part of the great defence that Arsene Wenger inherited at Arsenal and, in one of his smarter decisions, didn’t tinker with initially.
Aside from a nagging weakness with lobs from miles out, Seaman was the complete goalkeeper, pairing brilliant reactions (most famously that absurd save against Sheffield United in the 2002 FA Cup semi-finals) with a commanding penalty-box presence. You’d probably get out of the way if that hair and moustache came charging out towards you.
2. Petr Cech
Cech’s form has dipped in the last couple of years, but at his peak he was probably the closest thing to Peter Schmeichel the Premier League has seen. The personalities were different, but their sheer imposing physicality was similar – Cech formed a human ‘thou shall not pass’ sign in the Chelsea goal.
Particularly in those early years at Stamford Bridge, Cech was a prominent part of the fabled spine that Jose Mourinho put together, and his performances between the sticks were essential to three of the five Premier League titles Chelsea have won (he also claimed a winner’s medal in 2014/15, but Thibaut Courtois was first choice that season).
In these days when goalkeepers are required to use their feet, Cech looks like a man of the past. But what a past it was.
1. Peter Schmeichel
It seems slightly strange that Schmeichel was 'only' at Manchester United for eight years. It almost feels like he was there for generations, a colossus both physically and in personality; less a player and more a monument, an unshakable rock of Alex Ferguson’s first couple of great teams.
Schmeichel didn’t so much make saves as terrify strikers into not scoring, and it’s of course the greatest mark of his quality that United had six wilderness years figuring out how to replace him. “Goalkeepers win you games sometimes,” said Ryan Giggs, “and Peter Schmeichel won more games than any other goalkeeper I’ve ever seen.”
*Asmir Begovic, Paul Robinson, Tim Howard and Peter Schmeichel
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