Ian Rush famously sympathised with goalkeepers once, acknowledging how difficult their job was. It was easy to be a striker, he said, as you could miss ten chances but score the winner and become the hero. For a goalkeeper, you can make ten fantastic saves but let in the decisive goal and become the villain.
But as a former promising goalkeeper (sic), I know that there is more to goalkeeping than shot-stopping. It is an essential aspect for sure, but a good goalkeeper should not be judged merely on how many 25-yard efforts he tips around the post.
That’s why I scoff when I hear the likes of Scott Carson, Chris Kirkland and Rob Green touted as potential world beaters.
Scott Carson would have trouble commanding a cardboard box, let alone his penalty area. It is his inability to come off his line that means he makes point-blank saves when he shouldn’t need to.
West Ham’s no.1 is the most complete ‘keeper out of the three but still lacks communication and pace off his line, whilst Chris Kirkland struggles with any balls near his feet. Just ask Rivaldo or Lee Carsley.
But this article is to find the best GK in the world, not to pick faults at the average-to-poor English efforts.
I was torn between four players – Iker Casillas (Real Madrid & Spain), Pepe Reina (Liverpool & Spain), Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus & Italy) and Julio Cesar (Internazionale & Brazil).
I can hear the gasps from West London right now but rest assured Chelsea’s Petr Cech would have been in here there wasn’t a question mark regarding his head injury. Unfortunately for football, he just hasn’t been the same since his career-threatening injury at the Madjeski Stadium.
All of these goalkeepers are confident in the air, despite the usual quasi-xenophobic claims that overseas ‘keepers punch too much. Even the weakest of the four in that respect, Pepe Reina, has improved a lot of the past 12 months. Another quality all four possess is confidence in their back-lines. One of the most infuriating lies perpetuated in this sport is how certain goalkeepers have an easier task because of the defence in front of them.
A football team is an organic process. A manager does not merely select a team of eleven players who play their own game indepedant of one another. A team is a fully functioning, communicative group of characters – the back-four would not be as good without a goalkeeper behind them who helped them through the 90 minutes, and vice-versa.
It’s why Aston Villa’s back-line of Luke Young, Laursen, Davies and Reo Coker have conceded four less at this stage of the season than the superior back-four of Bouma, Laursen, Mellberg and Luke Young (in his natural right-back position) did last season. Friedel is a better goalkeeper than Carson in most aspects – that trust is essential for the defence to perform to their full capabilities.
Picking this position is possibly the hardest of all – not necessarily due to the strong competition (although it’s a contributing factor) but because, despite being on par in the basic aspects of goalkeeping, they all bring something different to their team. Casillas’ reliability has even the poorest Real Madrid defence assured, something Buffon can claim as well. Reina is the world’s best sweeper ‘keeper, his pace and distribution essential to the way Liverpool line-up – in fact, his contribution to the team is worth a blog post on it’s own. There isn’t a more important goalie in the world than Pepe Reina is to Liverpool.
But at this present time, Julio Cesar brings all of those qualities to the table more than any. He’s reliable, he distributes well and most importantly, he doesn’t concede many goals. Nor do the other three, of course, but there’s a certain romanticism about the manner in which Cesar quietly became a key component to Internazionale’s Serie A winning side. He snuck into the Brazil national team and has now forced Dida into international retirement, mainly due to a staggering ten hours without conceding a goal. Amazed by how Brazil have seemingly become better in defence? Here is the reason why the likes of Juan and Lucio, painfully average on occasion for their club sides, transform into world class defenders in the yellow and green of Brazil.
I said that Pepe Reina is the most important goalkeeper to one individual club; what edges Cesar ahead of him at this current moment is that the Brazilian could fit into any club side in the world, which is ultimately the raison d’etre of this World XI. It doesn’t matter what style the club would play – Cesar would fit in and do an astonishing job like he has for three years at Inter.
Oh, and he takes penalties, too. It can’t be in doubt now you know that, surely?
- Kristian’s World XI
GK: Julio Cesar (Internazionale & Brazil)