This years World Cup was not all about stunning strikes, beautifully worked team goals, sublime skill and attacking talent, although it was packed with plenty of that. In Brazil this summer, we were fortunate enough to see some jaw dropping goalkeeping performances that ensured that even the goalless games were still hugely entertaining (who would have thought?). We were witness to a host of breathtaking stops, brave charges off the line, terrific distribution, fantastic organisation of the players in front of them, and, of course, heroic penalty saves that were celebrated wildly back in the keeper's home country.
Following this showcase of goalkeeping talent, a light has been cast on an often forgotten position, with everyone weighing in on who is the best between the posts. There is one keeper who tops the majority of lists, but the case for the remaining spots is still hotly debated months after the World Cup and well into the 2014/15 season. This season has produced plenty more fine goalkeeping performances around the world, with a few of the elder statesmen losing their starting spots to the up and coming stars, while a few crafty veterans remain difficult to dislodge.
Keeping a clean sheet is not an easy feat in the modern era, but keeping a clean sheet is only one aspect of what makes for a terrific goalkeeper. The number 1 should command his back four, have a strong presence and awareness for set pieces, be vocal, decisive, fearless, and, of course, have lightening quick reactions to pull off impressive saves against the likes of Ronaldo, Messi, Aguero and Ibrahimovic.
15 Joe Hart (Manchester City and England)
Joe Hart has not had an easy time as England’s number one, but there is no denying the fact that, on his day, he is a top goalkeeper. A few high profile blunders and benchings seem to have had an impact on the 27 year old, but his determination and leadership skills are unquestionable. He played an enormous part of Manchester City’s famous 2011/2012 title winning campaign, spearheading a formidable defensive effort in every game. He will need to recapture this previous form if Manchester City are to succeed in Europe and for the keeper to cement his position.
14 Tim Howard (Everton and USA)
After USA's exhilarating World Cup game against Belgium, Tim Howard was an American hero and helped the sport grow massively in the States. In possibly the game of the tournament, the Everton keeper made a record breaking 15 saves and put in an inspired performance in an eventual 2-1 defeat in extra time. The mammoth performance was not a surprise to fans of the Premier League, who have witnessed the bearded keeper regularly make his presence felt to help Everton develop into one of the top teams in the league.
13 Diego Lopez (AC Milan and Spain)
Diego Lopez is one of the very few goalkeepers that have managed to displace Iker Casillas, which, as this list will show, is no easy feat. Diego Lopez left Real Madrid this summer with an emotional letter, but has now started a new chapter in Italy with AC Milan. This new chapter has not got off to the start that he hoped, after he suffered a hamstring injury during a win against Parma in mid September. AC Milan has been in need of a keeper of Lopez’s stature, so they will be eager for him to return to action to try and springboard them back into the Champions League.
12 Salvatore Sirigu (PSG and Italy)
Italian keeper Salvatore Sirigu has played a key role in PSG’s two league titles and Champions League runs, with his performances seeing him voted the goalkeeper of the year in Ligue 1. He is a fantastic shot stopper and is incredibly mobile, meaning that Italy can be confident in him once the reign of the mighty Gianluigi Buffon comes to an end. For club, PSG continue to cruise and remain unbeaten, but with Ibrahimovic out, it means that keeping clean sheets could become a key factor to their success.
11 Victor Valdes (Free Agent and Spain)
Victor Valdes is one of the most decorated goalkeepers in the world, having won six La Liga titles and three Champions Leagues with Spanish giants Barcelona. Valdes has struggled to dislodge Casillas from the Spanish national side, but the 32 year old is still one of the best of his generation. Valdes has been kept out of action with a long term knee problem and is now a free agent. The Spaniard was recently seen at Old Trafford, and is soon expected to join up with them. He will have to settle as back up to De Gea, but Valdes will certainly relish any opportunity he gets to prove he is still a top goalkeeper.
10 Claudio Bravo (Barcelona and Chile)
Life at the Spanish giants could not have started better for the Chilean goalkeeper, who did not have to pick the ball out of his net for an astonishing 754 minutes. Eight teams failed to unlock the Barcelona goal, before Cristiano Ronaldo finally beat the goalkeeper from the penalty spot. The 31 year old has excellent leadership skills and is a fine shot stopper, which he demonstrated in Brazil this summer, where he helped his team to advance to the knockout stages and had an impressive 81.8% save rate.
9 Keylor Navas (Real Madrid and Costa Rica)
Keylor Navas is the latest high quality goalkeeper to fall under the mighty shadow of Iker Casillas. Following Navas’s move to Madrid this summer, the Costa Rican has had to settle for watching from the sidelines while the veteran keeper defends his spot. Furthering the case for the 27 year old, Navas has just won the LFP Award for 2013-2014 Best Goalkeeper for his fantastic season at Levante and was one of the stand out performers at the World Cup. With some beginning to turn on Casillas, it may not be long until Navas gets his opportunity to impress once again.
8 Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain)
Casillas has managed to fight off fierce competition for the Spanish goalkeeping jersey for over a decade, and is considered a legend for club and country thanks to countless incredible performances and acrobatic saves over the years. It is no secret that the decorated veteran has struggled in recent times and has received a lot of criticism from fans, with many now claiming it is time for the reign of ‘Saint Iker’ to come to an end. Nevertheless, the 33 year old is one of the all time greats in between the posts.
7 Petr Cech (Chelsea and Czech Republic)
Despite losing his starting spot, Petr Cech remains one of the best goalkeepers on the planet. An important part of Chelsea’s success over the last decade, Cech has won it all and proved himself to be one of the greats. The Czech keeper excels in all areas of goalkeeping, and his composure seeps through to all of the players in front of him. This is particularly impressive following the fractured skull he suffered in 2006, as this has not stopped the 32 year old from putting his body on the line. Teams around the world are now on alert as Cech could look to leave Stamford Bridge in January.
6 David de Gea (Manchester United and Spain)
This young goalkeeper struggled when he first arrived at Old Trafford from Atletico Madrid in 2011, but has steadily risen to become one of the top goalkeepers in the world. This season, De Gea gets to prove his credentials every single game playing behind a disastrous backline. This was most notable against Everton when the Spaniard saved a penalty and made a couple of jaw dropping saves at the death of the game to allow United to hold on to an important 3 points. De Gea again impressed against Premier League leaders Chelsea, drawing praise from legendary former United keeper Peter Schmeichel.
5 Samir Handanovic (Inter Milan and Slovenia)
Handanovic has been one of the best shot stoppers in the world in recent years, but often gets overlooked in the conversation of top goalkeepers. This could come down to a lack of success at Inter Milan, but the 30 year old impresses in every single game he plays. One of his best performances of late was for his country, where he pulled off a number of tremendous saves to ensure that his side held on for an important victory in their Euro 16 qualifier against Switzerland.
4 Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur and France)
White Hart Lane plays host to the Hugo Lloris show every time a team visits North London these days, with the Frenchman putting on a sensational show at every game. Spurs have scored a lot of goals in the last year, but without Lloris, these could have been cricket scores. Incredible reactions allow for acrobatic saves, as he is lighting quick off his line and brave enough to put himself in danger each time his calamitous back four make a mistake. After extending his contract, it is clear that the France captain likes a challenge, and he continues to impress in this campaign (39 saves so far). In a typical performance, Lloris was the stand out player for Spurs in a 4-1 defeat to Manchester City.
3 Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy)
The most expensive goalkeeper of all time (€48 million in 2001), Buffon has had an incredible career and is about to make his 500th Serie A appearance for Juventus. The 36 year old is one of the all time greats, and although the Italian is no longer in his prime, he is still one of the most reliable keepers around. With 237 clean sheets (a record in Serie A) and experience on the biggest stages for club and country (World Cup winner in 2006), Buffon is not quite ready to make way for the new generation.
2 Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea and Belgium)
When you can beat out a goalkeeper of Petr Cech’s ability, then you must be doing something right. The 22 year old Belgian plays with the confidence and assurance of a veteran keeper, and if Cech wants a starting spot, he may have to begin looking elsewhere. Courtois enjoyed a fantastic loan spell at Atletico Madrid, where he helped them top La Liga and make the Champions League final. Now back at Stamford Bridge, the 6’6 Courtois has made few mistakes and pulled off plenty of excellent saves this season. His recent performance against Manchester United demonstrated his class, where he brilliantly denied Van Persie twice and stopped a fine effort from Di Maria.
1 Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich and Germany)
No surprises here, as Neuer can always be relied upon to put on brilliant, composed and assured performances whenever he steps onto the pitch for club and country. Utilised as a sweeper keeper, Neuer is heavily involved in the game as opposed to a bystander and does not appear frantic or nervous with the ball at his feet. He was a big part in helping Munich win the German title last season, as well as Germany’s dominant World Cup journey. Nominated for the 2014 FIFA Ballon d’Or, many feel that revolutionary Neuer could be the first keeper to take home the award since Lev Yashin in 1963.