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.
Edwin van der Sar (Netherlands): The only starting goalkeeper to win the UEFA Champions League with two different clubs, Van Der Sar won the continental crown with Ajax in 1995 and Manchester United in 2008. A four-time Dutch Goalkeeper of the Year, Van Der Sar won multiple domestic titles in both the Netherlands and England.
Pat Jennings (Northern Ireland): A British goalkeeping legend, Jennings featured for both Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal in lengthy spells across his 23-year career. A two-time FA Cup winner, Jennings made a national team-high 119 appearances for Northern Ireland between 1964 and 1986. He was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2003.
Petr Čech (Czech Republic): A four-time Premier League champion and one-time Champions League winner, Čech made 905 appearances (club + country) across a 20-year career. Often considered to be the greatest Premier League goalkeeper of all time, Čech holds multiple club and league records, including most Premier League clean sheets (202) and most Premier League Golden Gloves (4).
Ricardo Zamora (Spain): Zamora won domestic trophies with Espanyol, FC Barcelona and Real Madrid between 1916 and 1938. Voted the 1934 World Cup’s top goalkeeper, Zamora is considered to be Spain’s greatest goalkeeper of the 20th century. Spain’s top goalkeeping award, which goes to the goalkeeper with the lowest goals-to-games ratio, is named in his honour.
10. Sepp Maier (Germany, Bayern Munich, 1962 – 1980)
Dubbed ‘the Cat from Anzing’ due to his cat-like reflexes, agility and flexibility, Josef Dieter Maier, also known as Sepp Maier, spent his entire 18-year club career representing Bayern Munich. He joined the Bavarian side as a youth player in the late 1950s, and he made his professional debut in 1962 as a teenager.
A three-time German Footballer of the Year, Maier was a part of the legendary Bayern Munich side that won eight trophies between 1970 and 1976. These include three straight Bundesliga titles between 1972 and 1974 and three-straight European Cups between 1973 and 1976. To this day, Maier’s Bayern Munich remains the only German side to accomplish the latter feat.
Voted by the IFFHS as Germany’s top goalkeeper of the 20th century, Maier also earned 95 caps with Germany’s national team (then representing West Germany). These include appearances in both the 1972 Euros and the 1974 World Cup, both of which Germany won.
9. Peter Shilton (England, multiple clubs, 1966 – 1997)
With 1,390 competitive appearances to his name, Peter Shilton holds the record for most competitive football matches played. And he accomplished this across a 31-year career that saw him debut as a 16-year-old and retire as a 47-year-old.
A 10-time PFA First Division Team of the Year member, Shilton played for a multitude of clubs, but he had the most success with Nottingham Forrest. In five seasons with the Reds, Shilton won, among other things, the English First Division in 1978 — the same season he was named PFA Players’ Player of the Year — and back-to-back European Cups in 1979 and 1980.
Shilton also holds the record for England caps with 125. These include appearances in back-to-back-to-back World Cups in 1982, 1986 and 1990. Shilton played in all seven games in the 1990 edition as England finished in fourth place; their highest World Cup finish since they won the whole thing back in 1966.
8. Gordon Banks (England, multiple clubs, 1958 – 1978)
Europe’s third best goalkeeper of the 20th century (per the IFFHS), Gordon Banks is often considered to be the greatest goalkeeper in British football history.
While his club trophy cabinet is bare — Banks only won two League Cups across his 20-year career — the former Leicester City and Stoke City goalkeeper did win FIFA’s Goalkeeper of the Year award six times, as well as the 1972 FWA Footballer of the Year award.
A native of Sheffield, Banks made 73 appearances for England between 1963 and 1972. These include six appearances at the 1966 World Cup, which England won on home soil following wins over Portugal and Germany.
But Banks’s career highlight came four years later in the 1970 World Cup. In what has been called the ‘Save of the Century‘, Banks denied the great Brazilian attacker Pelé with a tremendous goal-line save from close-range. Pelé later said it’s “one of the best [saves] I have ever seen.”
7. Peter Schmeichel (Denmark, multiple clubs, 1981 – 2003)
The intimidating but entertaining Peter Schmeichel was a brick wall between the sticks for Manchester United in the 1990s. He made nearly 400 club appearances between 1991 and 1999, capturing, among other things, five Premier League titles, three FA Cups and the 1999 UEFA Champions League.
Denmark’s all-time most-capped player with 129 international caps, Schmeichel helped backstop his native country to the greatest achievement in Danish football history. In 1992, Schmeichel and Denmark captured the European Championship for the first time ever, defeating former champions France, the Netherlands and Germany along the way.
A league champion in Denmark, England and Portugal, Schmeichel accumulated a multitude of individual accolades across his 22-year career. These include three Danish Football Player of the Year awards, three UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year awards, and two IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper awards. He’s also one of only three non-British-born goalkeepers to be inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame.
6. Oliver Kahn (Germany, Karlsruher SC / Bayern Munich, 1987 – 2008)
The only goalkeeper to ever win the Golden Ball as the World Cup’s top player, Oliver Kahn won the accolade after backstopping Germany to the 2002 World Cup final. He played in all seven of Germany’s matches, keeping five clean sheets — including three in four knockout games — and conceding just three goals.
A Bundesliga veteran with both Karlsruher SC and Bayern Munich, Kahn enjoyed more success with the latter. The aggressive goalkeeper made over 630 appearances for Bayern Munich between 1994 and 2008, helping the club win eight Bundesligas and six DFB-Pokals. Kahn also backstopped Bayern Munich to European glory via the 2001 Champions League; he made three saves in the final’s shootout and captured Man of the Match honours.
A three-time IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper and four-time Best European Goalkeeper, Kahn is the only goalkeeper in football history to finish in the Ballon d’Or’s top three multiple times — he was third in both 2001 and 2002.
5. Dino Zoff (Italy, multiple clubs, 1961 – 1983)
An Italian football icon, Zoff spent the first part of his club career with Udinese, Mantova and Napoli. He made his professional debut with the former in 1961, and he gained national recognition with the latter, appearing in 30 league games for Napoli in four straight seasons between 1967 and 1971.
But Zoff’s greatest club achievements came with Juventus. Initially rejected by the club as a 14-year-old, Juventus signed Zoff from Napoli in 1972. Zoff spent the final 11 seasons of his professional career with the Turin-based club, making a maximum 30 league appearances in all 11 seasons.
As the club’s number one goalkeeper, Zoff helped Juventus dominate Italian football. Zoff and the Old Lady won six Serie A titles between his arrival in 1972 and his retirement in 1983, as well as two Coppa Italias. The club also got a taste of continental football; Juventus became the first Italian club to win the UEFA Cup following their victory over Athletic Bilbao in the 1977 final, and the club reached their first European Cup finals in 1973 and 1983, although they lost both.
A calm goalkeeper who excelled in the positional aspects of the game, Zoff was also decorated at the international level. The Italian backstopped his country to continental glory in the 1968 Euros after taking over from Enrico Albertosi. Zoff kept two clean sheets and was recognized as the tournament’s top goalkeeper.
But Zoff’s greatest international achievement came in the 1982 World Cup. Then 40 years old, Zoff captained Italy to their first World Cup championship since 1938. Zoff, who was recognized as the competition’s top goalkeeper, became just the second goalkeeper to captain a World Cup-winning side. He also became the oldest World Cup winner ever.
A member of Italy’s Football Hall of Fame, Zoff was recognized by the IFFHS as the world’s third-best goalkeeper of the 20th century.
4. Iker Casillas (Spain, Real Madrid / Porto, 1999 – 2020)
If goalkeepers were ranked purely on trophies, Iker Casillas would be no. 1. The Spanish goalkeeper is probably the most decorated goalkeeper in history, having won at least one of nearly every competition he’s played in.
At the international level, Casillas, who is Spain’s all-time most-capped goalkeeper with 167 appearances, is a one-time World Cup winner and two-time European champion. He won the Euros in back-to-back editions in 2008 and 2012. Unsurprisingly, he was included in both editions’ team of the tournament, having conceded just three goals and kept seven clean sheets across the two competitions.
As for the World Cup, Casillas achieved that glory in 2010 as the competition’s Golden Glove recipient. Casillas conceded just two goals — both of which came in the group stage – and kept five clean sheets en route to Spain’s first-ever World Cup win. Casillas played a particularly important role; he saved a penalty in the quarter-final and made an iconic toe-save in the final.
The five-time IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper was equally successful at the club level. A football veteran with 885 club appearances to his name, Casillas won first division titles in both Spain and Portugal, including five in the former. Casillas is also a three-time Champions League winner — the joint-most wins by a goalkeeper in the modern era — a two-time UEFA Super Cup champion, and the winner of three international cups, including the 2014 Club World Cup.
Unfortunately, Casillas was never the same goalkeeper following his 2013 hand fracture. He lost his grip on Real Madrid’s league starting position for 2013-14, and although he got it back for the 2014-15 season, poor performances — most notably against the Netherlands in the 2014 World Cup (5-1 loss), Atletico Madrid in La Liga (4-0 loss), and Juventus in the Champions League semi-finals (3-2 loss over two legs) — resulted in Casillas being booed and booted out of the country.
3. Gianluigi Buffon (Italy, Parma / Juventus / Paris Saint-Germain, 1995 – PRESENT)
Gianluigi Buffon made his professional debut as a 17-year-old in 1995. Then of Parma, Buffon’s debut came against the reigning Champions League finalists, AC Milan. The young Buffon, in what has been cited as one of the greatest debuts of all time, held Milan to a 0-0 draw, with notable saves coming against the likes of Ballon d’Or winners Roberto Baggio and George Weah.
Buffon’s debut was a sign of things to come. He’d assume Parma’s starting duties for the 1996-97 season, and for five seasons between 1996 and 2001, Buffon made over 200 appearances for the club. He most notably backstopped Parma to a Coppa Italia-UEFA Cup double in 1999. That year, Buffon won his first of 12 Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year awards, as well as the Bravo Award as the best young European footballer. He was the first goalkeeper to win the latter.
Buffon made his biggest club mark with Juventus, whom he joined in 2001 for a then-record fee of over €51 million. In 18 seasons across two stints, Buffon made over 660 appearances for the Old Lady, leading them to nine Serie A titles, four Coppa Italias, and three Champions League finals. Still active with the club, Buffon holds multiple records for clean sheets and appearances.
Italy’s most-capped player of all time with 176 caps, Buffon’s proudest national team moment came in the 2006 World Cup. There, the Italian conceded just two goals — an own goal and a penalty — as the Azzurri captured their fourth world title. Buffon was named goalkeeper of the tournament and finished second in Ballon d’Or voting; the highest finish by a goalkeeper since Dino Zoff’s second-place finish in 1973.
A three-time Best European Goalkeeper, Buffon is the only goalkeeper in football history to be crowned UEFA Club Footballer of the Year.
2. Manuel Neuer (Germany, Schalke 04 / Bayern Munich, 2006 – PRESENT)
The 34-year-old Manuel Neuer is the youngest goalkeeper on my list. But don’t take his career for granted; in 14 years as a professional, Neuer has perfected the sweeper-keeper position and propelled ball-playing goalkeepers from a cool gimmick to an OP tactic.
A Schalke 04 youth academy product, Neuer made his debut for their senior team in 2006. Then just 20, he soon overtook Frank Rost in the club pecking order and closed out his debut season with 27 appearances. He nearly doubled that the following season, making 50 appearances in 2007-08, including a maximum 34 Bundesliga appearances.
Neuer would go on to play three more seasons for Schalke 04, making 30 or more appearances in all three seasons and capturing the club’s fifth DFB-Pokal.
Neuer soon after joined Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich in 2011, with whom he’s remained with ever since. It’s here that Neuer cemented himself as one of the top goalkeepers of all time. In nine seasons with the club from 2011 until the present day, Neuer captured, among other things, seven Bundesligas and four DFB-Pokals. Neuer also appeared in back-to-back Champions League finals in 2012 and 2013, winning the latter as the final’s Man of the Match.
A four-time IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper and four-time UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year, Neuer is Germany’s second most-capped goalkeeper of all time with 92 international caps, just three behind Sepp Maier. Neuer has made national team appearances in two Euros and three World Cups. This includes the 2014 World Cup, in which Neuer backstopped Germany to its first World Cup title as a unified nation while giving a textbook example of his sweeper-keeping prowess.
A quick thinker and expert ball-handler, Neuer is credited with popularizing the sweeper ‘keeper-style of goalkeeping, which is used by many top goalkeepers today. And for playing such a role in the revolutionization of the position, Neuer occupies a top-two spot.
1, Lev Yashin (Soviet Union, Dynamo Moscow, 1950 – 1970)
Nicknamed the ‘Black Panther’ due to his attire and cat-like abilities, Lev Yashin is widely considered to be the first modern goalkeeper. The Soviet international was a vocal presence in goal, often taking an authoritative stance with his defenders. While other goalkeepers stayed silent, Yashin shouted orders to his defenders and organized their position in open-play and set-pieces.
But Yashin’s proactiveness wasn’t just limited to shouting orders; the Soviet goalkeeper commanded his own box like few before him. Instead of playing close to his goal line, Yashin would often rush off of his line to intercept crosses or meet approaching attackers. He wasn’t afraid of getting involved in the play, and his proactiveness made him an effective and elite-level goalkeeper.
And when on the offensive, Yashin was equally quick and equally bold. He was comfortable playing the ball with his feet, and he’d often use goal kicks as a way of starting attacks as opposed to just mindlessly booting the ball out of play. Yashin also preferred to release passes quickly, and he’d often ignore his defenders and look for passing outlets near the midfield or in the opponent’s half, which would allow his teams to quickly catch opposing sides off-guard.
A one-club man with Dynamo Moscow, Yashin also earned 78 international caps with the Soviet Union. Despite playing behind a rather average national team, Yashin, through his sheer brilliance and exceptionalism, backstopped the Soviets to international glory in both the 1956 Olympics and the 1960 European championship, as well as a fourth-place finish in the 1966 World Cup.
An eight-time European Goalkeeper of the Year, Yashin was awarded the Ballon d’Or in 1963, becoming the first (and for now, only) goalkeeper to win the award. 36 years later, Yashin was recognized by the IFFHS as Europe and the world’s top goalkeeper of the 20th century.
Do you agree with my list? Which other European goalkeepers do you think should’ve made the cut? Let me know in the comments below or through Twitter via @BlameTheKeeper.