Worlds Best Keepers at a glance

What makes Courtois, Neuer, Casillas & Co. so special

Who are the world's best keepers and what makes them so special? We get to the bottom of this question and take a closer look at the world's best keepers of years past.

Goal keeper Manuel Neuer at the 2014 World Cup
Photo Credit: Marcello Casal Jr/Agência Brasil [CC BY 3.0 br (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/br/deed.en)]

  • Thibaut Courtois
  • Gianluigi Buffon
  • Manuel Neuer
  • Iker Casillas
  • Petr Cech
  • "World Class Keeper": The IFFHS title ceremony

    The title "World's Best Goalkeeper" is awarded by the International Federation of Soccer History & Statistics, short IFFHS. The title has been awarded by the organisation since 1987. The editors of the IFFHS and experts from all over the world decide who wins the title.

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    The world's best keepers at a glance:

    In the following section we'll introduce you to the world's best keepers of years past and tell you what made them so special.

    World Class Keeper 2018: Thibaut Courtois

    "Being a goalkeeper in this day and age means much more than just making strong saves. It's also about fitting into the pitch, playing with your feet, shortening the distance between goalkeeper and the defence. A little bit of everything." - Thibaut Courtois interviewed by Sky Sport.

    Thibaut Courtois making a crazy save
    Thibaut Courtois does his thing with nerves of steel, super strength and outstanding reflexes.
    (Picture credits: Anton Zaitsev [CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL])

    Outstanding skills

  • Nerves of Steel: Extreme pressure situations don't get to Courtois. The keeper hardly ever shows emotion. With regard to his ability to concentrate and anticipate, hardly anyone can hold a candle to him.
  • Foot Game: For Courtois, strong foot game was an essential component of the keepers training in his youth, which enables him to play his modern and fastidious style.
  • Reflexes & Agility: Courtois does not only benefit from his height of two metres: His fast reflexes and agility help him block balls so spectacularly that in Belgium the term is used "Thibauting".
  • Training tip: Adaptability

    "Adaptability is very important for a goal keeper. Of course there are always different situations in the game that you have to solve, for example by reflexes, one-on-one situations, crosses or header duels where you have to be physically strong. That's why you have to prepare differently every week as a goalkeeper, because every team follows a different approach." - Thibaut Courtois on Chelsea FC.

    The following video gives you insight into the training of Thibaut Courtois (go to video 00:33 min):

    World's best goalkeeper 2017, 2007, 2006: Gianluigi Buffon

    "As a young guy, I thought I could conquer the world. What I didn't know was what you needed. Just being a really good keeper and having talent is not enough. Such a long career is the right mixture of a lot of ingredients: Passion, character, training obsession, happiness, the ability to suffer, just to name a few." - Gianluigi Buffon in an interview with torwart.de (in German).

    Keeper Gigi Buffon
    Gigi Buffon is highly regarded worldwide for his team spirit and fairness.
    (Picture credits: Doha Stadium Plus Qatar from Doha, Qatar [CC BY 2.0])

    Outstanding skills

  • Mental Strength: During his career Buffon had to fight some crises and low blows: At the beginning of his career he suffered from depression, had to accept the forced relegation to the second league with Juventus and lost several million Euros through gambling. These crises and lows have nevertheless helped Buffon to develop maturity and become a leader.
  • Anticipation: Buffon impresses fans, opponents and critics time and again with his ability to anticipate: His ability to read attacks, understand his opponents and react accordingly is unique and one of many reasons why Buffon is still in goal at the age of 41 for a world club like PSG.
  • Leadership & Presence: Gigi Buffons charisma is world famous, he seems to be the born captain. Hardly any other professional soccer player is so respected by fans and critics for his fairness and humanity. On the pitch he uses his skills successfully to lead his team and especially to support younger players in their development.
  • Training tip: Balanced training

    "We try to train as diversely as possible, to accommodate all areas in one training week. Strength training, catching exercises, flexibility, reflexes, technical subtleties, such things." - Gigi Buffon in an interview with torwart.de (in German).

    The following video shows you exactly how Gigi Buffon does it:

    World Class Keeper 2013-2016: Manuel Neuer

    "To be a modern goalkeeper, I have to think offensively to safely initiate our attack movements. My two teams, FC Bayern Munich and the German national team, usually have ball possession 60 percent of the time. That's why I have to go out of the goal and be involved in the passing game from behind to move the ball to the first, second and third row." - Manuel Neuer in an interview with The Guardian.

    Keeper Manuel Neuer
    Manuel Neuer has long enjoyed the reputation of an exceptional talent.
    (Picture credits: Steindy (talk) 10:35, 27 June 2011 (UTC) [CC BY-SA 3.0] )

    Outstanding skills

  • Interactive Keeper: Neuer is especially known for being heavily involved in the game and the positional play of his teams. Unlike other keepers, he creates a solid basis for the attack from the back of the pitch by directing his teammates, thereby bringing structure into the positional game. His game intelligence, strong awareness of risk and safety in the game are crucial skills.
  • Foot game: A solid modern goalkeeper uses his feet. This is especially true for Manuel Neuer. His role model, the Dutch goalkeeper legend Edwin van der Sar, had a decisive influence on him.
  • Offensive game: Manuel Neuers playing technique influenced van der Sar regarding the offensive game. As an active player, van der Sar often left the penalty area to take passes. Neuer was able to build on this and raised his interactive style to a whole new level.
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    Training tip: Reaction Time

    "If you lie in the grass and have to get up, you get up differently depending on the side. This does not happen symmetrically. But the most important thing is that you can jump high and wide and get up quickly. It doesn't have to look perfect, but it has to happen fast." - Manuel Neuer in an interview with The Guardian.

    Here you can see for yourself how Neuer trains at FC Bayern Munich:

    World Best Keeper 2008-2012: Iker Casillas

    "Personality defines the goalkeeper of a big team. I think you have that. By personality I don't mean yelling and waving. Being cold and calm can be just as important for a goalkeeper. Calm and personality must go hand in hand in a goalkeeper." - Iker Casillas in an interview with 11Friends (in German).

    World Class Keeper Iker Casillas
    Casillas was able to prove his leadership qualities as captain of the Spanish national team.
    (Picture credits: Mayorov Vladimir [CC BY-SA 3.0 GFDL])

    Outstanding skills

  • Reflexes: Unlike Thibaut Courtois who is 2 metres tall, Iker Casillas is a comparatively small goalkeeper at 1.85 metres. What he lacks in body size, Casillas makes up for with his reaction speed. His quick reflexes gave him the nickname "San Iker" among fans.
  • 1-on-1 Situations: Casillas also succeeds in asserting himself in 1-on-1 situations. Especially with his speed he is often superior to the opponent's attacks. His career as Spain's national goalkeeper lasted until his 100th international match with a record of zero goals.
  • Mental Strength & Concentration: Casillas is known for his calm charisma on the field and privately. His ability to keep a cool head enables him to take a strategic leadership role from the goal and often gives him the role of a key player.
  • Training tip: Resistance training

    To train vertical, Ilker Casillas works with resistance bands in the gym: When simulating a game situation, he trains short side jumps in order to achieve a greater distance during a free jump.

    Goal Keeper 2005: Petr Cech

    "The video footage for the Bayern shots [in preparation for the 2012 Champions League Final] lasted 2 hours and 43 minutes, during which we took a close look at every potential shooter. We watched every penalty kick of every player until 2007. Each of us looked at the video material alone and added notes and remarks. When it finally came to the game, we sat down and compared what each of us had noted down. And then we looked at it together again." - Petr Cech in Interview with Copa90.

    Petr Cech is an all-rounder: physical abilities and mental strength.
    (Picture credits: John Dobson [CC BY-SA 2.0])

    Outstanding skills

  • Coordination & Responsiveness: Cech has proven his skills time and time again, including in 2012, when he held several penalty kicks in the Champions League final against FC Bayern Munich, giving his club Chelsea the Champions League title.
  • Physical Strength & Agility: Cech played many different sports as a teenager, with his long-time coach Christophe Lollichon. The result: athletic versatility. In addition, Cech has no dominant foot.
  • Mental Strength & Presence: Lollichon also reveals that the mental calmness and balance Cech is known for is partly his personality, but also results from intensive training: His excellent ability to concentrate is the result of targeted control of emotions, which the trainer consciously used to make Cech even more self-confident. In addition to his leadership qualities, this made him an extremely valuable player.
  • Training tip: Enhancing game understanding with video material

    "When I started working with Petr, he was 21 years old. During this time, we worked mainly on developing his understanding of the game. I wanted a goalkeeper who plays with his eyes. For me, the goalkeeper is a regular player with two hands. That's the basis of my goalkeeper philosophy. When Petr came to Rennes, he wasn't familiar with this way of thinking. To develop this understanding, we worked a lot with videos." - Christophe Lollichon about his collaboration with Petr Cech opposite goalguard.de (in German).

    The Keepers of Tomorrow

    Outstanding keeper performance is often over-shadowed by the forwards. However, the goal keepers presented here show that a player can also lead the way from the goal. But how does one reach the level of success of Casillas, Buffon and Co.?

    What does the keepers presented have in common? Game experience spanning many years and versatile training sequences are important components to become a successful keeper. In addition, all goalkeepers presented impress with outstanding reflexes and reaction time. Finally, mental strength is a particularly important factor a goalkeeper should have in order to be successful.

    To ensure your training is as successful as possible, we recommend you take a look at the following articles:

  • Goal keeper training in soccer: Goalkeeper trainer Jens Abrams tells you how to train effectively.
  • Mental Training: Mental trainer Andreas Mamerow explains how mental strength affects sports performance and how to train it.
  • Soccer training planning and execution: Find out what is important in the conception and planning of your soccer training.
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