• Top lists

TOP 10 Goalkeepers and Their Best Seasons

Photo by Elio Santos on Unsplash

In the realm of football, goalkeepers stand as guardians of the net, their performances often defining the fate of their teams. This list celebrates the top 10 goalkeepers, whose exceptional abilities have etched their names in the annals of the sport. Each goalkeeper’s peak season serves as a testament to their unrivaled skill, resilience, and unwavering dedication.

10. David De Gea

The 2017-2018 season marked a sensational period for Spanish goalkeeper David De Gea, as he emerged as an unwavering guardian of Manchester United’s net. In a campaign where his performances exuded brilliance, De Gea established a personal best in save percentage in the English Premier League, also recording an impressive number of clean sheets, ultimately not committing a single error that led to a goal. His prowess was underlined by a match against Arsenal where he made an astounding 14 saves, equating to a Premier League record. Besides his club successes, De Gea’s influence was significant enough to be quantified, with his individual efforts deemed responsible for clinching 7.92 points for Manchester United—a decisive factor in their second-place league finish. The season saw him acclaimed with the Golden Glove award for having 18 clean sheets in the Premier League, and in 2019, his stature as one of the era’s prominent goalkeepers was solidified by signing the league’s most lucrative player contract.

9. & 8. Edwin van der Sar & Julio Cesar

Two legendary goalkeepers share the ninth place: Edwin van der Sar and Julio Cesar had remarkable seasons that defined their lofty statuses in football history. Van der Sar excelled in the 2007-2008 season with the highest save percentage among the top five leagues, which arguably could be seen as the pinnacle of his career. His extraordinary efforts contributed to Manchester United’s Champions League triumph, and at the age of 38, he played a pivotal role in the Euro 2008, showcasing his exceptional skill and durability. Julio Cesar shined in the 2008-2009 season, just missing the Ballon d’Or top twenty and was celebrated as Serie A’s finest goalkeeper—his remarkable save percentage even surpassing his treble-winning season with Inter Milan. Cesar’s supremacy that season was instrumental in securing the Italian Super Cup and a strong performance with Brazil’s national team at the Confederations Cup. His contributions didn’t go unnoticed as he received numerous accolades, which are sometimes overlooked when debating South American goalkeeping.

7. Gianluigi Buffon

Gianluigi Buffon’s illustrious 28-season long career featured numerous highlights, but it was the 2011-2012 season where he demonstrated his lasting class and resilience. Rebounding from a perceived downturn, Buffon notched a top-notch save percentage in Serie A, marking a personal best in clean sheets. He played a key part in Juventus’s undefeated league run, with their defense heralded as Europe’s strongest thanks to coach Antonio Conte’s tactical acumen. Buffon’s standout moment was a pivotal penalty save against Roma’s Francesco Totti—an iconic reminder of his prowess as Italy’s, and potentially the world’s, pre-eminent goalkeeper. After this triumphant campaign, he continued to defy age and perform at an elite level, solidifying his legacy as one of the greatest footballers to ever grace the goalkeeping position.

6. Iker Casillas

Unrivaled for several consecutive years, Iker Casillas earned the title of the world’s best goalkeeper. Choosing his prime season was not straightforward, similar to Buffon; Casillas had four seasons competing for inclusion— 2007-2008, 2008-2009, 2009-2010, and 2010-2011. However, the 2007-2008 season marks his entry into his golden era. Successfully achieving the best save rate in La Liga during that period, Casillas captured the Zamora Trophy for the lowest number of goals conceded and was top of the rankings for saves among goalkeepers in the league. That season, he was included in the UEFA Champions League Team of the Season for the second time, despite Real Madrid’s early exit. Notably, at just 27 years old, he became the goalkeeper with the most appearances for Real Madrid, leading to a significant contract renewal until 2017 with an automatic extension clause. His achievements also extended to international success, as Spain clinched the UEFA European Championship, with Casillas playing crucially in the playoffs, keeping clean sheets throughout and saving two penalties in the quarterfinals against Italy. Attributing to his recognition, he narrowly missed entering the top three in the Ballon d’Or 2008 voting, a testament to his standout among the goalkeeping elite of the 21st century.

5. Petr Cech

The story of Petr Cech is both inspiring and paradoxical; his career, and life, nearly ended following a severe head injury due to a collision in a match against Reading during the 2006-2007 season. After undergoing emergency brain surgery, involving the removal of skull fragments and the use of metal plates, Cech faced debilitating headaches that made even watching television a struggle. Against the odds, he returned to play with a custom helmet just three months later. Cech’s subsequent performances were nothing short of anomalous. Following his recovery, he displayed an extraordinary level of form—accomplishing a run of 810 minutes without conceding a goal in the Premier League, earning him the league’s Player of the Month award for the first time in his career. Overall, he held the best save percentage across all top five leagues that season and was instrumental in Chelsea’s FA Cup final victory over Manchester United. This exceptional return to form earned him the 18th spot on the Ballon d’Or list. Though he continued to play at a top level for many years to come, those remarkable statistics from the 2006-2007 season remained unmatched.

4. Jens Lehmann

The 2005-2006 season saw Jens Lehmann achieve an exceptional feat which, in terms of save percentage across all competitions, was unmatched by any other star goalkeeper of the 21st century, clocking in at 90.8% of shots saved. However, it was in the Champions League where the most astonishing events took place; Arsenal set a record with 10 consecutive clean sheets, and Lehmann played a pivotal role throughout the playoffs and the entire tournament, ensuring not a single goal was conceded. In the final against Barcelona, Lehmann was sent off for a professional foul, but his performances leading up to that point were stellar, standing out against tough opponents such as Real Madrid and Juventus. Over the course of the season’s Champions League, Lehmann played 648 minutes across eight matches, maintaining a 100% save rate. Despite Arsenal not securing the Champions League trophy, Lehmann’s remarkable form both at club level and with the German national team, particularly during the World Cup hosted in Germany, earned him a place within the top 10 candidates for the 2006 Ballon d’Or. His sheer determination and performance levels at the age of 36 underline his incredible, albeit sometimes underrated, football journey.

3. Oliver Kahn

The formidable Oliver Kahn claims the second spot on this list, being the only goalkeeper of the 21st century to feature in the top three of the Ballon d’Or voting for two consecutive years, 2001 and 2002. Despite a costly mistake in the 2002 World Cup final, arguably the most critical match of his career, which didn’t diminish Germany’s fate without their attacking leader Ballack, the 2000-2001 season stands out for Kahn’s statistical achievements and his role as a hero in defining moments. As captain, he led Bayern Munich to the now-defunct German League Cup victory before the domestic season began. Throughout the Bundesliga, Kahn faced no real rivals, subsequently being acknowledged as the league’s top goalkeeper six consecutive times. In Europe, Kahn dominated the Champions League during the prime season under review; delivering clean sheets in over half his appearances and confirming his grip on the tournament in the final by saving three penalty kicks from Valencia players, earning Bayern Munich their cherished Champions League win. Kahn’s distinctive reputation as the world’s premier goalkeeper emerged from both his distinct leadership and unparalleled goalkeeping prowess.

2. Manuel Neuer

The peak of Manuel Neuer’s career coincided with Germany’s triumph at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Focusing on his stellar 2013-2014 season, Neuer showcased his best ever save percentage for Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga, leading the German league in clean sheets. The season kicked off with the UEFA Super Cup victory over Chelsea, an act of retribution for the 2012 Champions League final loss. In the World Cup year, Neuer was distinguished as the world’s best by the International Federation of Football History & Statistics and included in UEFA’s Team of the Year. However, his season was more than just accolades; it was filled with victories including the Bundesliga Championship, the DFB-Pokal, with Neuer conceding only a single goal from a penalty by Özil in the Champions League Last 16, and the FIFA Club World Cup where he kept clean sheets in both the semi-final and final. After such an impressive year, Neuer extended his contract until 2019, was voted Germany’s Footballer of the Year, and was recognized as the world’s best goalkeeper for the second consecutive time. While not reaching the Champions League final that season, Neuer’s innovative play at the World Cup set a new standard for goalkeepers, pushing the boundaries beyond traditional responsibilities. His proactive defending and technical skill with his feet changed the game, influencing how top coaches now approach goalkeeper training. Consequently, Neuer’s performance in the 2013-2014 season elevated him to the pinnacle of our top list recollection, enhancing his odds in the Ballon d’Or race and leaving an indelible mark on the evolution of football goalkeeping.

1. Dida

The 2006-2007 season was a standout year for Brazilian goalkeeper Nelson Dida, who was instrumental in AC Milan’s vengeful Champions League final against Liverpool, consistently making critical saves after the heartbreak of the 2005 final. Rivaling the records of European goalkeeping royalty, Dida claimed a stunning series of performances throughout the top European competition, finishing more than half of his matches with a clean sheet. Though Pepe Reina had achieved one more clean sheet during the same period, Dida had accomplished his feat in one less game. When Milan fans reminisce about the second Champions League trophy of the 21st century, the giant figure of Dida is always lauded; he was in top form, pulling off remarkable saves and showcasing the skills that made him one of the most respected goalkeepers of his day. Dida’s season is remembered not just for lifting the prestigious cup, but for his consistent excellence, which, although often overlooked due to the heroics of European counterparts, deserves its place in history. His unique contribution to Milan’s prestigious victory was a testament to his exceptional quality and mental strength under pressure, affirming his supreme capabilities between the sticks.