The most important thing in soccer is to score a goal. Soccer is the most popular sport, and scoring goals has captivated fans for over 150 years. It’s not an easy task in such a low-scoring sport. But scoring goals is also a tough job because of them – the goalies.
Goalkeepers are often a crucial part of a soccer team, as their job is to stop opponents from scoring. They’re the last line of defense, and many goalies throughout history have been heroes of their teams.
Choosing the best goalkeepers is often a subjective task, as there isn’t a single number that could decide which goalkeeper was better than the other one. That is especially the case with goalkeepers from different eras of soccer.
Nevertheless, here are the top 10 soccer goalkeepers of all time.
10. Petr Cech
Petr Cech is one of the greatest ever soccer goalkeepers. Former Sparta Prague, Rennes, Chelsea and Arsenal goalie deserves a tenth place on this list, as he has been one of the world’s best goalkeepers in the 21st century.
Playing for Chelsea, Cech won four Premier League titles, four FA Cups, as well as UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League trophies. But apart from the illustrious list of trophies, his performances on the pitch made him stand out.
Cech was the world’s best goalkeeper in 2005, according to the International Federation of Football History & Statistics (IFFHS). That year he set the Premier League record with 15 goals conceded in 38 matches. He was a brilliant shot-stopper who won four Golden Gloves in the Premier League, letting in the least number of goals across the campaign.
For the Czech Republic, he made 124 appearances and was voted to the EURO 2004 All-Star team, as he played a crucial part in his team’s progress to the semi-finals.
9. Edwin van der Sar
Edwin van der Sar is another iconic soccer goalkeeper. While Cech became famous for his heroics in goal and his safety helmet after sustaining a heavy blow to the head, Van der Sar had other things making him different to others.
The Dutch goalie won four Eredivisie titles with Ajax and the Champions League in 1995, while at Manchester United he won the same competition in 2008. He also had four Premier League trophies. He was twice named the best European goalkeeper and was Premier League’s Golden Glove in 2009.
But Van der Sar’s shot-stopping in goal was nicely complemented by his ball-playing abilities. At 197 centimeters tall, he was great with the ball at his feet, becoming one of the first modern goalkeepers who played so well with his feet.
When the backpass rule changed in 1992 and goalkeepers weren’t allowed anymore to handle the ball when their players passed it back on purpose, Van der Sar was quick to accustom his game to play with his feet. His traditional goalkeeping qualities made him a well-rounded goalie.
8. Oliver Kahn
Oliver Kahn deserves eighth place on the all-time list of best goalkeepers. The German goalie has reached legendary status in a career spanning over 20 years, from the late 1980s to the late 2000s.
Kahn started his career for his boyhood club Karlsruher, before moving to Bayern Munich in 1994, where he would remain for the next 14 years. During this time, he proved himself as one of the greatest goalkeepers, famous for his commanding presence in goal and aggressive style, earning him nicknames ‘Der Titan’ and ‘Volcano’.
Kahn won eight Bundesliga titles, six German cups, and a Champions League in 2001 while excelling with the national team. In 1996, he was part of Germany’s win at the European Championship, and in 2002 he reached the final of the World Cup. He won the Best European Goalkeeper award for four years from 1999 to 2002 and has even finished third in two Ballon d’Or races, an almost unthinkable feat for a goalkeeper.
7. Peter Schmeichel
Peter Schmeichel is another legendary goalie who established himself during the 1990s. Slightly older than Kahn, Schmeichel first became famous while at Brondby, winning four Danish league titles from 1987 to 1991. That same year made his move to Manchester United, later becoming one of the influential figures who would help Sir Alex Ferguson create a club dominating English soccer.
While at Man United, Schmeichel won five Premier League titles, three FA Cups and the Champions League in 1999. Leading the Danish national team, he won the European Championship in 1992 when Denmark stepped in to compete instead of the war-ravaged Yugoslavia.
IFFHS ranked Schmeichel as one of the top 10 goalkeepers of the 20th century. He was a fierce competitor, famous for his loud, unstinging criticism of perceived mistakes by his defenders. He even scored 11 goals in his career, including one for Denmark, as he sometimes liked taking penalties.
6. Iker Casillas
If you say ‘Real Madrid’ and ‘a goalkeeper’, most soccer fans will think of Iker Casillas. The legendary Spanish goalie from Madrid played for his boyhood club Real Madrid from 1999 to 2015, becoming one of the best in his position.
Popularly nicknamed San Iker (Saint Iker) for his ability to produce spectacular saves even though he is slightly shorter for a goalkeeper, Casillas has done it all in soccer. He won five La Liga titles, three Champions Leagues, one FIFA Club World Cup and two Intercontinental Cups.
When he moved to Porto in 2015, where he played until he suffered a mild heart attack in 2020, Casillas won one title in the Portuguese league. But he was also the captain of a dominating Spanish national team. With Spain, Casillas won two European Championships and a World Cup, all in just four years.
He was IFFHS’s world’s best goalkeeper five times and was in six UEFA teams of the year from 2007 to 2012. In 2008, he even finished fourth in Ballon d’Or voting for the best soccer player in the world. During his illustrious career, Casillas was known for his athleticism, quick reactions and outstanding shot-stopping ability.
5. Gianluigi Buffon
Gianluigi Buffon is an absolute legend among soccer goalkeepers and has been for almost decades. It’s odd, then, that he is still an active goalkeeper at 44 years of age. The Italian started his professional career in 1995 at Parma and is still going strong after returning to his boyhood club in 2021.
He deserves the fifth place on this list as someone who has won ten Serie A titles, six Italian Cups and a UEFA Cup. He played in three Champions League finals, losing all of them, but won the FIFA World Cup with Italy in 2006. He won 12 Serie A Goalkeeper of the Year awards and was named the world’s best goalkeeper by IFFHS five times.
The list of his awards has no ending, and he is one of the few to have played over 1100 professional soccer matches in his career. For many, Buffon. is regarded as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time. In 2001, Juventus paid a then world-record fee for a goalkeeper, giving Parma 52 million euros to sign him.
He played a record-setting 176 times for Italy, making it to five different World Cups. Players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ronaldinho even said that Buffon is the best goalkeeper they have ever faced.
4. Sepp Maier
Germans are known for great soccer goalkeepers, and there is probably no one greater in the country than Josef Sepp Maier. ‘The cat from Anzing’, as was his nickname for his hast reflexes, agility, flexibility, speed, and consistency, Maier was one of the soccer goalies that changed how his position was seen at the time.
Born in 1944, Maier spent his whole career at Bayern Munich from 1962 to 1980. He won three consecutive European Cups with the Bavarian giant. The European crowns from 1974 to 1976 at the club level, he added amazing things with West Germany’s national team.
He became European champion in 1972 and then in 1974 went on to win the FIFA World Cup, being part of dominant teams at both the club and international level. Maier even played in 442 consecutive Bundesliga matches between 1966 and 1979, a record which will hardly ever be surpassed.
Maier was known as a great shot-stopper but for his great sense of humor too. He once famously said ‘a keeper should give a sense of calm and not fall asleep while doing so’.
3. Dino Zoff
Dino Zoff is a former Italian goalkeeper who made third place on the all-time list. And for many reasons. His career spanned from 1961 to 1983, during which he only played for Udinese, Mantova, Napoli and Juventus. Zoff won six Serie A titles, two Italian Cups and one UEFA Cup in 1977 at club level.
But it was at the international level that he did even better. Zoff was Italy’s national team goalkeeper from 1968 to 1983. He won the European Championship on home soil in 1968 and then in 1982 added a World Cup trophy. It was then that Zoff became the oldest ever World Cup winner, as he was already 40 years and four months old.
In 1973, Zoff was second in the Ballon d’Or award running, while IFFHS named him the third-best goalkeeper of the 20th century. He holds the record for the longest playing time without conceding a goal in international tournaments when he went unbeaten for 1142 minutes between 1972 and 1974.
His outstanding ability has made him one of the goalkeepers still highly revered 50 years later, setting the path for the new generations of extraordinary goalkeepers.
2. Gordon Banks
Gordon Banks is the second-best soccer goalkeeper of all time on this list. The Englishman who died in 2019 at the age of 81, stunned the world with his goalkeeping. To make his case odder, Banks never won a league title during his phenomenal career, as his only two trophies were League Cup wins with Leicester and Stoke.
But internationally, he was England’s hero of 1966 when The Three Lions won the FIFA World Cup for the first and still only time. Banks was the first-choice goalkeeper during the entire World Cup in England, becoming the best goalkeeper of that tournament.
FIFA named him the goalkeeper of the year every year from 1966 to 1971, and it was probably the World Cup in 1970 that further cemented Banks’ place as one of the greatest ever goalkeepers.
At this World Cup, when reigning champions England faced soon-to-be winners Brazil, Banks made an incredible save from Pele’s near-perfect header. That Banks’ save was so spectacular that many would later call it the greatest ever.
1. Lev Yashin
And then there is Lev Ivanovich Yashin, the legendary goalkeeper from Moscow. Soviet Union’s famous goalkeeper, nicknamed ‘Black Spider’ or ‘Black Panther’, Yashin was, and still is, regarded by many as the greatest ever soccer goalkeeper.
Lev Yashin was known for his athleticism, positioning, bravery, imposing presence in goal, and his acrobatic reflex saves. But he was also the pioneer among soccer goalies, becoming one of the first to run out of his goal to stop onrushing attackers. That was all happening at the time when such things were far from the norm and he shined at the 1958 World Cup, the first-ever World Cup to be broadcast internationally.
Yashin was Dynamo Moscow’s goalkeeper from 1950 to 1970, and he won five Soviet league titles and three Soviet Cups. With the Soviet Union, he won the inaugural 1960 European Championship, an Olympic gold medal in 1956 and finished in third place at the 1966 World Cup.
He was also European Goalkeeper of the Year an incredible nine times. Yashin even won the Ballon d’Or in 1963, the only goalkeeper to ever do so. IFFHS also named him the greatest goalkeeper of the 20th century. Yashin was famous for wearing an all-dark kit on the pitch, which further made him stand out.
He saved 151 penalty kicks throughout his career, more than any other goalkeeper ever. A true revolutionary of the goalkeeping position, Lev Yashin is deservedly remembered as the greatest ever goalkeeper.