Safe Hands: Best Keepers Around

Carlos GroverCorrespondent IMay 22, 2009

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 17: Julio Cesar of Inter Milan during the Serie A match between Inter Milan Milan and AC Siena, at the Meazza Stadium on May 17, 2009 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

Varying styles, roles in a team, as well as positions make comparing players a difficult task. These reasons make deciding on the best player in the world, or the best player of all time, impossible.

Even comparing players of the same position presents a challenge, however one position where it is easier to make some sort of judgment is with goalkeepers. Clearly significant and important variations exist between goalkeepers, but the role of the position across the board is more comparable than that of field players.

Today five goal keepers, Gianluigi Buffon, Iker Casillas, Petr Cech, Edwin Van der Sar, and Julio Cesar, dominate the debate over who is the best. These keepers regularly defend both their clubs, and countries and have the responsibility of saving the team in its greatest moment of need.

Even after narrowing the list to these five it is still no easy task deciding who’s the top man.  

A statistical comparison approach present obvious flaws when the aim is to explore talent (The defense in front of the keeper plays a huge role in keeping a clean sheet and how busy a keeper is).

Despite the folly in using statistics it is helpful to demonstrate some of the accomplishment of the keeper when considering him a part of the defensive unit. Statistics should only be used to compliment other factors such as the different characteristics of the keeper.  

Inter Milan’s, Julio Cesar, age 29, has recently been compared to some of the world’s best. His impressive form this season led to Buffon’s admission on Italian Television show “Chiambretti” that “Julio Cesar, at this moment, is better than me.”

Playing in Italy has guaranteed Julio Cesar attention from one of the best goalkeeping nations in the world. Former Italy goalkeeper, Pagliuca claimed that “Over the last two seasons, Inter’s goalkeeper was more decisive and more consistent.”

Julio Cesar’s career started in indoor soccer where quick reflexes and agility are a must. His transition to the field game took place with Flamengo.

Julio Cesar’s mother in an interview with Radio Brasil said that “In the beginning Julio didn’t like going to practice at Flamengo. He would go crying to the practice ground because he felt the goals in outdoor soccer were too big.”

His success on the international scene has been deeply marked by his days as an indoor keeper as his quick reactions and agility have been defining of his style. Perhaps it was the ramblings of a proud mother, but we now know that the rest of his development he owes to his mother.

His role at Inter this season has been fundamental in their bid for the Serie A title. By the time this article was written Inter had played 35 Serie A matches, had conceded 27 goals, the fewest goals in the league by five, and kept 15 clean sheets.

The importance of this defensive accomplishment is exemplified by the fact that their offensive record was not as impressive. Inter was the second highest scoring team with 64 goals, one behind A.C Milan, and were closely followed by Juventus on 63 goals.

Taking this into account it is fair to say that Inter defensive exploits put them over the top, guaranteeing them the title.     

Iker Casillas is another goalkeeper considered one of the world’s best. His height and experience at the top level have created an elegant style that is suited for goalkeeping textbooks. He demonstrated his leadership qualities captaining Spain in its first ever European championship title.

His steady hands inspire confidence in the whole team and his ability to organize his back line is unmatched. Casillas’ command of his area, as well as his other qualities, are remarkable and make him a great contender for the status of the world’s best.   

By the time this article was written Real Madrid had called on Casillas, age 29, for all 36 of their Liga matches. In those 36 matches Real Madrid conceded a relatively unimpressive 47 goals, which made them only the sixth best defensive unit in La Liga, having conceded 14 more goals than Barcelona, the best defense statistically speaking.

Again it is important to remember that statistics can be deceiving as in this case where the poor defensive record is more a reflection of the team than it is of the goalkeeper.    

Perhaps the two most similar styled goalkeepers on the list of five are Iker Casillas and Edwin Van der Sar. Their styles both epitomize traditional goalkeeping. Van der Sar, age 38, is a well rounded goal keeper, and aside from the occasional gaff, he can be counted on to stop what gets past the mighty Manchester United defense.

Like Casillas his height and knowledge of the game make him not only one of the best around, but also an important team player whose contributions are more than just the goalkeeper function.

In the 37 matches thus far played by Manchester United in the Premiership Van der Sar has featured in 33. Manchester United’s defensive record this season has been astounding. In 67 percent of their premiership matches Manchester United kept clean sheets. They conceded only 24 goals in all Premiership encounters thus far.

This season for both Petr Cech, and Gianluigi Buffon has been a difficult one. One of the players most affected by the Scolari debacle was Cech. He was very vocal about his struggles under the manager and was one of the players that expressed the greatest relief at his departure.

He was visibly short of confidence throughout the season and routinely struggled to deal with crosses.

Despite his struggles, Chelsea still boasted the best defensive record in the premiership. Although they didn’t keep as many clean sheets as their rivals Manchester United, they conceded only 22 goals.

Buffon on the other hand has been struggling with injury issues and only managed 21 Serie A appearances out of the 36 Juventus played. Unlike Chelsea’s defensive success Juventus definitely felt the impact of an absent Buffon, only managing to secure the fifth best defensive record in the Serie A.

Despite this season’s struggle Buffon has always been considered a top keeper as his ability is undeniable and regularly demonstrated at both Juventus and the Italian national team which he captained in the Euro Cup.

Although it may be impossible to say with any conclusiveness who is the best, without a doubt these keepers have to be in every soccer fan’s mind.  


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