The best in the business since the turn of the millennium
We’ve been treated to some of the very best ‘keepers in history since the turn of the millennium with the greatest of them all, Gianluigi Buffon, insisting he will retire from the game should Juventus fail to win the Champions League this season – the only major club trophy that has eluded him.
The Italian, 40 years old and the biggest casualty of the Azzurri's failure to qualify for this summer's World Cup, has long made it known he will only play on beyond this season's end if his team succeed in winning the competition.
Buffon, whose longevity has more than justified Juve spending what was then a divisive world-record £32.6m for a goalkeeper in 2001, was in Italy's squad way back at the 1998 World Cup. Yet while some consider him the finest ever, others don’t believe he’s even the best of the modern era, which has been a golden one for those representing the last line of defence.
10. Hugo Lloris
French international Lloris has proved to be a bargain since his £11.8m move from Lyon to Tottenham in 2012. The 31-year-old has been capped 94 times by Les Bleus – 70 as captain – and has played over 200 matches for Spurs since he arrived nearly six years ago, becoming an integral part of Mauricio Pochettino’s side.
He doesn't have a sideboard full of medals – although Lyon won the Coupe de France in his final season, and he was a triple Ligue 1 Goalkeeper of the Year – but he is in his prime and the leader of a talented and exciting national team and an essential component of an exciting, ever-improving Tottenham.
9. Julio Cesar
At one point Julio Cesar was the best goalkeeper in the world, winning the UEFA Club Goalkeeper of the Year in 2010 as he helped Jose Mourinho’s Inter to the Champions League title as part of a treble-winning season. His gong haul with the Nerazzurri included five league titles, three Italian cups and the Club World Cup.
His success continued after he signed for Benfica in 2014, with three more league titles – including the double in 2017. Julio Cesar also proved to be the composed, consistent Brazil goalkeeper that Taffarel, Marcos and Dida could never quite be, earning 87 caps for the Selecao. In 2018, aged 38, Cesar returned to Flamengo, 13 years after leaving the Rio giants for Europe.
8. David de Gea
De Gea had some enormous gloves to fill for both Manchester United and the Spanish national team, being the long-term successor to Edwin van der Sar and Iker Casillas. Emerging all the stronger from an initial tricky spell after leaving Atletico Madrid for Old Trafford in 2011, he has become United's greatest strength in the difficult times that have followed Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement. For Spain, his ability has meant that Casillas's decline wasn’t the trauma it could have been.
The suspicion remains he is also yet to reach his peak. If he can develop the savvy to kill moments of danger, as Van der Sar (to use one obvious example) so often did, the combination of that with his remarkable reflexes could mean him rivalling Manuel Neuer as the best in the world at present.
7. Victor Valdes
The most decorated goalkeeper in the history of Barcelona and the man between the posts for the team many regard as they greatest in the history of the game – Pep Guardiola’s Barca of 2008-2012.
Embracing the modern role of ‘sweeper-keeper’, Valdes won six Liga titles, three Champions Leagues and was part of the Spain squads that won both the European Championships in 2012 and the World Cup in 2010.
He was also so consistent that he surpassed the great Andoni Zubizarreta as the goalkeeper to have made the most appearances for the Catalan club.
6. Oliver Kahn
UEFA Club Goalkeeper of the Year four times in a row between 1999 and 2002, Kahn is best remembered for his exceptional performance at the World Cup in 2002. His form in Japan and South Korea carried a far-from-vintage Germany side to the final, where his superb displays were cruelly undermined by a rare mistake that led to Ronaldo scoring the first of his two match-winning goals. Up to the final, the Germans conceded just once – against the Republic of Ireland in the group stage – and Kahn was instrumental in the knock-out stages where Germany beat Paraguay, the USA and South Korea all by a scoreline of 1-0.
At club level with Bayern Munich, Kahn had few such bittersweet memories. He won 16 major trophies, perhaps the most satisfying of all coming when he saved three of Valencia's shootout penalties to secure victory in the final of the 2001 Champions League.
5. Manuel Neuer
The captain of Germany has won the lot in his career; frighteningly, turning 32 in March 2018, he has only just reached his peak. Since joining Bayern Munich in 2011, he’s won five consecutive Bundesliga titles and the 2013 Champions League, the 2014 World Cup and a host of other trophies, and has been named UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year four times. There are few doubts that he is currently the best ‘keeper on the planet and is on the cusp of another trophy-laden season with the Bavarian giants. He was named captain of the side following the retirement of Philipp Lahm in 2017.
Neuer's anticipation, authority and agility, married with his footballing ability, means only longevity is required before he earns parity with the very, very best.
4. Petr Cech
Cech was initially signed from Rennes in 2004 as an understudy to Carlo Cuducini. When the Italian injured an elbow in pre-season, the Czech international was given a chance to prove himself – which he duly took, keeping a clean sheet in his first Premier League match, a 1-0 victory over Manchester United. Between Thierry Henry scoring in a 2-2 draw on December 12th that year and Leon McKenzie finding the net for Norwich on March 5th the following year, Cech didn’t concede a single Premier League goal, setting a record in the process. He kept 21 clean sheets and conceded just 15 all season. For a couple of years, Cech was the best ‘keeper on the planet.
If it wasn’t for a collision with Reading's Stephen Hunt while at Chelsea in 2006 that led to him suffering a fractured skull, the 35-year-old Czech international may even have become the modern-day greatest.
3. Edwin van der Sar
Van der Sar made a surprise move from Juventus to Fulham after the Old Lady signed Gianluigi Buffon from Parma in 2001, signing for Manchester United four years later. It was at Old Trafford that he re-established himself as a truly elite goalkeeper, winning the 2008 Champions League – the second time he’d won Europe’s top honour after that great Ajax team lifted the trophy in 1995.
He won four Premier League titles in the twilight of his career, having joined United at 34-years-old and was twice named Best European Goalkeeper, with the awards coming 14 years apart in 1995 and 2009.
Throughout his career, Van der Sar was authoritative and calm in equal measure, consistently performing to an elite level with minimal fuss.
2. Iker Casillas
Casillas represented the most successful club team in history and played his international football for one of the truly great national teams. He played 725 times for Real Madrid, captaining the side for five seasons, winning three Champions League titles – the first of which came just days after his 19th birthday. He captained Spain to two European Championship titles and their World Cup win in 2010.
For a time, Casillas was the world’s best goalkeeper but his decline – which had begun well before he left the Bernabeu for Porto in 2015 – felt as unusually premature as his elevation to the top level. But at his prime, Casillas's great strength was to combine unflappable leadership with the inspirational saves he was well capable of producing – from Arjen Robben in the 2010 World Cup final is as defining as any.
1. Gianluigi Buffon
Buffon isn’t just the best since the turn of the millennium; he’s one of the very best goalkeepers the game has ever produced. He turned 40 in January but while most have retired by that age and the rest have lost the majority of what made them great, Buffon has captained Juventus to five Scudetti and two Champions League finals in the last five seasons. Possibly the most remarkable thing is that he has done so with very little discernible drop in quality.
Touted as the heir to Dino Zoff as a youngster, Buffon didn’t just live up to expectations but surpassed them. His 175 international caps make Zoff’s 111 look puny in comparison. Those two remain the only goalkeepers to make the podium of the Ballon d’Or in the last half-century.
The Champions League may have eluded him but he has a World Cup to make up for it, being named Best Goalkeeper for his exploits in 2006 as Italy won it for the fourth time.
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