On April 25, 2021, Between the Sticks celebrated its two-year anniversary. In honour of the milestone, goalkeeper journalist Mouhamad Rachini is ranking the 10 best goalkeepers of all time from each of the big five European leagues: the German Bundesliga, the Spanish Liga Santander, the French Ligue 1, the English Premier League, and the Italian Serie A.
Goalkeepers are ranked based on a number of different factors, including team honours, longevity, peak, and statistical success, but only in their SPECIFIC DOMESTIC LEAGUES and relevant domestic competitions.
Performances in continental competitions (like the UEFA Champions League) and international competitions (like the FIFA World Cup) WILL NOT be considered. On the other hand, domestic cup successes (such as the Copa del Rey) will be considered, but only to a small extent. Non-competition-specific individual accolades, such as Ballon d’Or votes and IFFHS top goalkeeper awards, will also be taken into account.
Furthermore, I’m only considering goalkeepers who played following the official founding of each league. In La Liga’s case, I’m only looking at performances post-1929, which is when La Liga was formed. If a goalkeeper played in a Spanish league championship prior to playing in La Liga, only his performances in La Liga will be considered for this list.
If you’re looking for a ranking that considers everything a goalkeeper did in their career, check out my “Top 50 goalkeepers in football history” project from last year.
Ignacio Eizaguirre (Spain): A two-time Ricardo Zamora Trophy winner, Ignacio Eizaguirre split 381 La Liga appearances across 19 seasons between Real Sociedad, Valencia and Osasuna. The Basque goalkeeper was a member of Valencia’s first three La Liga-winning squads, backstopping the club to glory in 1942, 1944 and 1947.
José Vicente (Spain): The Barcelona native represented a number of clubs during his 15-year career, including Espanyol and Real Madrid. With the latter, José Vicente won four first division titles in four seasons. He was widely regarded as one of Spain’s top goalkeepers during his career, as evidenced by his three Ricardo Zamora Trophies.
Juan Acuña (Spain): Juan Acuña spent the majority of his playing career with his hometown club Deportivo de La Coruña — he made 278 league appearances for them across 18 years, many of them in La Liga. Acuña won four Ricardo Zamora Trophies across his career, which is the joint-second most Zamora Trophy wins in history.
Keylor Navas (Costa Rica): CONCACAF’s greatest ever goalkeeper, Keylor Navas established himself as a Spanish league icon with Levante and Real Madrid. Navas was officially recognized as the league’s top goalkeeper for the 2013-14 season after making 153 saves, keeping a save percentage of more than 78%, and single-handedly saving Levante from relegation.
Thibaut Courtois (Belgium): A La Liga champion with both Atletico Madrid (2014) and Real Madrid (2020), Thibaut Courtois is the only goalkeeper in the Jan Oblak era to successfully win the Ricardo Zamora Trophy over the Slovenian. He conceded just 0.59 goals per league game in 2019-20, which is a Real Madrid record.
10. Miguel Ángel González Suárez (Spain; Real Madrid)
Nicknamed ‘the Cat’ for his agile saves, Miguel Ángel González Suárez wasn’t always destined to be a footballer — he started as a handball player before transitioning to football. Miguel Ángel’s switch turned out to be the correct career choice as he developed into one of the greatest Real Madrid goalkeepers of all time.
Originally a member of AD Couto, Miguel Ángel joined the Blancos in 1967. After a season-long loan spell with Castellón, the Spaniard spent the next 18 years of his career representing Real Madrid.
Between 1968 and 1986, Miguel Ángel made 247 La Liga appearances for Real Madrid. Most of these appearances were made between the 1973-74 and the 1978-79 seasons, in which he was the club’s undisputed starting goalkeeper.
Four of Miguel Ángel’s six La Liga titles were won with him as the Blancos’ number one goalkeeper. This includes the 1975-76 La Liga title, in which Miguel Ángel won his only Zamora Trophy and the inaugural Don Balón Award as football’s top Spanish player.
Miguel Ángel also won five Copas del Rey, but he only started in two of those finals. He kept a clean sheet in both of them — in 1974 vs. FC Barcelona and 1975 vs. Atletico Madrid.
9. Ricardo Zamora (Spain; Espanyol & Real Madrid)
Before you click away, let me explain.
Ricardo Zamora is one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time. In many people’s opinions — including my own — he’s Spain’s greatest ever goalkeeper after Iker Casillas. There’s a reason why Spain’s most prestigious goalkeeper award is named after him.
So why is he this low on my list? Unfortunately, the rules I’ve made negatively impact Zamora’s standing.
Firstly, because I’m not taking international performances into account, his 1920 Olympic silver medal doesn’t matter. Furthermore, because I’m only looking at La Liga performances (i.e. performances after the league’s 1929 founding), nearly half of Zamora’s club career — including his entire FC Barcelona career — is off-limits. All of this impacts Zamora’s standing from a La Liga perspective.
Still, the Barcelona native has done more than enough to warrant a top-10 spot. Zamora backstopped Real Madrid to back-to-back league titles in 1932 and 1933, and he captained the club to Copa del Rey glory in 1934 and 1936 (they were his fourth and fifth career Copas del Rey). Zamora particularly excelled in the 1936 final — his stupendous last-minute save on FC Barcelona’s Josep Escolà secured the cup for the Blancos.
8. Luis Arconada (Spain; Real Sociedad)
What Iker Casillas is to Spanish fans today, Luis Arconada was to those same supporters in the 1970s and 1980s. Arconada has been cited as an inspiration by various Spanish goalkeepers, including Casillas and Sevilla legend Andrés Palop, due to his performances for the national team and in La Liga.
Unlike most goalkeepers on this list, Arconada never played for Real Madrid or FC Barcelona — he spent his entire 15-year career (as well as the majority of his youth career) with hometown club Real Sociedad.
Nicknamed ‘the Octopus’ for his incredible shot-stopping ability and rebound control, Arconada made 414 La Liga appearances for the San Sebastián-based club between 1974 and 1989. In that time, he cemented his place as one of Spain’s top goalkeepers via three straight Ricardo Zamora Trophy wins between 1979 and 1981.
A hero for many La Real fans, Arconada played significant roles in Real Sociedad’s back-to-back league championships in 1981 and 1982 — the club’s only league titles to date — and he saved the winning penalty in the 1987 Copa del Rey Final.
7. Santiago Cañizares (Spain; RC Celta de Vigo, Real Madrid & Valencia CF)
For many La Liga fans of the 1990s and 2000s, it’s impossible to talk about goalkeepers in the league without mentioning the blonde-haired shot-stopper named Santiago Cañizares.
Cañizares was always expected to become a top goalkeeper. He was a joint-winner of the Ricardo Zamora Trophy in his debut La Liga season with RC Celta de Vigo in 1993, and he was snapped up by Real Madrid — the club with whom he spent his youth career with — in 1994.
But it’s with Valencia CF, who he joined in 1998, that Cañizares really fulfilled his potential. Cañizares made 305 league appearances for Valencia in a 10-year span between 1998 and 2008, a club record for a goalkeeper.
With Cañizares in goal, Valencia became one of world’s top football teams. They won La Liga in 2002 and 2004 — their first league titles since 1971 — and they won the club’s only Supercopa de España in 1999. Cañizares also kept a clean sheet in the final of the 1999 Copa del Rey, which Valencia won.
A four-time winner of the Zamora Trophy, Cañizares is one of only five players to win the accolade more than three times.
6. Francisco Buyo (Spain; Sevilla FC & Real Madrid)
Former Real Madrid coach Leo Beenhakker once said of Francisco Buyo: “Spanish football is safe with Buyo in goal.” It’s high praise for a goalkeeper whose career started in the second division.
In 1980, a 22-year-old Buyo made his La Liga debut with Sevilla FC — and he was given starting duties soon after his arrival. He made 30 or more La Liga appearances in each of six seasons in Seville and backstopped the club to as high as 5th in the league.
Buyo’s performances caught the attention of Real Madrid, who signed the goalkeeper as a replacement for Miguel Ángel González Suárez in 1986. Despite competition from José Manuel Ochotorena and Agustín Rodríguez Santiago, Buyo retained Real Madrid’s starting position for 11 consecutive seasons — a testament to his consistency and reliability.
As a fabled member of both the ‘Quinta del Buitre’ and the ‘Quinta de los Machos’ eras, Buyo won everything there was to win at the domestic level. The Galician goalkeeper, who made 343 La Liga appearances in Real Madrid colours, won six La Ligas, four Supercopa de Españas, and two Copa del Reys during his Blancos tenure. He also won two Ricardo Zamora Trophies in 1988 and 1992.
5. Víctor Valdés (Spain; FC Barcelona)
Has there ever been a goalkeeper who elicited more polar opposite reactions about his quality than Víctor Valdés?
On one side, you have those that believe Valdés is overrated, that he was very error-prone, and that he was protected by an FC Barcelona team that was much better than he was.
On the other side, there are those that argue Valdés was an integral part of Barcelona’s dominant squads in the 2000s and early 2010s, that no other goalkeeper could’ve fit into the club’s tiki-taka philosophy as he seamlessly he did, and that he’s undoubtedly a Barcelona great.
In my opinion, Valdés falls somewhere between those two sides.
There’s no denying that Valdés was more prone to big-game errors than the average top-quality goalkeeper. I also think it’s fair to point out that he benefitted from a historic Barcelona generation that featured an excellent trio of Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernández & Andrés Iniesta, among others.
That said, Valdés is one of the top goalkeepers in club history and one of the best goalkeepers to grace La Liga. You don’t play 387 La Liga games across 12 seasons for one of the best teams in the world if you don’t have the ability necessary to succeed with that team. And Valdés, for all of his faults, was a goalkeeper who had that top-class quality.
In an era when Real Madrid were free-spending on superstars, Valdés backstopped Barcelona to 12 domestic titles as a starting goalkeeper, including six league titles. In his Barcelona career, Valdés won a joint-record five Ricardo Zamora Trophies, as well as back-to-back La Liga Best Goalkeeper awards in 2010 and 2011.
Equally adept at playing the ball with his feet and making a big save after a long period of inactivity, Valdés has a rightful place in Spanish goalkeeping history.
4. Jan Oblak (Slovenia; Atletico madrid)
Some people might argue that it’s too early to put Jan Oblak this high on a list like this one. But in my opinion, Oblak has done more than enough to warrant a top-5 spot.
From a statistical perspective, few goalkeepers have reached the same heights the Slovenian has surpassed in La Liga. Despite only playing 224 career La Liga matches (and counting), Oblak has already won four Ricardo Zamora Trophies, which is the joint-second most in league history.
Since joining Atletico Madrid in 2014, Oblak has become La Liga’s king of goalkeeping. Oblak has never conceded more than 27 goals in a single La Liga season (30+ games), and in the 2015-16 season — his debut season as Atleti’s starting goalkeeper — Oblak matched Francisco Liaño’s record of fewest goals conceded in a full season (18) and lowest goals-conceded-per-game average in a single season (0.47).
On top of that, Oblak has kept 121 career clean sheets in La Liga, giving him a career clean sheet percentage of 54%. For reference, Andoni Zubizarreta, who holds the all-time La Liga clean sheet record with 233, has a career clean sheet percentage of 37.5%; and Víctor Valdés, who holds the 21st century La Liga clean sheet record with 171, has a clean sheet percentage of 44.2%
It’s unheard of for a goalkeeper to post these kinds of numbers, and yet Oblak, a four-time recipient of La Liga’s Best Goalkeeper award, is doing so while playing a traditional style some believe is dying.
Unfortunately, Oblak has never won a Spanish domestic trophy as a number one goalkeeper — the closest he came was in the 2020 Supercopa de España Final. For that reason, I can’t include him in my top 3.
Still, according to the statistics, Oblak is more than deserving of a high spot on this list.
3. Antoni Ramallets (Spain; FC Barcelona)
An agile and intelligent shot-stopper, Antoni Ramallet’s stint at FC Barcelona’s number one goalkeeper coincided with the club’s first period of prolonged domestic dominance.
The Barcelona native was transferred to the Catalan club from RCD Mallora in 1946. He was initially signed as a backup to Juan Zambudio Velasco, but following Velasco’s severe eye injury in 1949, Ramallets was promoted to starting duties.
With Ramallets as their starting goalkeeper, Barcelona went on a title run that saw them capture, among other trophies, four La Liga titles and four Copas del Generalísimo (now known as the Copa del Rey) between 1951 and 1960.
These two time periods, known as the Cinco Copas era [1951-53] and the Helenio Herrera era [1958-60], are among the most successful in Barcelona history. This is despite the fact that they were competing with a strong Athletic Bilbao side and one of the best Real Madrid teams of all time.
The Barcelona squads of Ramallets’ generation featured world-renowned icons like László Kubala, Sándor Kocsis and Luis Suárez, among others. Given the star-power, it would’ve been easy for fans and pundits to overlook the goalkeeper’s performances in favour of the team’s offensive firepower.
But Ramallets was a key contributor to the club’s decade of dominance, both as a captain and as the number one goalkeeper. And to this day, no La Liga goalkeeper has bested his career tally of five Ricardo Zamora Trophy wins.
When Ramallets called it a career in 1962, he retired with 288 La Liga appearances to his name and 16 seasons as a Barcelona first-team member under his belt.
2. Iker Casillas (Spain; Real Madrid)
For many Madridistas, Iker Casillas is Real Madrid’s undisputed GOAT goalkeeper — even the club’s official website calls him the “best goalkeeper in Real Madrid’s history and in the history of Spanish football.” Given how many top-class goalkeepers have played for the Blancos in their 119-year history, it’s praise that holds a lot of weight.
A native of Madrid, Casillas joined his hometown club when he was just a 9-year-old boy. He spent his entire 8-year youth career in Real Madrid’s youth academy, and he made his first-team debut — and his La Liga debut — as an 18-year-old in 1999.
Initially a backup to German great Bodo Illgner, Casillas swiped starting duties away from Illgner during the 1999-2000 season. And bar a brief reserve tenure in 2001-02, the young Spaniard never looked back.
In 16 seasons between 1999 and 2015, Casillas made 510 appearances for the Blancos in La Liga. Only twice did he make less than 25 league appearances in a single season, and he averaged nearly 32 league appearances per season.
Despite FC Barcelona’s domestic dominance in the late 2000s and early 2010s, Casillas won everything there was to win in Spain — multiple times, in fact. He won five La Liga titles, two Copas del Rey — he conceded a single goal across both finals he started in — and four Supercopas de España. Many of these titles were won with Casillas as the club’s captain.
A joint-record 5-time winner of the IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper award (which he won five years in a row between 2008 and 2012) and two-time La Liga Best Goalkeeper recipient, Casillas’ Real Madrid career ended on a sour note in 2015 when he was booed out of the club by some supporters due to a string of poor performances.
1. Andoni Zubizarreta (Spain; Athletic Bilbao, FC Barcelona & Valencia CF)
When you hold the La Liga records for most appearances (622) and most clean sheets (233), it’s hard to argue against you being the league’s greatest ever goalkeeper.
Andoni Zubizarreta was a beacon of consistency during his 17-year La Liga career. He suited up for Athletic Bilbao, FC Barcelona and Valencia CF, and he never made less than 33 league appearances in a single season for either club. Major injuries avoided him, and coaches feared benching him — even as a 37-year-old, Zubizarreta made 34 league appearances in the 1997-98 season.
Zubizarreta joined Athletic from Deportivo Alavés in 1981, and he was handed his La Liga debut that same year. He went on to become the club’s starting goalkeeper for the next half-decade, backstopping the club to back-to-back league titles in 1983 and 1984, and the 1984 Copa del Rey.
Impressed by his performances, Barcelona paid Athletic €1.7 million for Zubizarreta’s services in 1986. He immediately replaced Javier Urruticoechea in the starting eleven, and by the end of his first season, Zubizarreta had already won another Copa del Rey, the Ricardo Zamora Trophy, and the Don Balón Award as Spain’s top player.
Zubizarreta would add multiple other domestic titles to his collection over the next seven seasons. As a member and captain of Barcelona’s mythical ‘Dream Team,’ Zubizarreta won four La Ligas, the 1990 Copa del Rey and the 1992 Supercopa de España.
Though he wasn’t particularly adept at playing the ball — much to Johan Cruyff’s annoyance — Zubizarreta stood out for his technical and psychological strengths. He had an excellent positional sense, and he preferred making efficient saves rather than spectacular ones. He also rarely lost his cool, and he often emitted a sense of zen that composed and inspired his backline.
Zubizarreta retired following a four-year stint with Valencia in 1998.
Do you agree with my list? Which other La Liga goalkeepers do you think should’ve made the cut? Let me know in the comments below or through Twitter via @BlameTheKeeper.
7 thoughts on “Top 10 goalkeepers in La Liga history.”
These lists are all opinion, of course, and here’s mine: top of the list is spot on with 1-4. Hard to argue with Zubi not being #1. But the bottom of the list? Keylor Navas is definitely better than honorable mention. I’d say based on the strength of what he did at Real Madrid alone–not to mention Levante–he tops Paco Buyo.
This was a fun read, though, as was the Bundesliga list. Keep it up. Glad to have you back.
This iss awesome