Nowadays, it seems most conversations about the beautiful game eventually turn to the eternal question: ‘who’s the best?’. Messi or Ronaldo? Who could hold their own against the Pelé’s and Maradona’s of the past? Are Thiago Silva or Vincent Kompany in the same league as Suarez and Messi? Ultimately, there is no right answer to these questions but I will try to shed a little more light onto the situation using my thorough research and deep discussions. You’ll probably disagree so please comment any opinions and insight and hopefully we can get a good old-fashioned football debate going.
I have divided the players into 6 different positions and chosen the top ten in each, judging partly on recent performances (up to the end of the world cup) and partly on permanent class (unlike the Ballon d’Or). I hope you agree, disagree and discuss, but most of all enjoy! We start with the 10 best goalkeepers in the world with the other categories to follow.
Tim Howard – Everton’s stalwart American stopper. Has been amongst the best in the Premier league for years now and had an excellent World Cup including a record breaking performance against Belgium. Still going strong at 35.
- Guillermo Ochoa – The goalkeeper of the world cup. Should get his wish of Champions League football next season. One of those you feel will mature at the relatively young age of 26.
- Victor Valdes – As good with his feet as he is with his hands. Jumping ship at Barcelona to revive a stellar career that had fallen flat. Missed out on the World Cup but it isn’t the end of the road for him at 32.
10. David De Gea – Manchester United and Spain – 23 – One of a very few shining lights for Manchester United last season, De Gea is improving season on season. After a worrying start at Old Trafford, he has grown into the goalkeeper’s jersey producing numerous fantastic displays and displaying a measure of consistency not seen before in his game. He should be undoubted No.1 for club and country for years to come. Such was his importance for Manchester United this season, it prompted one fan to adopt the saying ‘Without De Gea we’d be bottom of the league’ whilst watching his side’s torrid season. Fine praise indeed.
9. Joe Hart – Manchester City and England – 27 – After an outstanding 2012 that saw him hailed as the ‘greatest keeper in the world’ by many, Joe Harts 2013 was a downward spiral that ended in him being dropped and replaced by Romanian keeper Costel Pantillimon at City. A series of crucial mistakes lead to huge worries about England’s World Cup campaign without their trustworthy No.1. However, Hart fought his way back into the Manchester City and was crucial in their fantastic late season charge for the title. Had a mediocre World Cup along with most of his team-mates but is still young enough to reassert his place among the world’s best. Will face a sterner test should he lose his place next season with the arrival of Argentine Willy Caballero.
8. Petr Čech – Chelsea and Czech Republic – 32 – Continues to be consistency defined at Chelsea behind a very solid defence but Čech looks unlikely to prolong his 10 year stay in West London with the emergence of Thibaut Courtois likely to scupper his hopes of first team football at Stamford Bridge. The fact that his name has been linked with the French nouveau riche PSG and Monaco is testament to his fantastic career. Having achieved his 100th cap in a 3-0 victory over Armenia last year it is shame we have not seen more of this great on the international scene. Was in the best 3 keepers in the world for at least 7 years and will go down as one of the great goalkeepers of all time.
7. Samir Handanović – Inter Milan and Slovenia – 29 – Agile and an expert from penalties, Handanovic is for Serie A what Petr Čech is for the Premier League; another who is rarely seen on the international stage and yet is fantastic for his club. After a fantastic 8 years at Udinese, he finally earned a big move to Inter where he has continued to flourish, often holding together a rocky defence. At 6ft 4″ he is imperious in goal and has quickly become a fan favourite at the San Siro. His 16 clean sheets helped Inter climb to 5th in Serie A, above rivals AC Milan for the first time since Mourinho won the league with them in 2010.
6. Diego Lopez – Real Madrid and Spain – 32 – After 6 successful seasons in La Liga away from Real Madrid, Diego Lopez returned to the place where he started his career in 2013 and proceeded to take the place of club legend Iker Casillas. Initially just cover for the injured Casillas, Lopez was so impressive he retained his spot under Jose Mourinho all season, leading to a huge falling out between the legendary keeper and the coach, which, it is said, partly led to Mourinho’s dismissal, such is the captain’s popularity and power. At 6ft 5″ Lopez is a man mountain in goal and has shown how solid he can be this season, with consistent performances throughout. A late bloomer, it is just a shame he didn’t mature earlier. Another in a long list of great Spanish keepers in the last 10 years.
5. Iker Casillas – Real Madrid and Spain – 33 – The world’s best for so long, Casillas may not hold that crown any more but there’s no doubting his class and experience. Despite losing the no.1 jersey to Diego Lopez during the 2012/13 season and having a woeful world cup, conceding 7 goals in two games, Casillas remains (at least for now) captain of one of the greatest international sides ever and one of the greatest clubs in the world; leading them to numerous titles throughout a stellar career. Even with his performances dwindling, his personality, mentality and experience alone are enough for him to still be among the worlds best, as Carlo Ancellotti showed by playing him in every game of Real Madrid’s victorious Champions League campaign.
4. Gianluigi Buffon – Juventus and Italy – 36 – Continues to be absolutely crucial for Italy and Juventus as they continue to dominate Italian football. Bounced back after injury problems looked to have curtailed his career and has been excellent for club and country in the past two years. The Champions League is almost the only thing missing from an impressive cv and it looks like it may be too late for the now veteran keeper to achieve that goal. Part of the furniture at Juve, he looks certain to stay on after he chooses to end his illustrious career, at least in some capacity. The big worry now for both The Old Lady and the Azzurri, is how to replace the eight time Serie A goalkeeper of the year. For the moment however, Buffon is going nowhere.
3. Hugo Lloris – Tottenham and France – 27 – A shining light for Tottenham last season, he earned the right to captain France all the way to a respectable 1-0 quarter-final defeat to Germany at the world cup. A goalkeeper who possesses outstanding reflexes, cat-like agility and a commanding presence in and around his penalty box, Lloris has the skill set to go right to the top. He’s also good with his feet and great as a sweeper keeper; something utilised by Andre Villas-Boas and his infamous high line during his time at White Hart Line. After another season of missing out on the top 4 for Spurs, there was fear a player of Lloris’ stature may leave, and he would have had plenty of suitors. However, amid all the talk of new signings at White Hart Line, their best one this summer may well turn out to be the new 5 year contract their French goalkeeper signed.
2. Thibaut Courtois – Chelsea (loaned to Atletico Madrid) and Belgium – 22 – The best young goalkeeper in the world is arguably the fastest rising star in world football. Excelling in the revitalised set-ups of Atletico Madrid and Diego Simeone and the Belgium national team, Courtois has firmly staked his claim as one of the best keepers in the world. At 6ft 6″ he is excellent in one on ones and his aerial command is second to none. Set to finally make his return to Chelsea and oust one of the greatest goalkeepers of the modern era in Petr Čech, he doesn’t lack for confidence either; saying earlier in the year that his rival for the no.1 jersey for Belgium, Simon Mignolet, should stay “humble and respectful and he should remember that”, despite Mignolet’s rather ordinary claim that he was going to keep working hard to regain his spot for the national team. Great goalkeepers are a rare breed and in Courtois we’re seeing one of the greats for years to come.
1. Manuel Neuer – Bayern Munich and Germany – 28 – Playing behind the best international and club sides in the world right now makes Manuel Neuer’s job a whole lot easier but he’s still undoubtedly the best goalkeeper on the planet. New eras for both teams, brought about by Pep Guardiola’s Bayern ‘ possession revolution’, has just enhanced Neuer’s position at the top. With both playing a very high line he sweeps behind and dashes out confidently to see off any dangers in behind the defences excellently. He also has outstanding shot-stopping abilities, is brilliant in one-on-ones and possesses flawless distribution. Neuer was every bit a part of Bayern’s record breaking domestic season and also had a terrific World Cup. He stands in a state of calm serenity head and shoulders above all other keepers, making his saves and going about his business on the pitch – however difficult it is – in undramatic fashion. Almost as good outfield as between the sticks, he often ventures outfield in training to spray passes alongside the likes of Toni Kroos and Bastian Schwienstiger. In fact, he started his career outfield at the age of 4 and was only put in goal as his team had no one else willing to. A masterstroke that Bayern and Germany are now reaping the rewards from.