One of the most important positions in a soccer team, as with many team sports, is that of the goalkeeper. The primary role of the goalkeeper is to prevent the opposing team from scoring any goals. As the only player to be allowed to use their hands, the goalkeeper is also responsible for organizing the defense and often beginning team attacks.
Goalkeepers, as the last line of defense, have a lot of responsibility and therefore must have specific abilities and skills. There have been numerous great goalkeepers in history, all offering different reasons why they are so effective in this position. Here we will examine what skills are required to make the best goalkeeper the soccer world has ever seen.
If you ask soccer fans who they think the best goalkeeper ever is, they will all come back with varied responses based on their nationality, club loyalties, age, and football knowledge. This article will focus on the three best goalkeepers that I have seen in the last thirty years of football. Obviously, opinions will differ as I attempt to reason why these goalkeepers are the greatest.
Currently, 26 years old, Czech Republic international Petr Cech is known as being one of the greatest goalies currently playing. For his club, Chelsea, Cech helped them to their first league title in fifty years in his first season. He followed this with another league title as well as taking Chelsea to their first Champions League Final in 2008.
Cech, at six foot five, is an intimidating presence in goal. As an important aspect of goalkeeping, his height is used to his advantage as he dominates the penalty area, while also being agile and an excellent shot-stopper. At 26, Cech is still yet to reach his prime as goalkeepers play well into their 30s and can even become better with age, as demonstrated by England international David James (38).
The most expensive goalkeeper ever, also one of the most expensive players, Gianluigi Buffon has represented Italy almost one hundred times. Signed by Juventus in 2001 for a record fee of fifty-two million euros, Buffon has won four Serie A league titles as well as the FIFA World Cup for his country.
Buffon is fast approaching the best years of his career, and so people will expect to see some of his best performances for both club and country in the future. Some of his most impressive appearances have come in big games, including a dramatic late penalty save to deny Adrian Mutu in a Euro 2008 group match against Romania.
During the 2006 FIFA World Cup, which Buffon’s Italy went on to win, he only conceded two goals to a Zinedine Zidane penalty and an own-goal by team-mate Cristian Zaccardo. With five clean sheets and a 453-minute consecutive scoreless streak, Buffon was later named goalkeeper of the tournament.
At 44 years old, the finest goalkeeper of the last thirty years is the great Dane Peter Schmeichel. A relatively late-starter to achieve greatness, Schmeichel would be 27 by the time he joined Manchester United for a ridiculously small fee of half a million pounds. In the next ten years, Schmeichel would cement his place as the greatest goalkeeper United would ever have.
Schmeichel represents all the aspects that make the perfect goalkeeper. Tall, intimidating and vocal, Schmeichel would berate his defenders if he felt they were risking yet another clean-sheet for him and his team. He played 129 times for his country, the most for any Dane in history, even scoring a goal. His heroics at the 1992 European Championships, turned long-shots Denmark into eventual champions and showed Schmeichel’s off to the viewing world.
This was his international highlight, although he would go on to appear in the World Cup Finals in France, 1998. However, Schmeichel’s Manchester United career would coincide with the launch of the Premier League and United’s dominance over the competition. In the eight seasons that Schmeichel played, the club would win the league title five times and finish runners-up the other three.
These achievements would not be his greatest as Schmeichel would go on to lift the UEFA Champions League title in 1999. Manchester United’s greatest ever season would be capped in Barcelona with a dramatic Champions League victory over Bayern Munich, with United clinching the treble of Premier League title, FA Cup winners and European champions (for which Schmeichel was named captain).
After leaving United in 1999, Schmeichel would go on to play top-flight football in Portugal and then after a return to England. Schmeichel retired at the end of the 2002-03 season as the greatest Premier League goalkeepers after keeping clean sheets in almost half of his appearances.
Great goalkeepers are often the difference between a good team and a championship-winning team. These three goalkeepers are among the best ever and all have won titles to show that the goalkeeper is one of the key positions to fill to make a truly great soccer team.