The goalkeeper is, in many respects, the most important position to get right on the soccer pitch. You will very rarely find a great team in history who did not have a great, or at least very good, goalkeeper. Reflexes, handling, positioning, agility, communication and distribution are widely regarded as the key attributes to make a great goalkeeper. Very few players posses such a skill set, but the players on this list all did/do in abundance.
There are a number of different styles of goalkeeping, from those who are wild and eccentric to more dependable and safe shot-stoppers. South American goalkeepers have traditionally been known to be more eccentric in style, and European goalkeepers more reserved and considered. Either way, ultimately the most important thing for a goalkeeper as the last line of defense, is keeping the ball out of their net.
The men on this list were all experts at it. The list includes several World Cup, European Cup and Champions League winners, dating from those still playing the game to some who were titans of the sport in the pre-war era. Given the vast period of time being covered and the number of goalkeepers there have been, inevitably some great goalkeepers have had to miss out. Here are the top 25 greatest goalkeepers of all-time:
25. Jorge Campos
Probably the most eccentric goalkeeper to make this list, behind all the pomp and bravado, Jorge Campos was actually a very good goalkeeper. His positioning – often well outside his own box and occasionally venturing into the opposition half – is up for debate, but his agility, athleticism and reach certainly are not. The Mexican shot-stopper famously played both in goal and as a striker, scoring 34 goals over the course of his career. He won 130 caps for Mexico, playing in both the 1994 and 1998 World Cups.
24. Ubaldo Fillol
Regarded by some as the greatest South American goalkeeper of all time, Ubaldo Fillol was known for his exceptional reflexes and unerring ability to block shots which seemed destined for the back of the net. He spent his best days with River Plate, where he won three Argentine league titles, before playing in Europe, where he spent four years. Some of Fillol’s greatest performances came with the national team. He won 58 caps for Argentina, playing in three World Cups, and playing a pivotal role as they won the 1978 World Cup, in which Fillol was named ‘keeper of the competition.
23. Pat Jennings
In terms of longevity and consistency playing at the highest level, few can match Pat Jennings. The Northern Irishman played for Watford, Tottenham and Arsenal, and he won FA Cups with both of the North London clubs, as well as two League Cups and one UEFA Cup with Spurs. His greatest attribute was his handling, with Jennings capable of holding on to shots most ‘keepers would be pleased just to reach. He won 119 caps for Northern Ireland and played in an incredible 11 qualifying stages for major international competitions, a world record which stands to this day.
22. Gianpiero Combi
An agile little Italian, Gianpiero Combi was surprisingly short by goalkeeping standards, especially among the elite of goalkeepers to have ever lived. Combi spent his entire 13 year career with Juventus, where he won five Serie A titles. At international level Combi won 48 caps for his country, winning two Central European International Cups and one World Cup in 1934. Noted for his elegance more than his flamboyance, Combi was a dominant man between the sticks, who breathed confidence into those in front of him.
21. Michel Preud’homme
Following Bayern Munich star Jean-Marie Pfaff, who only just missed out on this list, one could forgive Belgian fans for suspecting they might not be blessed with as great a goalkeeper again for a number of years. As it was, Pfaff’s immediate successor was as good if not better. Michel Preud’homme’s reflexes and agility saw him pull of some of the most famous and wild saves in history. He played for Standard Liege, Mechelen and Benfica at club level, winning a total of 10 trophies. With Belgium, he won 58 caps and won the ‘Yashin Award’ for best goalkeeper at the 1994 World Cup.
20. Bert Trautmann
Second World War German Luftwaffe paratrooper turned First Division goalkeeper, Bert Trautmann had a remarkable life and career. Having been captured by the British, he rejected repatriation and made home in England, where he soon became Manchester City goalkeeper. Some supporters were unsurprisingly uneasy with his involvement, but he soon won supporters over with his excellent displays and incredible bravery. He carried on playing in the 1956 FA Cup final despite a broken neck but never played for his country at a time when Germany only allowed players from the German league to represent them.
19. Neville Southall
Not always the picture of athleticism, Neville Southall didn’t cut the figure of a world class sportsman towards the end of his career, but he was just that. One of the finest goalkeepers in the world during the 1980s, Southall spent the vast majority of his career at Everton, where he played 747 games, making him by far the club’s record appearance holder. It was also a very successful period for the Toffees, winning two First Division titles, two FA Cups, 4 Charity Shields and one Cup Winners Cup with Southall between the sticks. He also won 92 caps for Wales, and is regarded as the nation’s greatest ‘keeper of all-time.
From Europe we go back to South America. Brazil are a nation littered with some of the finest soccer players the world has ever seen, yet if there is one position where they have sometimes fallen short, it is in goal. Gilmar is most certainly the exception to that rule, with arguably Claudio Taffarell as Brazil’s only other world class ‘keeper. Not like many South American goalkeepers, Gilmar was known for his steady but reliable style. He is the only goalkeeper to have won two World Cups as first choice, in 1958 and 1962 and won countless trophies at club level with Corinthians and Santos.
17. Jose Luis Chilavert
From a goalkeeper who doesn’t fit the stereotype of South American goalkeepers to a man who might as well be the stereotype of South American goalkeepers. Jose Luis Chilavert was loved for his wild and eccentric style. A set piece specialist, Chilavert was the designated free-kick and penalty taker for both his club and country. He scored 67 career goals he scored in total, the second highest of any goalkeeper in history. As a goalkeeper he was brave, unpredictable and agile, and is the only goalkeeper to have ever been named South American Footballer of the Year.
16. Walter Zenga
No nation has more entrants on this list than Italy, and Zenga is the second Italian to feature on this list but certainly not the last. Now managing Sampdoria, as a player Zenga spent most of his career with Inter Milan, before brief spells with Sampdoria, Padova and New England Revolution. He won one Serie A title, one Italian Super Cup and two UEFA Cups. He was named World Goalkeeper of the Year three times, UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year once and Serie A Player of the Year once.
15. Frantisek Planicka
Some may consider Petr Cech unlucky to have missed out on this list, but there is certainly a place for his compatriot and fellow world class goalkeeper Frantisek Planicka. Still regarded as the greatest Czech ‘keeper of all time, despite Cech’s superb career to date, Planicka was nicknamed the “Cat of Prague”, due to his fantastic reflexes and agility. By far the shortest goalkeeper on this list, Planicka was just 5-foot-7. He spent his entire club career with Slavia Prague where he won eight league titles and one Mitropa Cup, as well as finishing as runner-up at the 1934 World Cup with Czechoslovakia.
14. Peter Shilton
Brian Clough often cited the signing of Peter Shilton as one of the defining factors behind his great success at Nottingham Forest. It was not just his saves, said Clough, but the confidence he inspired in the rest of the team which made Shilton such a pivotal signing for the club. In an incredible career spanning 32 years, Shilton finally retired aged 47 after 1,249 career appearances, a record in British football. Shilton also holds the record as England’s most capped player, with 125 caps. Twice nominated for the Ballon d’Or, Shilton remains one of the most reliable and consistent goalkeepers of all-time.
13. Rinat Dasayev
Rinat Dasayev was up there as the greatest goalkeeper in the world throughout much of the 1980s, yet his abilities are sometimes overlooked due to him spending the bulk of his career in Russia, with the exception of three seasons spent at Sevilla. Nicknamed the “Iron Curtain of the Soviet Union”, Dasayev was known for his calmness and dependability. If you wanted to beat Rinat Dasayev, you’d best produce an incredible strike, and that is exactly what Marco van Basten did in the final of Euro ’88, scoring perhaps the greatest goal of all time.
12. Gyula Grosics
The introduction stated that you will rarely find a great team in history that did not have a great or at least very good goalkeeper, and the legendary Magical Magyars team of the 1950s are no exception. Ferenc Puskas, Sandor Kocsis and Nandor Hidegkuti are probably the best remembered of Hungary’s ‘Golden Team’, but in Hungary itself, Grosics is just as highly celebrated. Donning a famous black shirt, Grosics was nicknamed “the black panther”, and was considered as the first great sweeper-keeper. He was nominated for the Ballon d’Or three times and is comfortably regarded as Hungary’s greatest ever ‘keeper.
11. Sepp Maier
An all-round world class goalkeeper, Sepp Maier had every one of the crucial attributes outlined in this articles introduction. Nicknamed the “Cat from Anzing”, is was probably Maier’s reflexes which earned him particular plaudits. Sometimes considered something of a clown, that should not detract from Maier’s legacy as a goalkeeper. He played only for Bayern Munich and the German national team, and is part of an elite group of players to win every single trophy he possibly could have done.
The Bundesliga (x4), DFB-Pokal (x4), European Cup (x3), Cup Winners Cup, Intercontinental Cup, World Cup and European Championships made up Maier’s incredible trophy haul.
10. Edwin van der Sar
It took a long time for Sir Alex Ferguson to find a world class replacement for Peter Schmeichel, but Edwin van der Sar was just that. The Dutch goalkeeper emerged much younger than most in his position, breaking into the Ajax team at 20. He went on to play 312 games for the club, winning four league titles and the Champions League. He also played for Juventus, Fulham and Manchester United, and won a total of 27 trophies, a record which few players in history can match. He was named Best European Goalkeeper at both the age of 25 and 38.
9. Amadeo Carrizo
Amadeo Carrizo was not just a great goalkeeper, he redefined the position and changed the way in which goalkeepers played the game. The history of goalkeeping could almost be broken up into the pre and post-Carrizo eras, such was his influence. He was the first goalkeeper to begin wearing gloves, the first to leave his box and act as a sweeper, and the first to use his distribution as a method of launching attacks rather than merely clearing the ball from danger. The majority of his career was spent at River Plate, and he was Argentina’s first choice goalkeeper at the 1958 World Cup. In 1999, IFFHS named Carrizo the greatest South American goalkeeper of the last century.
8. Ricardo Zamora
Without doubt the greatest of all pre-war goalkeepers, Ricardo Zamora was a controversial figure but few could deny his quality between the sticks. His distinctive look made him a grand figure of Spanish football and he was considered a hero due to his bravery and the incredible number of clean sheets he amassed over his career. He played for both Barcelona and Real Madrid, as well as Espanyol and Nice.
At international level, he played for both Spain and the Catalan XI, and was part of the Spain side which famously beat England in 1929 to become the first nation from outside the British Isles to beat England. In La Liga, the ‘Zamora Trophy’ is given to the league’s best performing goalkeeper at the end of each season in honor of Ricardo.
7. Oliver Kahn
Oliver Kahn is one of the most dominant and aggressive goalkeepers in history, who was at times an absolute force of nature for Bayern Munich and Germany. Kahn had two nicknames, ‘King Kahn’ and ‘the Titan’ and both speak volumes about his style between the sticks. Kahn dominated the penalty area like few before or since and was a giant in goal. He won 23 trophies with Bayern Munich, including eight Bundesliga titles and reached a World Cup final with Germany in 2002, but Ronaldo’s genius ultimately proved too much for even Kahn, who became the only goalkeeper to win the Golden Ball at a World Cup.
6. Dino Zoff
Into the top six and the following goalkeepers could all be considered as candidates for the greatest of all time in their position. Dino Zoff was an incredible goalkeeper; he is the oldest man to have ever won a World Cup at 40, the first goalkeeper to captain his country to a World Cup success and was ranked third by IFFHS in their list of the greatest goalkeepers of all time. At club level, his greatest success came with Juventus, where he won six Serie A titles. In 2003, he was selected by Italy as their greatest player of the last 50 years and he was a Ballon d’Or runner-up in 1973, the closest a goalkeeper has come to winning the award, besides a later entrant on this list.
5. Iker Casillas
The most successful goalkeeper of all time, Iker Casillas has won five La Liga titles, two Copa del Reys, four Spanish Super Cups, three Champions Leagues, two UEFA Super Cups, one FIFA Club World Cup, one Intercontinental Cup, one World Cup and two European Championships. He is the only goalkeeper to captain a team to win the Champions League, World Cup and European Championships, with Didier Deschamps and Franz Beckenbauer the only outfield players to have achieved the feat.
He is Real Madrid’s second all-time appearance holder, behind Raul, but he transferred to Porto in the summer, moving away from Real for the first time in his career. He was named the IFFHS Best Goalkeeper on the World for five consecutive seasons, the most of any player in history, and has won 163 caps for Spain making him the most capped player in the countries history and the most capped active player in the world.
4. Peter Schmeichel
The greatest goalkeeper of the Premier League era, Peter Schmeichel was an absolute titan in goal for Manchester United and one of the key factors behind their incredible success throughout the 1990s, which culminated in their historic treble win in 1999. One of the greatest Scandinavian footballers of all time, the Dane is regarded by some as Sir Alex’s greatest ever signing at Old Trafford. He won five Premier League titles, three FA Cups, four Charity Shields, one League Cup, one Champions League and one Super Cup at Manchester United, in addition to the trophies he won at Brondby, Sporting and Aston Villa, as well as being Denmark most capped player of all time, with 129 caps.
3. Gianluigi Buffon
The greatest goalkeeper of the modern era, Gianluigi ‘Gigi’ Buffon is right up there among the best ever. Not only has Buffon had longevity and consistency, but he has done so at the very highest level throughout his career for two decades, and is still doing just that. Combining intelligence with agility, Buffon is the all-round goalkeeper who has an excellent reading of the game as well as outstanding reflexes and handling. He is the only goalkeeper to have been named UEFA Club Footballer of the Year.
Buffon became the most expensive goalkeeper in history when he joined Juventus in 2001, but 14 years later, it is fair to say the signing represents excellent business by Juve. He has been Italy’s no.1 for 18 consecutive years, and has 150 caps for his country, a record for an Italian. Buffon has won 19 trophies as a player, including Serie A, UEFA Cup and a World Cup, the only prized silverware missing from his collection is the Champions League.
2. Gordon Banks
Britain’s greatest ever goalkeeper and quite possibly the world’s, Gordon Banks was the best goalkeeper on the planet for the best part of a decade. Quick, agile and not only able to reach the ball but more often than not hold onto it or palm it out of the way of danger, the majority of Banks club career came with Leicester City and Stoke City. His most famous game came against Brazil at the 1970 World Cup, when his save of Pele’s header became known as the ‘Save of the Century’. Banks helped England to their only World Cup win in 1966, in which he was named the goalkeeper of the tournament and he was named FIFA World Goalkeeper of the Year on six occasions.
1. Lev Yashin
The greatest goalkeeper of all time is almost certainly Lev Yashin. While it is difficult to make a statement with such confidence given the quality of the individuals who have preceded him, those who saw Yashin play would have little doubt in making such a bold claim. The Moscow-born goalkeeper was nicknamed the “black spider”, “black octopus” or “black panther” and spent his whole 20-year career at Dynamo Moscow, where he won five league titles. An imposing figure who looked and in fact was incredibly difficult to beat, Yashin was best known for his athleticism and reflexes.
He is considered Russia’s greatest ever player and is the only goalkeeper in history to have won the Ballon d’Or, which he did in 1963. In 812 career games Yashin kept 270 clean sheets and is saved 151 penalties, more than any other goalkeeper. As well as winning the Ballon d’Or, Yashin was nominated on four more occasions. He won 78 caps for the Soviet Union, inspiring them to their best ever World Cup, finishing fourth place in 1966.
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