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10 greatest goalkeepers of the 21st century

De Gea, Neuer, and Casillas have all been brilliant goalkeepers for both club and country
De Gea, Neuer, and Casillas have all been brilliant goalkeepers for both club and country

Goalkeeping is not a glamourous job. In football, it is the attackers who take home all the applause and the acclaim, with the leftovers given to the midfielders and the defenders. Goalkeepers are often ignored.

However, it is one of the toughest jobs on the field that requires concentration, composure and the ability to pull off saves at any moment in a game. While saves may not be as sensational as goals or tackles, there is no denying that a good goalkeeper saves teams many points in the course of a season.

These days, apart from saves, shot-stoppers are expected to be good with their feet. From Manuel Neuer to Alisson and Ederson, it is seen as an important aspect of a goalkeeper's quality.

This century has seen the emergence and the prime of some of the best goalkeepers to have played the game.

We look at the:

10 greatest goalkeepers of the 21st century


#10 THIBAUT COURTOIS

Thibaut Courtois celebrating a Real Madrid goal
Thibaut Courtois celebrating a Real Madrid goal

La Liga's most expensive goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois has managed to establish himself as the no.1 goalkeeper at every club he has been at.

A tall, agile goalkeeper, the Belgium international has won trophies at every club he has played in. It was a three-year loan spell at Atletico Madrid where he made his name, winning the league and the Europa League. He returned to parent club Chelsea to usurp Petr Cech from the no.1 spot, going on to win every domestic trophy possible.

A €35 million move to Real Madrid followed in 2018, where after a slow start, the 28-year old has established himself as the no.1 choice for Zinedine Zidane. He won the Zamora Trophy as Real Madrid won the league last season, his third Zamora Trophy overall and the first with Los Blancos.


#9 KEYLOR NAVAS

Keylor Navas during his Real Madrid days
Keylor Navas during his Real Madrid days

Thibaut Courtois' predecessor at Real Madrid, Keylor Navas has a claim to be the most underrated goalkeeper in world football.

After an excellent World Cup in 2014 with Costa Rica, Los Blancos bought Navas from Levante for €10 million, initially as backup to Iker Casillas. Casillas's departure the subsequent season and the failure to acquire David de Gea from Manchester United saw Navas become the first-choice shotstopper for the club.

The 33-year old would play an integral role as Los Blancos won three consecutive Champions League titles. However, Courtois' arrival saw Navas on the bench once more. Last summer, Paris Saint-Germain decided to buy him for €15 million, and the goalkeeper was once again influential as PSG reached the finals of the Champions League.


#8 DAVID de GEA

David de Gea in Manchester United colours
David de Gea in Manchester United colours

While David de Gea might not be at his very best right now, there is no denying that he has been Manchester United's best player in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.

The Spain international joined Manchester United from Atletico Madrid in 2011 for €25 million. After some poor performances, the Spain international firmly established himself as the first-choice goalkeeper for the Red Devils, winning three consecutive Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year awards.

While he may not boast of an incredible trophy cabinet, De Gea a couple of years ago was arguably the best goalkeeper in the world, consistently producing world-class saves and performances.


Also Read: 10 greatest defenders of the 21st century

#7 VICTOR VALDES

Victor Valdes enjoyed a good spell with Barcelona
Victor Valdes enjoyed a good spell with Barcelona

Barcelona's glorious spell under manager Pep Guardiola highlighted the brilliance of the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi, but Victor Valdes was an important part of the side as well.

The Spain international often went under the radar, despite making over 500 appearances in all competitions for the club since his debut in 2002. One of Barcelona's best ever goalkeepers, Valdes was renowned for his agility and concentration in front of the goal.

He left Barcelona in 2014, after a serious injury. He had spells with Manchester United, Middlesbrough and Standard Liege, retiring in 2017. In 2019 he was appointed as manager of Barcelona's Juvenil A side but was sacked three months later.


#6 JENS LEHMANN

Jens Lehmann was one of the best in the world in his prime
Jens Lehmann was one of the best in the world in his prime

A member of Arsenal's 'Invincibles' side who would play every game of that season, Jens Lehmann is regarded as one of the best goalkeepers to have played the game.

After making more than 300 appearances in all competitions for his boyhood club Schalke 04, the Germany international moved to AC Milan, before returning to Germany to play for Borussia Dortmund. He moved to Arsenal in 2003, where he would become an integral part of Arsene Wenger's system.

After leaving Arsenal in 2008, Lehmann played for Stuttgart and briefly returned to Arsenal, retiring in 2011. He holds the record for most consecutive clean sheets in the Champions League, not conceding a goal in 10 consecutive games for the Gunners.


#5 EDWIN van der SAR

Edwin van der Sar is currently the chief executive officer at Ajax
Edwin van der Sar is currently the chief executive officer at Ajax

David de Gea's predecessor at Manchester United, Edwin van der Sar set the benchmark for the Spaniard in terms of performances.

Van der Sar joined the Red Devils aged 34; before that, the Netherlands international had enjoyed phenomenal spells with the likes of Ajax, Juventus and Fulham. A calm, composed presence, van der Sar saved Nicolas Anelka's penalty in the 2008 Champions League final to help Manchester United beat Chelsea.

His final game for Manchester United was against Barcelona in the 2011 Champions League final; the Red Devils lost 3-1. He subsequently retired, and is now the chief executive officer at Ajax.


#4 PETR CECH

Petr Cech in Arsenal colours
Petr Cech in Arsenal colours

One of Premier League's greatest, Petr Cech was a dominant presence in English football during his prime.

After a good spell with Rennes, Cech moved to Chelsea in 2004 for €9.8 million, where he would establish his legacy. The Czech Republic international made 494 appearances in all competitions for the club, and would go on to become Chelsea's all-time record holder for clean sheets, with 228.

He left Chelsea after Thibaut Courtois became the club's first-choice keeper, moving to Arsenal for €14 million. After four seasons with the club, he retired in 2019. The 38-year old is currently a technical and performance advisor for Chelsea.


Also Read: Top 10 international goalscorers of all time

#3 IKER CASILLAS

Iker Casillas during his Spain national team days
Iker Casillas during his Spain national team days

Real Madrid through and through, Iker Casillas made his name at his boyhood club, captaining them and earning legendary status.

Having made his debut in 1999, Casillas would become the mainstay in goal for both Los Blancos and the Spanish national team. A prodigious talent, Casillas became well-renowned for his consistency, agility and overall leadership ability, becoming the captain of both club and country.

After showing signs of decline, Real Madrid decided to let go of Casillas in 2015, after the goalkeeper had made more than 700 appearances in all competitions for the club and won every trophy possible. After five seasons with Porto, the 39-year old retired this year, and is currently an advisor for Los Blancos.


#2 GIANLUIGI BUFFON

Gianluigi Buffon is a Juventus legend
Gianluigi Buffon is a Juventus legend

One of the the greatest goalkeepers of all-time, Gianluigi Buffon is the epitome of a perfect goalkeeper.

The Italy international is a product of the Parma youth academy, moving to Juventus in 2001 for €52 million, becoming Juventus' most expensive transfer at that point. Buffon would go on to make more than 650 appearances in all competitions for the club, his incredible consistency and leadership becoming a vital asset for the club.

The 42-year old departed for Paris Saint-Germain in 2018, but returned to the Old Lady a season later. He is currently a backup to first-choice goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.


#1 MANUEL NEUER

Manuel Neuer is the captain of Bayern Munich and Germany
Manuel Neuer is the captain of Bayern Munich and Germany

Manuel Neuer is the best goalkeeper of the 21st century; his performances elicit the title.

The captain of both Bayern Munich and the German national team, Neuer is a modern goalkeeper; good with his feet and not afraid to come out of his line to challenge attackers; he is seen by many as having revolutionised the position with his proactive style.

A World Cup winner with Germany, the 34-year old has won every possible trophy at club level as well; he captained the Bavarians to a treble last season, putting in an excellent performance in the Champions League final against Paris Saint-Germain. Neuer continues to go from strength to strength.


Also Read: 10 greatest number 10s of all time

Honourable mentions: Alisson Becker and Ederson Moraes. Both of them just miss out on the top 10 because they both have been at the top of their games for only the last 4 years.

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Edited by Ashwin
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