Iker Casillas vs Gianluigi Buffon - Who has been the best goalkeeper of the outgoing generation?
We live in a society that is obsessed with comparison. And while comparing, especially in the case of sports, logic is thrown out the window for the sake of a good story. Nicklaus vs Woods, Bradman vs Tendulkar, Jordan vs Kobe, Maradona vs Messi – comparisons across generations have been rife, with most of them holding no water.
However, once in a while comes an era where we have two stalwarts, pound for pound, match for match. And this is when comparisons attain relevance. For nothing gives us more closure than discovering who’s the best among the lot.
Football is no different, with people comparing the likes of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, Gareth Bale and Neymar, and then of course, Cristiano Ronaldo and Leo Messi. We forget that somewhere amidst all the flash and bling are the people who do the dirty work – the defenders and goalkeepers. This case is especially true of the latter, with them having to perform a thankless job, week in, week out.
But then, every once in a while, we see superstars from their ilk too. And two of the biggest names in goalkeeping in this generation have been Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon.
Probably the only no-brainer in this comparison, the question of comparison of current form would have a unanimous answer across the game. While he has been a flagbearer for both Spain and Real Madrid for well over a decade now, Iker Casillas’ star is on the wane.
Ever since that fateful fracture three years ago, his career graph has taken a nosedive, and what we see today is a pale shadow of the man who once guarded the sticks with an aura about him. Gone are the days when he thwarted the likes of Michael Ballack, Samuel Eto’o, Arjen Robben and the likes with consummate ease. In fact, the rut he’s stuck in is so deep that the Madrid boo-boys have made him their prime target.
Gianluigi Buffon, on the other hand, still remains a real fan favourite, with his commanding displays endearing him even more to the Bianconeri faithful. While his reflexes may have slowed down considerably, his anticipation and positioning has improved with age. His display at the Bernabeu last week was testament to this. In fact, one can safely say that he’s the best goalie in the world positioning-wise, and this includes the trio of David De Gea, Thibaut Courtois and Manuel Neuer.
Winner – Gianluigi Buffon
3 UEFA Champions League titles, 2 UEFA Super Cups, 1 FIFA Club World Cup, 2 Copa Del Rey titles, and 5 La Liga titles for Real Madrid. 2 European Championships and 1 FIFA World Cup for Spain. Few men can claim to have won the accolades that Saint Iker has won. And he didn’t just win them; he skippered both the teams to more than half of these titles. In fact, he lifted the albatross that hung around the neck of a country that had been perennially tagged as under achievers in global tournaments.
His Italian counterpart too has had a glittering career, with more than a fair share of honours. A career that shot to stardom with his UEFA Cup win with Parma(yes, Parma), Buffon has won an astonishing 8 Scudetti, 1 Coppa Italia, and the FIFA World Cup in a remarkable career. Unlike the Spaniard though, he’s yet to win the European Championship and the Champions League, both tournaments where he has stumbled at the final hurdle. He has a shot to win the latter though at Berlin in two week’s time. However, his trophy cabinet isn’t as cluttered as that of the Madrid custodian.
Winner – Iker Casillas
Big match temperament
If there’s one thing that stands the good keepers from the great, it is how they fare on high profile occasions. The last ditch saves and flying stops are worth their weight in gold, especially when the stakes are high. And few keepers have lifted their game to the heights that Casillas has during the 3 big profile finals that the La Roja played over the last decade. After all, who can forget his incredible save when faced one on one with Arjen Robben during that historic night in Johannesburg five years ago? However, he’s had his share of lows too, with the 2014 Champions League Final and the subsequent horror at the World Cup fixture against the Oranje doing a lot of harm to his reputation.
Gigi Buffon too has had his moments in the spotlight during the big games, with his showing against France in Berlin standing out. However, the comparison would be skewed in this case, because of the lack of Cup finals he’s featured in.
Winner – Tie
The funny thing about a player’s legacy is that it is much more about how he bids goodbye than on how he says hello. Some players, however stellar their careers were, went away with a whimper, thus partly, if not fully tarnishing their reputation, something they diligently built with blood, sweat and tears. Sadly, Iker Casillas seems to be heading down this route. A Bernabeu favourite once upon a time, Madridistas are clamouring for his exit today. Nevertheless, he’ll walk into the shadows straight into both the Blancos and La Roja Hall of Fame, such is the extent of his achievements, and such has his conduct been, both as player and as captain.
Gigi “Il Capitano” Buffon however will be remembered with much higher regard, both by the Bianconeros and neutral fans of the game. Because his hasn’t been a case of highs followed by more highs. The way he stood by the Old Lady during the Calciopoli saga in 2006, when others like Lilian Thuram, Fabio Cannavaro and Gianluca Zambrotta jumped ship is beyond admirable.
At the prime age of 28, Buffon had willingly passed up the opportunity to play at the level his talent deserved. As he takes to the pitch on the 6th of June in Berlin, his career would’ve come a full circle – from Berlin to Berlin, with Serie B football, Europa League embarrassments, and 4 consecutive Scudetti sandwiched in between. Truly, a remarkable footballer, and a living legend.
Winner – Gianluigi Buffon
It is an incredibly hard task to determine who has been the better goalkeeper of the two since the turn of the century – and judging them through purely footballing criteria such as shot stopping, ball distribution etc would be futile; such is both their mastery of what they do. While they may never have been sweeper keepers or experts with the ball on their feet like today’s breed of goalies, they had something that the young brigade is yet to show – courage, will and the ability to be a leader of men.
Iker Casillas is one of the most decorated footballers of all time. Few can boast of winning almost every available silverware the game has to offer before the age of 30. But what separates greats from legends is not reaching the top; it is how long they stay there. And this is the one step that Casillas found elusive. At an age when goalkeepers should be at the zenith of their powers, Casillas has seemingly hit the nadir.
And this is where the Azzurri custodian trumps over him. Gigi Buffon was, is and will always be a legend of the game, not just because of his consistency and longevity, but also because he showed faith in a sinking ship; he led them through good times and bad; and most importantly, he led by example through all this, being known as one of the best in the business all through.
And this is why he stands out as the Numero Uno between the sticks of this generation.