Always as much attention goes to the forwards and attacking midfielders for their elegant strikes and electrifying goals, till the true backbone of a team sits with the man protecting the net: The goalkeeper. Oftentimes lost in the shuffle after glorious victories and devastating defeats, the keeper is arguably the most important position on the pitch, yet often the most underappreciated.
10. Vincent Enyeama (Lille and Nigeria)
He might not be a household name, and that’s perfectly forgivable. The 33-year-old moved to Lille in 2011 after a long career in Nigeria and Israel. He has manifested himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Early in his career, back in Nigeria, he walked away from a deadly car crash with only bruises — he was a passenger in a car that summersaults twice. But he nevertheless went on to captain Nigeria to the African Cup of Nations victory in 2013 and led the Super Eagles to a KO stage berth at the 2014 World Cup before retiring from international duty last year.
9. Claudio Bravo (Barcelona and Chile)
Bravo joined FC Barcelona on 2014 with the four-year deal being made effective on 1 July, for €12 million (£9.7 million). After joining he set a La Liga record for Barcelona of not conceding from the start of season for 754 minutes, previously held by Pedro Maria Artola with 560 minutes without conceding goals; the streak was broken when Bravo conceded his first goal of the season from the penalty spot to Cristiano Ronaldo in a 1–3 defeat at Real Madrid. Things got better from there as the 32-year-old Chilean captain led La Roja to their first-ever Copa America title after stopping a penalty in the decisive shootout vs. Argentina last summer.
8. Joe Hart (Manchester City and England)
England’s undisputed No. 1 has grown leaps and bounds after being “panenka’ed” by Andrea Pirlo at the Euros back in 2012. But Hart is still the class of a team in transition. The 28-year-old has played his role at Manchester City, collecting over 100 Premier League clean sheets since 2006 after his arrival to the Etihad. Eyes will be definitely on Hart during Euro 2016, but the sky’s the limit for the former Shrewsbury Town prodigy.
7. Iker Casillas (Porto and Spain)
The last two seasons at the Santiago Bernabeu were not easy for Iker. He was inexplicably benched at Real Madrid during the Jose Mourinho’s time. He hipped out to Portuguese giant Porto last summer.The former Real captain has won two Euros and a World Cup while in goal for Spain, had 165 caps and was Real’s undisputed number one since 1999. Even if he will likely backup David De Gea in France this summer, still Casillas remains an important figure during Spain’s transition, as well he should be.
6. Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy)
Italy has known many great goalkeepers in the last two decades like-Gianluca Pagliuca, Angelo Peruzzi, Francesco Toldo, Christian Abbiati, to name but a few. But none of them had much of an international career. Buffon is the reason behind that. He made his debut at 19 and led his country to a World Cup win in 2006 and is now its all-time caps record-holder wth 154. At 37, he announced he will retire after the 2018 World Cup, he is hardly showing the wear and tear and remains the baffling shot-blocker at Juventus. At this point, we’re not even debating whether he’s one of the best right now. We’re wondering if he’s the best of all time.
5. Hugo Lloris (Tottenham and France)
Hugo Lloris was a very talented at Olympique Lyonnais, but he emerged from the shadows when he signed for Tottenham Hotspur in 2012. And while his form hasn’t yet soared the way it sometimes did back in his home country, the Tottenham captain has certainly been among the Premier League’s best at his craft.
4. Petr Cech (Arsenal and Czech Republic)
Sometimes in life, we all need is a fresh start. After winning all the trophies at Chelsea, the 33-year-old signed for Arsenal last summer, and the move has been seamless for the Czech legend. Many felt Cech was insecure after losing out to Thibaut Courtois at Stamford Bridge, but that certainly hasn’t been the case as the Gunners remained alive in Europe (UEFA Champions League) and Premier League title aspirations thanks to Cech’s heroics between the sticks.
3. Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea and Belgium)
In Belgium’s golden generation, they always suffered for a good goalkeeper, and they remained incomplete. Then, Courtois made a breakthrough during his loan stint at Atletico Madrid, leading Los Colchoneros to a memorable 2013-14 season. The rest, as they say, is history. The 23-year-old returned to Stamford Bridge the next season and picked up where he left off by collecting the Premier League title in his first full year. Courtois is already among the greatest goalkeepers in the world, and more will be expected from the Genk product for years to come.
2. David De Gea (Manchester United and Spain)
The transfer saga surrounding De Gea’s reported switch to Real Madrid from Manchester United dominated headlines for all the wrong reasons last summer. De Gea’s $41 million moves to the Santiago Bernabeu looked all but complete before it collapsed as the paperwork had not been submitted in time by Manchester United. But it’s easy to understand why Real Madrid was interested in him.
1. Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich and Germany)
Neuer has not only anchored all-conquering Bayern Munich’s backline for five seasons now but was one of Germany’s heroes during their World Cup conquest in 2014. Not only that but Neuer once famously won some $700,000 for his kids’ foundation on the local Who Wants to be a Millionaire. When Disney’s Pixar flick came out with the German version of Monsters University, Neuer voiced one of the characters. But he is most famous for his versatility as a goalkeeper and incredible distribution. For his mere 29 years of age, he is uncommonly consistent and the best at his position.