On April 25, 2020, Between the Sticks turns one year old. To celebrate the site’s anniversary (as well as its 50th post), goalkeeper journalist Mouhamad Rachini is ranking the 10 best goalkeepers from each of the five continents; Africa, Asia/Oceania, Europe, North/Central America, and South America.
Goalkeepers are ranked on a mix of different factors, including team and individual honours, longevity, quality of leagues they played in, peak, and statistical success.
Goalkeepers are also grouped based on the country they REPRESENT, not the country they were born in. For example, Steve Mandanda, despite being born in an African country, is considered to be a European goalkeeper because he plays for France internationally.
You can access each piece by clicking on the attached hyperlink.
Carlos Kameni (Cameroon): A veteran of Spain’s first division, Carlos Kameni made over 330 La Liga appearances across 13 seasons with Espanyol and Málaga. The one-time Copa Del Rey champion found some success with Cameroon too, backstopping them to a gold medal in the 2000 Olympics and a spot in the 2003 Confederations Cup final.
Denis Onyango (Uganda): Renowned for his penalty-saving ability and his composure in one-on-one situations, Denis Onyango is a six-time Premier Soccer League champion and winner of the 2016 CAF Champions League. He was recognized by the IFFHS as the tenth best goalkeeper of the year in 2016, ahead of Marc-André ter Stegen and Petr Čech.
Peter Rufai (Nigeria): A native of Lagos, Peter Rufai represented Nigeria in two World Cups and two African Cup of Nations. He played the game of his life in the 1994 African Cup of Nations final, making two big saves with Nigeria up 2-1 to clinch his country’s second continental championship.
10. Nader El-Sayed (Egypt, multiple clubs, 1992 – 2008)
Nader El-Sayed made his international debut as a 19-year-old in a 1992 draw against Jordan. It was his first of 110 caps for the Egyptian national team, which makes him the second most capped goalkeeper in the country’s history. El-Sayed represented his country in numerous international competitions, including the 1992 Olympics and the 1998 African Cup of Nations (the latter of which Egypt won).
El-Sayed’s international debut came in the same year he made his professional club debut with Egyptian giants Zamalek SC. The native of Dakahlia represented the Cairo-based club for six years between 1992 and 1998, winning two African Cup of Champions Clubs and two Egyptian League titles. He was recognized as the best Egyptian goalkeeper in all six of those years, as well as the best Arab goalkeeper in 1992.
Known for his penalty-saving qualities and fiery attitude, El-Sayed retired in 2008 following rough stints in Europe and with Al Ahly and ENPPI Club.
9. Vincent Enyeama (Nigeria, multiple clubs, 1999 – present)
Vincent Enyeama’s rise to prominence started when he joined Enyimba International FC in 2001. There, he backstopped the club to three Nigerian Premier League titles and back-to-back CAF Champions Leagues in 2003 and 2004. They’re the only Nigerian club to be crowned continental champions, and Enyeama received Champions League Player of the Year honours in both campaigns.
Enyeama also saw success in Europe. He won league titles with both Hapoel Tel-Aviv and Maccabi Tel-Aviv, and during the 2013-14 season, the then-Lille goalkeeper came within 114 minutes of equalling Gaëtan Huard’s Ligue 1 record of most consecutive minutes played without conceding a goal.
As Nigeria’s joint-most capped player with 101 caps, Enyeama was named Man of the Match in two of Nigeria’s 2010 World Cup games; against Argentina and against Greece. He also backstopped the Super Eagles to glory at the 2013 African Cup of Nations.
Enyeama has been a free agent since August 2018.
8. Kazadi Mwamba (Zaire, TP Mazembe, 1968 – 1980)
Most non-African football fans know Kazadi Mwamba for one thing only; Zaire’s 1974 World Cup performance. Largely considered to be the worst showing by a nation in a single World Cup, Zaire conceded 14 goals and scored none through three games.
Their performance was highlighted by a 9-0 drumming at the hands of Yugoslavia. Kazadi, who started the match, was subbed off after conceding three goals in 20 minutes.
But looking past that stain, Kazadi was actually a formidable goalkeeper. He spent his entire club career with TP Mazembe, with whom he won multiple domestic and continental trophies. And for his national team, he backstopped them to victories in both the 1968 and 1974 African Cup of Nations. He was recognized as the competition’s top player in the former and was included in the latter’s team of the tournament.
In 1999, Kazadi was recognized by the IFFHS as one of the 20th century’s top five African goalkeepers.
7. Sadok Sassi (Tunisia, Club Africain, 1958 – 1979)
A national icon in his homeland of Tunisia, Sadok “Attouga” Sassi is his country’s most capped goalkeeper with 116 international appearances to his name. He made his international debut as a teenager in 1963 and didn’t play his last international match until 15 years later.
At the club-level, Sassi is well-respected and revered as a consistent and phenomenal goalkeeper. He spent his entire 21-year playing career with Club Africain, the same club he had trained with as a youth player. There, the native of Tunis captured five league titles and eight cups.
Despite missing Tunisia’s World Cup debut in 1978 due to an injury, Sassi was able to represent his country (and his continent) on the international stage six years prior; the Tunisian played in goal for an African XI in a mini-World Cup hosted by Brazil.
In 1999, the IFFHS recognized Sassi as one of the top three African goalkeepers of the 20th century.
6. Ezzaki Badou (Morocco, multiple clubs, 1976 – 1993)
A Moroccan football legend, Ezzaki Badou, also known by his nickname “Zaki”, spent 17 years of his life playing professional football. Along the way, he represented the likes of AS Salé, Wydad Casablanca and FUS Rabat.
But the Moroccan’s best years were spent with Spanish outfit RCD Mallorca. Between 1986 and 1992, Zaki played over 160 league games for Mallorca across both of Spain’s top two divisions. Zaki was named African Footballer of the Year by France Football in 1986, and in 1989, he helped Mallorca earn promotion to La Liga. That same season, he won the Ricardo Zamora Trophy award for his low goals-to-games ratio, becoming the first of only two African goalkeepers to win the award.
A four-time participant in the African Cup of Nations and a member of Morocco’s iconic 1986 World Cup team, Zaki was recognized by the IFFHS as the fourth greatest African goalkeeper of the 20th century.
5. Jacques Songo’o (Cameroon, multiple clubs, 1984 – 2004)
Zaki may have been the first African goalkeeper to win the Ricardo Zamora Trophy, but he won it while playing in the Spanish Segunda División. On the other hand, Jacques Songo’o won it while backstopping Deportivo La Coruña to third in the country’s Primera División. That season — the 1996-97 season — Songo’o conceded just 28 goals in 37 appearances for a league-leading coefficient of 0.76.
To this day, despite other quality African goalkeepers gracing the league, including fellow Cameroonians Thomas N’Kono and Carlos Kameni, Songo’o remains the only African goalkeeper to win the Ricardo Zamora Trophy while playing in La Liga.
The native of Sackbayeme made his professional debut in 1984 with Canon Yaoundé, the club he spent his youth career with. After backstopping the team to back-to-back Cameroonian league titles in 1985 and 1986, as well as a Cameroonian Cup championship in 1986, Songo’o took his talents to Europe, joining French clubs Toulon in 1989, then Metz in 1993.
It was the latter with whom he first established himself as one of Africa’s finest goalkeepers. He appeared in over 100 matches for the French club, and in 1996, he won the Coupe de la Ligue and was recognized as the African goalkeeper of the year.
But it’s with Deportivo La Coruña, whom he joined for the first time in the summer of 1996, that Songo’o had the most success with. Along with winning the Ricardo Zamora Trophy in 1997, Songo’o backstopped Deportivo La Coruña to the first La Liga title in its history in 2000, helping the A Coruña-based club edge out Barcelona by five points.
With 80 international caps to his name, Songo’o is Cameroon’s all-time most capped goalkeeper and fifth most capped player. He was part of the country’s squads for the 1990, 1994, 1998 & 2002 World Cups, although he only featured in the 1994 and 1998 editions.
Now retired, Songo’o is currently Cameroon’s goalkeeper coach.
4. Bruce Grobbelaar (Rhodesia / Zimbabwe, multiple clubs, 1973 – 2007)
Bruce Grobbelaar first rose to prominence in 1979 with Crewe Alexandra and the Vancouver Whitecaps. Then belonging to the latter, he joined the former on loan for the 1979-80 season and played 24 league games, including one in which he was scouted by Liverpool’s Tom Saunders.
Upon returning to the Whitecaps, Grobbelaar assumed starting duties and emerged as a club cult hero. Around this time, Liverpool also expressed interest in Grobbelaar, and Whitecaps coach Tony Walters — a former goalkeeper himself — helped pave the move for Grobbelaar. The South African-born Zimbabwean joined Liverpool in 1981.
This signalled the beginning of what would be the most extraordinary chapter in Grobbelaar’s professional career. Although Grobbelaar’s Liverpool tenue started out rough — Liverpool were mid-table in the league halfway through his debut season — Grobbelaar would go on to be a part of one of Liverpool’s most dominant eras.
For 13 years between 1981 and 1994, Grobbelaar, who became known for his gymnastic-like flexibility and eccentric nature, appeared in over 620 matches for the Reds, including 440 matches in the English First Division and the Premier League. He won six First Division titles, including three in a row between 1982 and 1984, and 11 domestic cups, including three FA Cups and three League Cups. He also won the European Cup in 1984, using his spaghetti legs trick to throw AS Roma’s shooters off in the final’s penalty shootout.
But for as highly successful as Grobbelaar’s Liverpool tenure was, it’s his international career that brings him down on my list. Grobbelaar made just 33 appearances for Rhodesia and then Zimbabwe, despite making his debut as a teenager in 1977. Zimbabwe also failed to qualify for a World Cup or an African Cup of Nations with Grobbelaar in goal.
After sporadic stops in South Africa and England, Grobbelaar finally called it a career in 2007.
3. Joseph-Antoine Bell (Cameroon, multiple clubs, 1975 – 1994)
It’s African goalkeeping history’s most hotly-debated question; Thomas N’Kono or Joseph-Antoine Bell?
The two Cameroonians are continental goalkeeping legends, and because they played in the same era, they often directly contested with one another for the title as Africa’s greatest goalkeeper.
Unfortunately for Bell fans, I think N’Kono just edges out his compatriot.
That’s not to say Bell was not a world-class goalkeeper. After all, he was voted African goalkeeper of the 20th century by the IFFHS. Such a title is not given lightly.
Born in 1954, Bell made his debut with Union Douala in 1975. Four years later, he won his first trophy; the African Cup of Champions Clubs. Union Douala was the third Cameroonian club to capture the continental crown.
Bell spent the first decade of his career playing in Africa; he later joined Côte d’Ivoire’s Africa Sports d’Abidjan in 1981 and Egypt’s Al Mokawloon Al Arab in 1983. Bell won back-to-back African Cup Winners’ Cups with the latter, as well as the club’s only Egyptian Premier League title.
In 1985, Bell joined France’s Olympique Marseille. This was the start of an excellent but trophy-deprived nine-year stint in France. After departing Marseille in 1988, Bell played for Toulon, Bordeaux and finally Saint-Étienne. He made 30 or more league appearances in eight of the nine seasons he spent in France.
Despite his national team battles with N’Kono, Bell managed to make over 50 appearances for Cameroon. However, most of his appearances were limited to the African Cup of Nations, as N’Kono played all of the matches in the 1982 and 1990 World Cups.
Still, Bell did backstop Cameroon to African Cup of Nations glory in both 1984 and 1988. He also made his World Cup debut in 1994, going 0-1-1 (wins-draws-losses) in two group stage games.
A two-time African Footballer of the Year runner-up, Bell retired following the 1994 World Cup.
2. Thomas N’Kono (Cameroon, multiple clubs, 1974 – 1997)
It says a lot about Thomas N’Kono that Gianluigi Buffon, an all-time goalkeeping great, felt “inspired… to become a goalkeeper” after watching N’Kono play at the 1990 World Cup.
It was N’Kono’s second World Cup; he made his tournament debut in 1982, in which Cameroon went undefeated and conceded just a goal.
But while Cameroon failed to qualify out of the group stage in 1982, N’Kono and the Indomitable Lions were making history in 1990 by going to the World Cup quarter-finals. They had famously beaten the defending champions Argentina in the group stage — N’Kono kept a clean sheet — and Colombia in the round of 16.
A strong and athletic goalkeeper despite being slightly undersized (he’s 6 ft 1), N’Kono was one of the first African goalkeepers to make a global name for himself and the continent. The native of Dizangue made his debut with Canon Yaoundé in 1974 and won four Cameroonian league titles and two CAF Champions Leagues across two different spells.
But N’Kono got his big break in 1982. Following that year’s World Cup, Spanish club Espanyol signed the Cameroonian to their senior team. He’d go on to make over 300 competitive appearances for the Barcelona-based side across eight years of competitive play, helping them reach the UEFA Cup final for the first time ever in 1988.
A well-respected goalkeeper in both Cameroon and Spain, he’s the former’s third most capped goalkeeper of all time, having represented Cameroon over 60 times officially. He was a part of Cameroon’s African Cup of Nations-winning team in 1984, although he played backup to Joseph-Antoine Bell. He did feature in the competition’s 1986 edition, playing in the final vs. Egypt, but Cameroon lost that on penalties.
For his exploits, N’Kono received the African Player of the Year award on two separate occasions; 1979 and 1982. He’s the only goalkeeper to win the award more than once.
1. Essam El-Hadary (Egypt, multiple clubs, 1993 – 2020)
African football legend Didier Drogba once described Essam El-Hadary as the “best opponent” he ever faced; high praise for El-Hadary given the fact that Drogba played against the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
But Drogba’s comments aren’t for nothing; El-Hadary’s resume warrants such praise.
The Egyptian made his professional debut in 1993 with his hometown club Damietta SC. El-Hadary was just 20 years old then, which was quite impressive given he wasn’t even signed to a youth team four years prior.
Shortly after, El-Hadary joined Egyptian giants Al Ahly. It’s here that the young goalkeeper rose to legendary status. In 12 years with the club from 1996 to 2008, El-Hadary appeared in over 510 matches, making him one of the Al Ahly’s longest-serving goalkeepers.
El-Hadary backstopped Al Ahly through an unmatchable era of African football dominance, complete with 16 domestic titles (including eight Egyptian Premier Leagues), seven African championships (including four CAF Champions Leagues), and three Arab region titles (including the 1996 Arab Club Champions Cup).
El-Hadary’s winning nature also translated into national team success. El-Hadary, who made his international debut in 1996, is Egypt’s most capped goalkeeper of all time with 159 appearances. He represented Egypt in several African Cup of Nations, including four of which he won (making him the competition’s joint-most decorated player) and three of which he was included in the team of the tournament.
To top it off, on June 25, 2018, a 45-year-old El-Hadary became the World Cup’s oldest participant when he suited up for Egypt in their final group stage game against Saudi Arabia. And while Egypt lost that game, El-Hadary saved a first-half penalty, becoming the first African goalkeeper to save a World Cup penalty.
A beacon of unparalleled consistency, El-Hadary stands as not just Africa’s greatest ever goalkeeper, but also one of its all-time iconic footballers.
Do you agree with my list? Which other African goalkeepers do you think should’ve made the cut? Let me know in the comments below or through Twitter via @ThatArabKeeper.