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5 greatest German goalkeepers of all time

  • The German goalkeeping mine has produced several diamonds in the past.
  • We rank the greatest German shot-stoppers of all time, from Oliver Kahn and Manuel Neuer
ANALYST
Top 5 / Top 10
Modified 27 Apr 2020, 23:02 IST
Two of the greatest goalkeepers of all time
Two of the greatest goalkeepers of all time

Unlike some of the other countries, Germany has not always depended on extraordinary talents to achieve success at international level. A technically sound group of players with the willingness to work hard and hunger to win big, and we have one of the most decorated nations in football.

But in the case of goalkeepers, Germany has been fortunate enough to be blessed with world-class athletes, some of which have been the best of their era.

The current generation of German goalkeepers is miles ahead of their counterparts from other nations. In Manuel Neuer, they have arguably the best goalkeeper in the world. Even the ones sitting on the bench include Kevin Trapp, Bernd Leno and Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, who themselves are masters in their craft. The future looks bright too with promising names like Timo Horn and Alexandre Nubel coming forward. 

A lot of factors work simultaneously in leading to such a phenomenon. Some of the credit goes to genetics, because Germans have always been tall, strong and athletic, some of the basic qualities one wishes to see in a top tier goalkeeper. Apart from this, Germans have a well-developed scouting process under which promising names are given proper guidance from an early age.

But most importantly, it's the German ideology and work culture that brings out the best in a player by making them work hard consistently to achieve success. Today we pay tribute to this attitude by remembering the best german number ones of all time who terrorised the enemy attacks. 


Honourable Mention - Bert Trautmann 

Bert Trautmann is one of the greatest players to never play in the World Cup
Bert Trautmann is one of the greatest players to never play in the World Cup

You know you had done something great in life when the people who refused to accept you once, were crying when you retired. A WW2 prisoner of war, he started playing as a goalkeeper in a prison camp after an injury restricted his movement. He refused the opportunity to return to his homeland and stayed in Britain.

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Trautmann will forever be remembered for the time he spent at Manchester City where he famously won the 1956 FA Cup final with a broken neck. He appeared in 545 matches for City during the 15 years between 1949 and 1964.

Around 60,000 fans attended his retirement match, some of which were initially unhappy about signing a former member of the Luftwaffe.

He won't be included in the list mentioned ahead as he never played international football for Germany, which makes it difficult to compare his performance with others. Nonetheless, he was a legend in his own right.

He was also an early example of a forward-thinking keeper who looked to start attacks with accurate throws – often to the wide players – as opposed to the general practice of kicking the ball as high and far as possible. In 2005, he was inducted into the National Football Museum's Hall of Fame.   


5. Jens Lehmann

Lehmann was part of the Arsenal
Lehmann was part of the Arsenal's Invincibles 

Rarely, a player as talented and skilful as Jens Lehmann isn't assured a permanent place in the national team. Constantly fighting for a spot with Oliver Kahn, Lehmann is the perfect example of the right person at the wrong time.

An FC Schalke 04 youth product, Lehmann spent almost 10 years at this club where he famously helped Schalke in winning 1997 UEFA Cup Final against Inter Milan, saving an Ivan Zamorano penalty in the penalty shootout.

In 1998 he left for Milan, where he had to see a dark period in his career. He returned to Germany next year, playing for Borussia Dortmund where he won Bundesliga in 2001-02 and reached UEFA Cup final the same year.

The best part of his club career started in the 2003-04 season when he joined Arsenal. He was part of the Arsenal's Invincibles, playing every match of their famous unbeaten title-winning season.

The next season too, he led his team to 2005 FA Cup victory with his man-of-the-match performance. Along with making some crucial saves, he saved Paul Scholes' penalty in the penalty shootout.

Though his international career was nowhere as successful as his club career, he still had his moment during the 2006 FIFA WC where he was Jurgen Klinsmann's first choice ahead of Oliver Kahn.

In the quarter-finals of the tournament, he helped his team qualify for the next stage by making crucial saves during the penalty shootout. Germany didn't proceed further, but Lehmann's performance was praised.


4. Harald Schumacher

Schumacher helped West Germany in reaching two consecutive FIFA World Cup Finals
Schumacher helped West Germany in reaching two consecutive FIFA World Cup Finals

It's impossible mentioning the name Harald Schumacher and not remembering the infamous 1982 FIFA World Cup semi-final between West Germany and France. Schumacher, or Toni (as he was popularly called) was involved in a collision with a French defender, substitute Patrick Battiston.

The collision left Battiston unconscious and he later slipped into a coma and many alleged Schumacher of foul-play. This incident brought him so much heat that in a French poll, he was voted the least popular man in France, astonishingly leaving behind the likes of Adolf Hitler. 

However, this won't change the fact that he was one of the best goalkeepers of the 1980s alongside Peter Shilton, Jean-Marie Pfaff and Walter Zenga. In 1972, he joined FC Koln, where he spent the next 15 years of his career. There he won the 1978 Bundesliga title and three DFB German Cups.

His formidable goalkeeping got him named the German Footballer of the Year twice. He spent the latter part of his career at Dortmund and Turkish club Fenerbache, where again he mesmerised everyone with his abilities and turned into a fan favourite.

At the International level, Toni was given the responsibility to take on the formidable legacy left behind by Sepp Maier. Though he won the UEFA European Championship in Rome next year alongside a team consisting of Paul Breitner and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, he was unfortunate enough to lose two consecutive FIFA World Cup finals in 1982 and 1986.

He was awarded 1986 FIFA WC Silver Ball for his performance, bettered only by Argentine legend Diego Maradona.


3. Manuel Neuer

Neuer finished third in 2014 Ballon d
Neuer finished third in 2014 Ballon d'Or behind Ronaldo and Messi

There aren't many players in modern football who can be given the credit of revolutionising a certain position. But Manuel Neuer surely is one. Known as the sweeper-keeper, he has a unique style of play which occasionally includes him acting as a sweeper for his team by rushing off his line to anticipate opposing forwards who have beaten the offside trap.

Add to this his excellent ball control and distribution, and we have more than what we could ask for from a goalkeeper. And all this is without even considering his conventional goalkeeping skills.  

Starting his career at FC Schalke, he came into limelight during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where he was the replacement for then first-choice goalkeeper, Rene Adler who suffered a rib injury. He joined Bayern Munich in 2011, where he had several successful seasons.

In UEFA Champions League 2012-2013 campaign, Neuer kept four consecutive clean sheets against the likes of Juventus and Barcelona, helping Bayern win their fifth Champions League title and first treble.

His best performance for his country came during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which Germany won after a gap of 24 years.  Neuer won the Golden Glove award for the tournament's best goalkeeper.

Neuer was voted the Footballer of the Year in Germany twice, in 2011 and 2014. He has won the IFFHS World's Best Goalkeeper award for the last four years consecutively. Apart from this, he ended up finishing third for FIFA Ballon d' Or in 2014, behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

As of now, he is third on our list but if he continues to play the way he does right now, it won't take long to get past others. 


2. Oliver Kahn 

Oliver Kahn carried a relatively poor German team to the 2002 FIFA WC final
Oliver Kahn carried a relatively poor German team to the 2002 FIFA WC final

Very few players can boast the fact that they almost single-handedly carried their teams to the finals of a FIFA World Cup. And the probability of that player being a goalkeeper is next to zero. But Oliver Kahn was surely an exception.

Nicknamed 'Der Titan' or 'The Titan' due to the formidable presence, commanding influence, and aggressive playing style that he showed in goal during his professional career, he was certainly more than just a keeper. He was the spinal cord of the team, both on and off the pitch.

At the age of 6, he joined Karlsruher SC in 1975. He helped his squad reach the semi-finals in the UEFA Cup 1993-94, which included a 7-0 home victory against Valencia. His performance earned him offers from other big clubs and he finally joined FC Bayern in 1994.

At Bayern, he ended up being one of the most decorated German footballers of all time with eight Bundesliga titles, six DFB Cups, UEFA Cup in 1996, UEFA Champions League and Intercontinental Cup, both in 2001. After the retirement of Andreas Kopke, Kahn became the first choice goalkeeper for German national team.

The high point of his international career was carrying a relatively poor German team to the 2002 FIFA WC final, where they, unfortunately, lost to a practically unstoppable Brazilian squad. Yet, his amazing performance earned him the Golden Ball, making him the only goalkeeper to do so in tournament history.

List of his accolades includes four consecutive UEFA Best European Goalkeeper awards, three IFFHS World's Best Goalkeeper awards and two German Footballer of the year awards. He also came third in Ballon d'Or twice, in 2001 and 2002.

Kahn played his final match in Kolkatta against Mohun Bagan, for which a crowd of 120,000 people turned up.  


1. Sepp Maier

Sepp Maier won three consecutive European Cups win Bayern Munich
Sepp Maier won three consecutive European Cups win Bayern Munich

In the 1970s, Bayern Munich had their team centred around a trio, called 'The Axis', which ended up transforming FC Bayern from a second division team to one of the greatest clubs in the history of the game. Two of them were 'Der Kaiser' Franz Beckenbauer, the greatest defensive player of all time, and 'Der Bomber' Gerd Muller, one of the most prolific goalscorers in history.

The third one was a goalkeeper named Sepp Maier. Nicknamed 'Die Katze von Anzing', which translates into The Cat from Anzing, Maier is widely considered the greatest German keeper there has ever been and the true predecessor to the likes of Oliver Kahn and Manuel Neuer.

Maier was one of those rare gems who were loyal to one club throughout their life. Starting his career at Bayern in 1959 from their youth team, he spent a total of 22 years at the club. He helped in making Bayern the greatest club during the mid-1970s, winning three consecutive European Cups alongside a flurry of other titles.

Maier still holds the German record of playing in 442 consecutive Bundesliga matches between 1966 and 1979. His greatest international victory came during the 1974 FIFA World Cup when a legendary german team, boasting the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller, Paul Breitner and Berti Vogts defeated Johan Cruyff's Dutch team in the finals.

Maier also won the 1972 European Championship and reached the finals of the 1976 version.

He still remains the only goalkeeper to win German Footballer of the Year thrice. Not only was he ranked 4th on IFFHS Greatest Goalkeepers of All Time list, but also he was included by Pele in his list of 100 Greatest Footballers of all time.

Besides his cat-like reflexes and amazing consistency, Maier was popular for his overlong shorts, 'Mickey Mouse' gloves and sense of humour. Who can forget him trying to catch a duck on the field in the middle of a football match?

In June 2009, Sepp Maier was honoured by the Bavarian government with the Life Achievement Award, further cementing his legacy as one of the greatest goalkeepers ever to set foot on the pitch.    


Published 31 Mar 2017, 13:46 IST
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