A good goalkeeper can keep you in the game; a great goalkeeper will win you games, so it’s no surprise that the very best goalies cost an absolute fortune. Goalkeepers are a completely different breed from any other player; they’re self-reliant, dominating, and confident.
They have to be; a mistake in midfield means your team loses possession, but a goalkeeping error often leads to a goal, which can seriously affect a player’s confidence.
A goalkeeper that can drop a cross into their own goal and then forget all about it can move on with self-assurance. Once a goalkeeper loses self-belief, it’s over.
In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at what makes a world-class goalkeeper. Many of the greatest keepers in history have similar traits.
Prominent personalities with an unquestioning belief in their own abilities; some call it arrogance, and goalkeepers don’t care what you call it as long as it’s not their fault.
9. Peter SchmeichelEmbed from Getty Images
In a stellar career that spanned over two decades, Peter Schmeichel, a Denmark and Manchester United legend, was one of the most dominant goalkeepers of his generation.
The Great Dane, as he was affectionately known, was a giant of a goalkeeper and had to have specially made soccer jerseys to fit his ample frame into.
Confident to a fault, Schmeichel often went ballistic at his own defense, blaming every goal conceded on everyone but himself. While this may not have made him popular, Schmeichel was even in a fistfight with Manchester United captain Roy Keane; it did make him successful.
A member of the treble-winning team of 1999, Schmeichel won titles in three countries, England, Portugal, and Denmark.
The giant goalkeeper also won the 1992 European Championships with Denmark, which was a huge shock at the time. Schmeichel’s son, Kaspar, would go on to win the Premier League with Leicester City decades later.
8. Gordon BanksEmbed from Getty Images
England’s World Cup-winning goalkeeper, Gordon Banks, is probably the greatest English goalkeeper of all time. Most widely known for his World Cup victory in 1966, Banks had a long career with 679 appearances and played at the very top for over twenty years.
Banks won the FIFA Goalkeeper of the Year award an impressive six times and was to play a leading role in what is commonly accepted as the greatest save in World Cup history. When the England stopper pushed a shot from Brazilian legend Pele around the post, even Pele applauded; the save was that good.
Even after a horrific car crash in 1972 cost Banks the sight in one eye, the goalkeeper kept playing professionally and would eventually move to the NASL with Fort Lauderdale.
Even with one eye, Banks was a superb player and would win the NASL Goalkeeper of the Year award in 1977. One of the best goalkeepers of all time, Banks is a true legend of the game.
7. Edwin Van Der SarEmbed from Getty Images
You don’t make it to 130 international caps and over 600 league appearances without having something special, and Dutch goalkeeper Edwin Var Der Sar certainly was an exceptional goalkeeper.
One of the most successful players in history, Var Der Sar won 26 major trophies in a career that spanned 21 seasons.
The Netherlands goalkeeper for 13 years, Var Der Sar’s resume reads like a who’s who of elite teams. Having played for Dutch champions Ajax for almost a decade, Var Der Sar then moved to Juventus, where things didn’t quite work out.
A surprise move to Fulham in the Premier League in 2001 saw the superb goalkeeper play 127 league games for the London club. The Dutch keeper was head and shoulders above every goalkeeper in the league, and it was only a matter of time before another great club came calling for his services.
In 2005, Var Der Sar moved to Manchester United, where he would go on to win four Premier League titles, two League Cup trophies, a Champions League, and the FIFA Club World Cup over the next six seasons.
Added to his trophy haul were dozens of personal wards, including twice winning the Best European Goalkeeper award.
6. Oliver KahnEmbed from Getty Images
German soccer clubs certainly know how to find world-class goalkeepers; some of the very best goalkeepers in the world have hailed from Germany.
One of the very best, Oliver Kahn, was a perennial winner; a four-time Best European Goalkeeper award winner, the German international was a monster between the goalposts.
Possibly one of the most frightening sights in soccer was to be bearing down on the Bayern Munich or Germany goal, only to come face-to-face with a giant, angry German, enraged
beyond belief that someone had dared try to score a goal. Khan begrudged every shot and every error and was regarded as one of the best goalkeepers of all time.
As a goalkeeper, Khan had everything; he was great at shot-stopping, mentally tough, incredibly intimidating, and vocal to the point of screaming.
One of the most dominating and successful German goalkeepers in history, Khan won eight Bundesliga titles, a Champions League with Bayern Munich, and a UEFA European Championships with Germany.
5. Iker CasillasEmbed from Getty Images
Spanish legend Iker Casillas has played more soccer games than some soccer clubs and is one of a very select few that have played over 1000 professional games.
Having worked his way through the Spanish youth ranks from the under-15s to the main squad, Casillas finished his career with a staggering 167 international caps.
Casillas spent 25 seasons with Real Madrid, appearing in 510 league games, and that’s before we look at cup ties and European games.
The most successful international goalkeeper Spain has ever seen, Casillas won both the World Cup and two consecutive European Championships with arguably the most outstanding National team in history.
As agile as a cat and with incredible reflexes, if we needed just one word to sum up Iker Casillas as a goalkeeper, it would be consistent. Consistently superb would probably be a better description; Casillas was world-class for nearly all of his career.
4. Manuel NeuerEmbed from Getty Images
Another German goalkeeper makes our list, and it’s arguable that Manuel Neuer is an even better goalkeeper than Oliver Kahn. A World Cup winner with Germany in 2014, Neuer has a domestic and European trophy haul the envy of every player on the planet.
With ten Bundesliga titles, two Champions Leagues, a Super Cup and World Club Cup trophy, and more domestic cups that you can shake a stick at, Manuel Neuer is one of the most decorated players in history, regardless of position.
Neuer is currently the best goalkeeper in world soccer, thanks to his incredible concentration and mentality.
The German international is always moving, has excellent reflexes and footwork, and cuts an imposing figure between the posts. It’s almost impossible to catch the keeper out of position, and when you do, his agility and reflexive saves make him incredibly difficult to beat.
Still only 36, Manuel Neuer could well remain the best goalkeeper around for several years yet. With his reflexes showing no signs of slowing and a command of his defense that allows him to keep himself covered at all times, Neuer is the complete modern goalkeeper.
3. Dino ZoffEmbed from Getty Images
Italian legend Dino Zoff had one focus when on the soccer field; prevent shots from getting past at all costs. That may sound like an obvious statement for a goalkeeper; after all, that’s their job, but Zoff was more than happy not to make a save as long as no goals were scored.
With 112 caps for Italy and almost 650 league appearances for teams such as Napoli and Juventus, Zoff was a World Cup winner in 1982 and won six Serie A titles with Juventus.
Renowned for his attention to detail, Zoff would marshal his defense to ensure he was under minimal pressure, preferring to simply shut out opposing strikers.
That’s not to say the Italian star couldn’t stop a shot; Zoff was famous for his spectacular saves and excellent reflexes. Zoff’s main strengths were his mentality, organizational skills, and calm under pressure. This leadership style led Zoff to be named Italy captain, a role he was well suited to.
2. Lev YashinEmbed from Getty Images
While Lev Yashin won several titles while playing for Dynamo Moscow during the 1950s and 1960s, it’s his revolutionary goalkeeping skills that make him one of the most respected and studied goalkeepers of all time.
Five titles with Dynamo and a 1960 European Championships victory with the Soviet Union made Yashin one of the most successful goalkeepers of his era.
He also allowed the goalkeeper’s skills to be shown on a much wider stage. The only goalie to have won the Ballon d’Or, Yashin was a tall, athletic, agile player with excellent shot-stopping skills.
Even 53 years after his last season, Yashin regularly tops polls of the greatest goalkeepers of all time; he was simply incredible, and his movement, especially coming off his goalline to narrow angles, was revolutionary. Goalkeepers the world over should, and do, learn from this most important of athletes.
In much the same way Johan Cruyff changed the modern game, Yashin transformed what it meant to be a goalkeeper. Suddenly, a keeper was expected to start attacking moves, expected to move away from the goal to collect the ball, and become part of the team rather than simply the last line of defense.
Lev Yashin’s role in the development of modern goalkeeping is staggering.
1. Gianluigi BuffonEmbed from Getty Images
Suppose the legendary Gianluigi Buffon manages to keep playing until 2025. In that case, he will have been a professional goalkeeper for thirty years and probably the greatest goalkeeper in the world for about 25 of those years.
With a club and international record that borders on outrageous, no other goalkeeper comes close to the number of appearances or titles won.
With over 1,100 professional appearances, including a jaw-dropping 176 appearances for Italy, Buffon is world-class in every respect.
Italy’s greatest-ever goalkeeper is one of a kind, admired throughout the soccer world for his incredible skill and longevity, and respected for how he has gone about his role with grace and style.
If we listed every club or international trophy, every personal award, and accolade, we would have to write another article, but rest assured, Buffon won everything, usually multiple times.
There are leagues where the combined number of trophies won by every player in the league probably doesn’t match Buffon’s resume.
If it sounds like we’re going a little overboard with the praise for this truly incredible goalkeeper, we’re not; it’s unlikely that there will ever be a goalkeeper to match Gianluigi Buffon, one of the most outstanding soccer players of the last three decades.