David de Gea has been in exceptional form throughout the last 18 months and must be classified as one of the greatest goalkeepers in the game. The Manchester United shot stopper has guided his club to fourth place in the Premier League and crucially, has helped bring Champions League football back to Old Trafford. A string of impressive individual performances have earned his side priceless victories in their bid to return to Europe’s elite competition.
Meanwhile, the 24-year-old has displaced goalkeeper Iker Casillas as Spain’s number one goalkeeper, and De Gea has been linked with a summer move to Real Madrid and it is likely that the youngster would take over from the veteran as their first choice shot stopper. De Gea has featured just four times for his country, but remains set to become the long-term goalkeeper for the next decade – with Iker Casillas himself tipping De Gea to take over as the number one goalkeeper in the near future.
But is the Spaniard the greatest goalkeeper in the world? Possibly. However, many would argue a great case for Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, veteran Italy international Gianluigi Buffon, Chelsea’s young star, Thibaut Courtois, and Tottenham Hotspur’s Hugo Lloris – who may be De Gea’s replacement at the Theatre of Dreams should the 24-year-old move to Madrid.
It would be plausible to make a case for each of these fine shot stoppers, but De Gea’s improvement throughout the past three years cannot go unnoticed. The United keeper has come a long way since his patchy debut in English football – a 3-2 Community Shield victory over arch rivals Manchester City at Wembley – and genuinely commands a place in the world’s elite keepers.
De Gea has been phenomenal over the last two years
The Spaniard has been an integral part of United’s defence throughout the past few seasons, featuring in the majority of matches and keeping promising goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard out of the starting XI. Prior to United’s Premier League clash with Arsenal, De Gea had played every minute of their league campaign – making 94 saves and keeping 10 clean sheets in 36 matches.
There is no doubt that, without De Gea’s performances throughout the season, Manchester United would have missed out on a place in the top four this year. The Spaniard has been the best goalkeeper in the Premier League – backed up by his inclusion in the PFA Team of the Year – and his current suitors will definitely miss the Spaniard if he chooses to return to his native country this summer.
Furthermore, the 24-year-old hasn’t just been great in a number of matches but has been brilliant on a consistent basis throughout the last two years. In terms of shot stopping, he is by far the best on the planet and his individual performance against Everton earlier in the campaign must come close to ranking as the finest individual goalkeeping effort in the Premier League era. A short video of De Gea’s performance in the 2-1 victory can be seen below; including clips of his penalty save from Leighton Baines and his last-minute stop from a Leon Osman volley. Unfortunately for the Red Devils, performances like this are why Real Madrid have started to show serious interest in the goalkeeper this summer.
Manuel Neuer remains both brilliant and unique
The Germany international is still one of the world’s greatest goalkeepers and continues to surprise viewers with his incredible understanding of the game. Neuer is the stereotypical ‘sweeper keeper’, but by far the greatest goalie of all-time to play that role. The 29-year-old led his nation to World Cup glory in Brazil last summer, and his ability to act as the last defender and read the game helped Joachim Lowe’s side to adopt an all-out attacking policy, dominating teams throughout the competition.
The Bayern Munich goalkeeper is exceptional with his feet, and more than capable of pinging 40-yard passes directly to the feet of his team-mates. He is much more of a complete footballer than other goalkeepers and also possesses tackling ability that Paul Scholes would be proud of. Neuer himself has confirmed that, when he can no longer perform at the highest level, he would potentially consider a positional change and play as an outfielder in the fourth tier of German football and his national team manager believes the 2-year-old is certainly good enough to make the transition from goalkeeper to midfield.
Although Neuer’s reign as the world’s number one goalkeeper is slowly coming to an end, he still remains incredibly talented and has already won an abundance of trophies throughout his illustrious career. The 29-year-old could continue to prosper in two dominating club and country teams for the foreseeable future and go on to become one of the most decorated goalkeepers of all-time.
The evergreen Gianluigi Buffon continues to defy the odds
The Italy captain will go down in history as one of the best goalkeepers of all-time after a phenomenal career spanning 20 years. Buffon has featured 147 times for his country – an exceptional achievement, but even more so when you consider how successful they have been. The goalkeeper deserves credit for his longevity and ability to continue playing at the highest level throughout his illustrious career, but has also produced some of the greatest individual performances of all-time – none more so than in the 2006 World Cup as he made a string of vital saves during the tournament to keep their dreams alive.
If anything, his club career has been more impressive – winning an array of personal awards while helping his teams to succeed in domestic and European competitions. The Juventus goalkeeper has won numerous ‘team of the year’ accolades, finished second to Fabio Cannavaro in the 2006 FIFA Ballon d’Or voting and has won the Serie A goalkeeper of the year award a staggering nine times throughout his career.
In terms of his team achievements, the 37-year-old has enjoyed rich success during his time at Juventus but enjoyed a prosperous period at Parma prior to his move to Turin. During his brief spell at the club, the Crusaders won the UEFA Cup, Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italia in a golden period for the club. Unfortunately, they are now in serious financial trouble and sit alone at the foot of Serie A. The godfather of Italian football has won eight Serie A titles with Juventus – including four consecutive championships – while finishing runners up in the 02-03 Champions League. The Old Lady have reached the final of this year’s competition and Buffon will be looking to finish his career on a high with victory over Luis Enrique’s Barcelona on June 6th. The Italian is clearly still very passionate about his football!
Chelsea’s Thibaut Courtois is one for the future
The Belgium international has already shown that he is more than capable of playing at the highest level and is set for a prosperous career. In fact, the Belgian has already won some of Europe’s most prestigious awards and has played an integral role for Atletico Madrid and Chelsea in their La Liga and Premier League title victories. As well as this, the Chelsea shot stopper has won domestic cup competitions in both countries, as well as guiding his former Spanish club to the Europa League crown in 2012 and within a whisker of the Champions League last season. Blues supporters have already fallen in love with their new first choice goalkeeper and many took to Twitter to wish the Belgian a happy birthday earlier this month.
For a 23-year-old, Courtois has already gained experience at some of the world’s best clubs and looks set to challenge De Gea and Neuer for the title of world’s best goalkeeper in the years to come. The Belgian is comfortable with his feet and remains fully focussed throughout the entire 90 minutes, despite regularly having very little to do. The Chelsea goalkeeper’s concentration sets him apart from his peers and that is why Jose Mourinho rates him so highly.
The Blues boss trusts the 23-year-old and knows that he is reliable and will remain alert of any potential danger, even if his side are in complete control of the game. At 6’5”, Courtois has a huge frame and poses an intimidating figure for any striker bearing down on goal. He has made a number of key saves throughout the season to help earn Chelsea victories and he will feel slightly aggrieved at missing out on a place in the PFA Team of the Year. If De Gea does leave for Real Madrid in the summer, the 23-year-old will be licking his lips at the prospect of replacing him outright as the best shot stopper in the Premier League.
Hugo Lloris may be the best of the rest
Meanwhile, there are a number of excellent goalkeepers who have the potential to feature on lists such as this in the future. Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegan has shown glimpses of potential throughout his year’s Champions League tournament; however Luis Enrique’s insistence on playing Claudio Bravo in their La Liga matches may continue to halt his progression. Furthermore, there is a case for Italian and Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu but on a similar level, he has failed to displace Buffon as the Italian number one and has failed to show consistency in the big games.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Hugo Lloris has been phenomenal throughout the last 12 months and, after toning down his erratic style, has grown in confidence and ranks among the world’s elite shot stoppers. The France international, who began his career with hometown club OGC Nice, possesses many similar traits to Manuel Neuer but also possesses the fantastic shot stopping ability of Thibaut Courtois. He is a natural leader and is a commanding presence at the heart of the defence – particularly at corners and set-pieces.
The 28-year-old is yet to feature at the very top level of domestic club football but has gained invaluable Champions League experience while at Lyon earlier in his career. During his brief spell in English football, Lloris has adapted quickly and is rightly recognised as one of the greatest keepers in the world. Although his temperament is often questionable, his natural ability is clear to see and the France captain remains one of the best out and out shot stoppers on the planet, making a number of impressive reflex saves on a regular basis.
So is the Spaniard the greatest on the planet?
On current form, David de Gea is the best goalkeeper in the game and Manchester United will do everything in their power to ensure that he remains at Old Trafford next season. The 24-year-old has been a key member of Louis Van Gaal’s squad and it is imperative that the 13-time Premier League champions keep the Spaniard if they plan on challenging for major honours next season.
Throughout the Premier League era, each and every championship side have had a reliable, solid goalkeeper who can be counted on to produce impressive individual performances in the big matches – and De Gea has done that. In his first full season at Chelsea, Thibaut Courtois has been exceptionally consistent and has helped the Blues secure their first Premier League title since 2011. In the modern game, it is vital that the top sides have top goalkeepers and it could be argued that this is the key reason why teams like Arsenal and Liverpool have failed to compete in the elite competitions throughout the last decade. As it stands, United are priced at 9/2 with betfair to win the Premier League next season, however these odds may fluctuate depending on the Spaniard’s decision on whether to stay at Old Trafford or join Real Madrid.
Many will still argue that Manuel Neuer remains the greatest keeper on the planet, and who could blame them? Neuer’s impressive resume includes a World Cup victory, a Champions League triumph and three consecutive Bundesliga titles. However, the Spaniard’s ability to remain fully focused and carry his team back into the Premier League’s top four simply outweighs Neuer’s victories for Bayern. The German champions are by far the best team in the Bundesliga and dominate their opponents, while United have struggled and De Gea has really helped turn their fortunes around.