Joshua Mason is another new name at OOTB, and he starts off with an effort comparing some of the younger keepers in the modern game with some legendary names.
There are many successful and terrible students of the Goalkeeping College. One thing is always the same, the perplexity from fans who wonder what makes a man want to be one instead of an outfielder. I haven’t heard of someone pretending to be Neville Southall on the playground yet. Despite never knowing where they come from, goalkeepers are arguably the most important players on the pitch. They can’t score goals, (well unless your Jean Luis Chilavert), but for me they can win games, which goals don’t always do.
When we discuss the new school I will not be discussing the veterans despite their merits. By this I am referring to legends such as Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon, who at the age of 38, starts for his country still. Petr Cech may have moved on to Arsenal, but he still commands his area better than almost anyone in the Premier League. But no, I want to concentrate on the true new class, the sophomores.
This new bunch has been personified by three keepers in my opinion. Manuel Neuer of Bayern Munich, Thibaut Courtois of Chelsea and David De Gea of Manchester United. David De Gea was in the news recently for winning the Sir Matt Busby Award, which celebrates United’s best player of the year, for the third time in a row. The first time this has ever been achieved. Considering the stars who have played at the club this is a huge accolade. He struggled in the first year as a young keeper and was ‘bullied’ by the media but he stood up for himself. Even with the controversy of a failed move to Real Madrid he has become United’s best player, albeit in a difficult period for the club. Looking back to see a comparison with the old school my gaze lands on Italian Dino Zoff. If De Gea likes collecting trophies, then Zoff loves it! Six Serie A, two Coppa Italias, a Uefa Cup and he was also the oldest ever winner of a World Cup at forty years young. Of course De Gea has a long time to catch up and he has had an early start, but men in the past should not be forgotten. While goalkeepers complain today about the light ball Zoff started his career as many did back then without gloves! If a parallel is to be drawn between the two, then De Gea might be destined to be a coach too. Dino Zoff is arguably the greatest manager to come from between the sticks and obviously had an incredible football brain along with football hands. He managed Juventus, Lazio, Fiorentina as well as the highest accolade for an Italian, being in charge of the Azzuri! His tenure to get them to the finals of Euro 2000 saw him pick up the World Soccer Manager of the Year Award.
Thibaut Courtois had a long road to get where he is. He has just finished his second season at Chelsea proper, but is 29. After getting the move to the Blues from Genk he spent three seasons learning his trade at Atletico Madrid, ironically replacing aforementioned United bound De Gea. He has a terrific shot stopping ability, and despite his baby face looks he is not scared to get stuck in. His saves have become somewhat of an internet sensation, something that could only happen in the age of the internet. Thibauting is the act of taking a picture of yourself at full stretch imitating the same gangly frame that Courtois has. His saves were so renowned at Atletico Madrid fans started copying it on social media. This proficiency for spectacular saves and his long frame reminds me of another European great Edwin Van der Sar. The Dutchman has an enviable CV which started in his home country with Ajax, and won the Champions League as a young goalie. Edwin’s CV grew to include the biggest clubs in the world however with Juventus and Manchester United to name a few. Van Der Sar was a shot stopper and with the help of his long arms he could command his box like a Headmaster. He holds the record for the most minutes ever without conceding a goal at 1,311 minutes. I see the same enthusiasm for goalkeeping in Courtois that I did in Van der Sar, something that was proven to me when he came out of retirement for his local non-league team and saved a penalty! Trophies will have to come for the Belgian to match Van der Sar, but both are a real goalkeeper’s goalkeeper.
If there really was a school, then Manuel Neuer would be its Head boy. The German is never far from the headlines when Germany play and with a World Cup medal in his cabinet and third place in the Ballon d’Or, all at the age of 29 there is an exciting future ahead of him too. He is exemplary with his speed off the line, command of a box and fast reflexes. This is not what he is most known for however. Neuer has become an exceptional talent at sweeping. He may not be as chaotic as famed Colombian Higuita, but Neuer often holds a position nearer the halfway line than his own goal. It may not be for everyone and for me it is a risk that I would not take, but for some it makes Neuer the most talked about keeper on the planet. He makes it into many peoples World XI and was tipped to be top dog at this year’s Euros too. I believe the hysteria should be put into perspective. If people should look at the honours board and they will see the name Lev Yashin. In a profession judged by clean sheets Russian Yashin has 270 of them! He played for 20 years from 1950-1970, all of them for Dynamo Moscow. He is considered the greatest goalkeeper of all time and was in the FIFA’s all time World Cup XI. He had an amazing ability to save penalties and FIFA record him as saving 170 spot kicks. While Neuer is impressive to finish 3rd in Ballon D’Or, Yashin is the only goalkeeper in history to win it! He has an order of Lenin, a statue outside Dynamo Stadium in Moscow and one in Rio de Janeiro. In short it will take more than a few heart pumping rushes by Neuer to get anywhere near Lev Yashin.
There is an amazing group of keepers going through graduation and some who are just starting, arriving at the school gates and looking at all the greats who have gone before. While this article chose a select few, I haven’t even mentioned the likes of Pat Jennings, Gordon Banks and Jean Luis Chilavert, who has over 50 goals to his name. While the new crop of keepers are certainly talented, and hold the skills of some in the past, the notion of them being some of the greatest already should be taken with a pinch of salt. Many keepers have produced more impressive feats and in an arguably more difficult era. Having said that, there is nothing stopping these three young upstarts becoming one of the greats. They have time on their side before the bell goes.
Written by Joshua Mason