Whilst South America and Africa have produced some of the greatest outfield players the game has ever seen, Europe has always been a hotbed for producing top goalkeepers. Many of the game’s greatest number ones have risen through the ranks of European football to shine on the brightest stage of all – both for club and country. Goalkeepers are often judged on moments rather than entire careers but many of these top stars are remembered fondly no matter what they did and no matter the era. With that in mind, here are the best European goalkeepers of all time.
5 best European goalkeepers ever
There are very few footballers around with a trophy cabinet like Iker Casillas. The Spaniard was at the heart of several successful eras for both Real Madrid and Spain throughout the 21st century. Having won multiple La Liga titles, Champions League finals, Club World Cups and both the European Championships and the World Cup, Casillas has amassed quite a collection of medals over his career.
What helped Casillas become so successful was his lightning quick reactions, excellent distributions and calm demeanor for the entire pitch. Whilst heart issues cut his career a little prematurely, there is no denying that Casillas accomplished more than any player could ever dream of doing and he is one of the best goalkeepers in modern history.
There are few figures in English football quite as revered as Gordon Banks and for good reason. Banks was a keeper who was known for his positioning and athleticism in a time where these assets were rarely seen. It was these skills that helped him deny Pele in the 1970 World Cup in what is still regarded as one of the greatest saves of all time.
This, alongside his role in England’s 1966 World Cup win, earned him an army of adoring fans that worshipped him until his death in 2019. His domestic honours may look scarce with just 2 League Cup wins to his name however 6 consecutive FIFA Goalkeeper of the Year awards between 1967 and 1973 proved why Banks is still seen as one of the all-time best goalkeepers.
It’s rare to see modern footballers enjoy 25 years at the very top of European football but Gigi Buffon has done just that. Making his debut in 1995 for Parma, the Italian veteran caught the eye thanks to his excellent reactions, smart positioning and his shot stopping skills.
Buffon’s consistency made him an influential figure to his teammates captaining Juventus for over a decade as well as the Italian national side. Buffon was at the heart of a team that won 10 Serie A titles as well as the 2006 World Cup. His form has earnt him many plaudits including the IFFHS Goalkeeper of the Decade award for 2000-2009 and an honorary Italian Knighthood having been made a member of the Order of the Italian Republic in 2006.
During Manchester United’s dominance of English football in the 1990’s, there was always one familiar face within the lineup: Peter Schmeichel. The tall Danish keeper marked an imposing figure yet was surprisingly athletic for someone his size. This athleticism made him one of the best goalkeepers in world football for over a decade, helping United to dominate the English Premier League during its infancy.
Schmeichel’s last contribution helped United to become the first English side to secure the famed treble in the 1998/99 season and forever leave a lasting legacy in European football. Having been awarded a spot in the English Football Hall of Fame and also been awarded an MBE, “The Great Dane” continues to be classed as one of the all-time great keepers in European football.
Despite having a career that ended in 1970, few players are still highly regarded as Lev Yashin. The Russian was a pioneer in the game showcasing a full set of skills that no-one had seen before with agility, speed and reactions that surpassed all his rivals. This set of skills earned him the nickname of “The Black Panther” and helped make the Soviet Union a real handful in all major competitions, where he cultivated his reputation as one of the best goalkeepers in history.
His skillset was so revered that he beat legendary figures such as Eusebio, Bobby Charlton and Pele to win the 1963 Ballon D’Or award – the only goalkeeper to ever win the prize. Yashin’s cult status remained with him until his passing from cancer in 1990 where he was given a full state funeral in his hometown of Moscow. Still listed as the greatest keeper of all time by many pundits and bodies, it’s hard to think of any other keeper greater than “The Black Panther”
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