Manuel Neuer is the world’s best

Manuel Neuer

There’s many different ways of deciding who is the best goalkeeper in the world. Some value current form over long term reliability, whilst others are prepared to keep the faith for much longer. I try to do both and with that in mind here’s my Goalkeeper World Rankings for April.

1. Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich and Germany)
It’s a simple pick right now. He’s been excellent since arriving in Bayern Munich and his performance on Wednesday night against Real Madrid highlighted his development. He made some excellent penalty saves, but it was his leadership and authority that was most encouraging for me. His ability has always been obvious, but now he’s got the experience to know when to take command of situations and when to take a step back, he’s reaching his potential.

2. Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain)
I’m a big believer in Iker Casillas. He was a little bit shaky by his high standards on Wednesday night in the Champions League semi-final, but he still saved a penalty in the shoot-out and made some important interventions in open play. As ever, when he makes a mistake or doesn’t get something quite right, he bounces right back up and it rarely costs his team a goal.

3. Gigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy)
Buffon has been one of my favourites for a long time and given how Juventus are doing in this season’s Serie A, he has to be included. They’ve the league’s best defensive record, conceding just 18 goals in 35 games. It’s not all down to Gigi, but he’s certainly played his part. After injury trouble in the last couple of years, it’s great to see the agility is still there and the reflexes, calmness and leadership make him one of the world’s best.

4. Joe Hart (Manchester City and England)
It’s been a great year for goalkeepers in the Premier League, but I still rate Hart as the best all-rounder. He was voted in as the goalkeeper in the PFA Premier League Team of the Season and I wouldn’t argue with that. He’s incredibly mature and he’s improved his decision-making considerably over the last twelve months or so.

5. Hugo Lloris (Lyon and France)
It’s been another difficult season for Lyon, but Lloris comes out of it with big credit. Agile, ultra-reliable and still young, I’m a big fan and there’s more to come. Every time summer rolls around, the speculation liking him with a move somewhere seems as common as the smell of barbecues. Spurs are reportedly looking at him as a replacement for Brad Friedel and he’d be a great addition to the Premier League. Wherever he heads, I’m sure he’s destined to be an even bigger star than he is now.

After the couple of weeks Chelsea have had, it’s impossible not to give Petr Cech a mention. He had to be immense if Chelsea were to have any chance of ousting Barcelona and he delivered big time. He’s definitely on the fringes of my list.

In his first full season as Arsenal’s #1 Wojciech Szczęsny has proven himself as reliable, unflappable and truly world-class. Second in the PL behind Hart in my opinion, it’ll be great to see how those two develop over the coming years.

It was also hard to leave out Michel Vorm. He’s had a fantastic season for Swansea although he won’t be happy with conceding four against Wolves over the weekend. He’s got top class reflexes and he’s amazingly agile. He’s definitely one of the best in the Premier League this season.

Ali Al Habsi has had a fantastic season for Wigan too. He made one absolutely world class save against Arsenal and those contributions are crucial for a team like Wigan. If that goes in, Arsenal probably come back and win the game and all of sudden there’s no amazing run of results and they’re going down. He’s been doing things like that all season and he deserves an honourable mention.

I’ve also been impressed by Kiko Casilla for Espanyol. He’s made a few mistakes lately and he get dropped, which set him back. He’s still some way from being in my top five, but he looks like he’s heading in the right direction and I look forward to seeing how he develops next season.

Newcastle Form Fires Krul Into World’s GK Elite

Tim Krul

It’s been a while since I’ve updated my World Goalkeeper Rankings and with 2011 drawing to a close, I wanted to round-off the year by revising my list to take into account some interesting developments in recent months. As ever, I’m trying to balance the current form with long-term performance. Knee-jerk reactions are keenly avoided – one mistake doesn’t mean you can automatically consign a goalkeeper to the category of ‘calamity’ and one great save doesn’t necessarily count for much if it’s sandwiched between bouts of uncertainty and silly errors. With that in mind here’s my end of year totally subjective and unscientific World Goalkeeping Rankings.

Current (Former)
1. (1) Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain)
2. (2) Gigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy)
3. (6) Hugo Lloris (Lyon and France)
4. (5) Victor Valdes (Barcelona and Spain)
5. (3) Pepe Reina (Liverpool and Spain)
6. (8) Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich and Germany)
7. (4) Petr Cech (Chelsea and Czech Rep.)
8. (7) Joe Hart (Man City and England)
9. (=) Tim Krul (Newcastle and Netherlands)
10. (10) Shay Given (Aston Villa and Ireland)

Iker Casillas remains on top by virtue of his consistency and ability to bounce-back immediately from any semblance of a blip. He’s been typically reliable in Real Madrid’s surge to the top of La Liga and even in their defeat to Barcelona he was virtually foot perfect and showed leadership throughout. It’s ironic that the only goalkeeping error of El Clasico came from Victor Valdes and he ended up on the side that won with relative ease. It was a rare error from a goalkeeper with the passing skills that wouldn’t look out of place in the centre of midfield. Aside from his quality distribution, his concentration remains supreme and he’s the perfect goalkeeper for a Barcelona side seeking footballing perfection. It’s been a trying few months for their compatriot, Pepe Reina. The Liverpool goalie has been very good, but he’s been making more handling errors than we’ve become accustomed to due to the high standards he’s has achieved in the past. The mistakes were punished against Tottenham and Fulham, but there have been a smattering of other occasions when he got away with it. Reina is good enough that even when he’s not performing at his best, he’s still world-class, although slightly less world-class in recent months.

Another Premier League struggler is Petr Cech. Again, Cech has been excellent for much of the last few years, but this year has been difficult. At times he has shown the brilliance he is capable of, but hasn’t maintained it for long periods. A Chelsea defence struggling to adapt to life under Andre Villas-Boas hasn’t helped his cause and injuries has also disrupted his rhythm. He was uncharacteristically off the pace when Arsenal scored five at Stamford Bridge and at other times has been less than fluent in dealing with shots he has Again, he’s quality is not in doubt, but he’s not in his best form. Cech has bounced back from slumps in the past and there’s every reason to think a resurgence is in the pipeline.

Hugo Lloris feels like he’s been on the scene for years and it’s easy to forget that this Christmas will only bring his 25th birthday. Every time I’ve seen him, he has been hugely impressive. His reflexes, athleticism and composure are a delight to behold and as he gets older, he continues to add leadership to his box of tricks. He has been one of Europe’s best keepers for the last couple of seasons and it’s only a matter of time before he looks beyond Ligue 1 and towards the leading lights of European football for his next big challenge.

Tim Krul has been the best goalkeeper in the Premier League this season and contrary to the views of cynics, for once that’s not a position earned by default. The competition for that accolade has rarely been more fierce, but the Magpies number 1 has been so exceptional in so many Newcastle games, he is the pick of a strong crop. More than the impact of Alan Pardew, the shrewd acquisitions of Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye, Krul’s form is arguably the reason for Newcastle’s surprisingly strong start to the season. For all their attacking play and improved organisation, they would a fraction of their points haul were it not for the numerous top quality saves he has come up with high in several games so far this season. The awesome display of agility and reflexes at Old Trafford may have been his most high-profile performances of the season, but in reality he has been excellent in virtually every game. He has progressed significantly since last season. Then he looked very capable, but also anxious and too prone to bad decisions and doing the wrong thing at the wrong time. Now he looks more composed, mature and seems to fill his goal far more than just a few months ago. The latter point may largely be down to the psychology of perception, but Krul is understandably more confident and it’s easy to see in his on-field demeanour. He makes his debut on the list after a stunning run of form that’s impossible to ignore.

Manuel Neuer was one of the world’s best whilst still at Schalke and he has enjoyed a tremendous start to his time at Bayern Munich. He set a club record for number of minutes without conceding a goal and although that run has come to an end, he is still making significant contributions to the Bavarians’ cause. Despite being top of the table, Bayern haven’t been flawless and Neuer has been there several times to make the difference between a win and careless dropped points. Style-wise, he’s the goalkeeper most resembling Peter Schmeichel in the game at present and if he continues to progress, he should enjoy similar levels of success to the Dane.

Shay Given is another regular feature on the rankings to have switched clubs over the summer. Clearly the older Given is more susceptible to injury than ever before, but already he has shown is immense ability by pulling of some fantastic saves for Aston Villa. He’s replicated that form for Ireland (one sloppy goal conceded against Estonia aside) and remains one of the world’s best. Gigi Buffon will no doubt empathise with Given on his injury troubles. The Italian missed a large part of last season with troublesome knocks he struggled to shake off, but since returning towards the end of last term and getting a run of games under his belt, he looks like the world-class keeper of old to the point where the debate about who deserves to be Italian number 1 that recently looked valid, as been relegated to the status of being almost laughable.

David De Gea drops out of the Top 10, but I stress that it’s not an abandonment of the belief that he’s something special and he’s destined to become one of the world’s best. Despite his excellent attitude and maturity beyond his years, he has struggled to get to grips with the Old Trafford spotlight. The standards at Manchester United are so high that there is little room for error and although he impressed hugely at Atletico Madrid, it would appear he is not quite the finished article – possibly more mentally rather than technically. Joe Hart takes a minor drop for a few errors in an otherwise good season for Man City. Like the rest of the team, we didn’t see the best of him in their abridged debut participation in the Champions League and he has been subject to a couple of lapses in concentration on the domestic front. It’s been an ongoing issue with Hart and one he needs to work on. The agility, handling and authority are all there, he just needs to iron out this one major chink in his armour.

It’s difficult to omit the likes of Michel Vorm, Woijech Szczesny and Guillermo Ochoa from the list, but it has to do done. Greatness comes with consistency and although they compare favourably with some of the other names on the list, they’ve not been operating at the same level for the similar length of time. Vorm has been nothing short of brilliant for Swansea. He has pulled off some breath-taking saves and is already a leading contender for the tag of ‘buy of the season’. Ideally he’d have more command of the aerial battles that are played out in his penalty area, but he’s so strong in other areas as to compensate for this short-coming. Szczesny has been excellent for Arsenal and before Robin van Persie grabbed the season by the scruff of the neck, he was their player of the season. He made massive progress in the off-season and even when the Gunners fumbled their way through the early part of the season, he was excellent. Guillermo Ochoa is a name I predict we’ll be hearing a lot more of in the new year. His move to Ajaccio in Ligue 1 was a curious one, but not long after arriving in Corsica, it became clear he viewed it as a stepping stone to bigger and better things. Don’t let Ajaccio’s dreadful plight at the foot of the French top flight fool you, Ochoa has been brilliant in almost every game. He has been supremely agile with good hands and without him, they would have conceded far more than the 36 they’ve shipped in their 17 games to date. He will be going somewhere at the end of the season and it won’t be Ligue 2. Which is more than can be said for the club.

Agree, disagree or think I’ve missed out on someone?
Have your say in the comments section.

Premier League: Arsenal goalkeeper leads an impressive generation

Szczesny

Potential is always the great imponderable.
It’s easy to identify, difficult to quantify and never guaranteed to be fulfilled.
It’s capable of vanishing in front of your eyes quicker than clubs that actually want to sign Carlos Tevez. If anything, it’s even harder to examine when looking at goalkeepers who may have to wait months and years for their chance in the 1st team, but one of the main storylines of the Premier League season has been the number of young goalkeepers making huge strides towards delivering on their undoubted natural ability. Here’s a look at some of the youthful generation impressing in the early stages of the campaign.

The irony of Arsenal finally unearthing a world-class goalie only for the rest of the team to suffer high-profile difficulties is something that’s been pointed out by various people – some with more joy than others. Since being promoted to the starting role in the Arsenal team, Wojciech Szczesny has performed to a level that suggests he’s a player of real quality. He has earned some flack for a couple of errors, but thankfully he has shown the mental strength to bounce back and more than that, improve markedly. Over the summer, he seems to have not only matured, but improved his already impressive agility, handling and command of his penalty area. His team-mates haven’t helped much by way of keeping his sheets clean, but taken in isolation, he has been in excellent form and looks to be the long-term solution to the Gunners’ goalkeeping issues. There will be blips in the future, but he’s displayed the mentality to suggest he’ll be able to great through any future issues.

Almost a carbon copy of the Pole is Tim Krul of Newcastle United. I questioned Alan Pardew’s apparent willingness to let Fraser Forster leave for Celtic, but at the moment the decision to entrust the Dutchman as first choice looks inspired. He has showcased his fantastic reflexes and agility numerous times this season, but the most encouraging aspect of his performances is his ever improving calmness. Krul had a tendency to litter his performances with ill-advised decision-making that undermined his skill, but during the off-season – whether consciously or otherwise – he seems to have developed a better sense of when to take command and when to leave it to his defenders. He has been excellent and without him we may again be talking about another Newcastle side playing nice football, but with little to show for it apart from an array of frozen beer-bellies on the terraces of St. James’ Park.

David De Gea is an obvious choice. The knives were out for the young Spaniard after a shaky start to his Man United career, but he has shown great resilience under pressure to recover. At one point the temptation of going with the in-form Anders Lindegaard must have been hard to resist for Sir Alex, but De Gea’s performance at Anfield was one that highlighted the attributes that eventually persuaded Fergie to part with a substantial sum of money for his services. The excellent saves garnered many of the non-racism row headlines, but the best part was seeing the authority with week he commanded his penalty area and took charge when required. That’s an important step in his development at Old Trafford and talk of ‘turning a corner’ may still be pre-mature, but it’s certainly not without justification.

John Ruddy of Norwich is another goalkeeper I’m more than happy to eat a large slice of humble pie over. In my pre-season preview of the goalkeepers of each Premier League club I expressed doubts about his level of experience and his reliability, but aside from the dismissal at Stamford Bridge, he has looked every bit the Premier League standard goalkeeper. Mistakes blighted him last season, but the early evidence is he’s now a more focussed player and the Canaries are reaping the benefits. Wayne Hennessy is also worthy of a mention, but in his case his improvement has been over the last couple of seasons rather than over the summer and on a similar theme, Asmir Begovic has continued his longer term renaissance for Stoke.

There’s certain to be be mistakes and bumps in the road to the top for all of the Premier League’s young goalkeepers, but the indications are there’s a generation of talent emerging in the top flight at present.

Euro 2012 – A look at the England, Rep. Ireland, N. Ireland, Scotland and Wales GKs

Shay Given

The Euro 2012 qualifying campaign is nearing a conclusion. For the majority it will end abruptly, for a few it will give them something to do next summer and others have a few weeks of fingernail biting to go yet. It’s a good time to look at the goalkeepers of Ireland and Britain.

I wish I could come up with a catchier title, but essentially what I’m asking you to do is rank the goalkeepers of England, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. There may be disagreement about who should and shouldn’t be in the squad, but for the purposes of this debate we’re going with the goalkeepers widely regarded as first choice for their countries.

I’ve spoken countless times in the past about how I think concentration is the difference between a good goalkeeper and a great goalkeeper. There’s often little to choose between top keepers in terms of agility and athleticism so – in my opinion – the ability to stay focussed for long periods and use your ability with minimum drama when called upon is a seriously under-rated quality amongst sections of the football community. With that in mind, I would rate Shay Given as the pick of the keepers playing for the British and Irish nations. I make no secret of my Irishness, but i would like to think this is not a decision based on patriotic bias.

Given has been immense for Ireland down through the years and his recent performance in Moscow against Russia was typical of the type of gritty backs to the wall display he has assisted in for the national team. His concentration is superb and the paltry number of memorable errors he has to his name reflect this consistency. His agility and reactions are top class and although many people cite his lack of command of aerial situations – and that’s a fair point – once his defenders know the story – as Ireland’s do – it shouldn’t and hasn’t proved costly.

Joe Hart is more agile and commanding than Given, but his concentration needs to improve. There have been times when his wandering mind has cost goals and other occasions when he got away with it. Eventually I believe he’ll be acknowledged as the best keeper of the 5 nations, but this Achilles heel is the one chink in the armour for the moment. It will improve and finally England may have found their long term number 1.

Third and fourth on my list are Wayne Hennessy and Allan McGregor respectively. Both are immensely talented goalkeepers, but the Wales number 1 gets the nod over Scotland’s first choice. The reason is down to mistakes. Hennessy used to make a lot of them, but has worked consistently hard to improve. He has won his place back at Wolves and although there will be further errors in the future, the frequency is becoming less and less and his natural ability will become the first thing associated with him. McGregor is more experienced and that makes his mistakes all the more disappointing. The Rangers keeper is a brilliant shot-stopper, good in one on one situations and reliable with his hands, but once in a while he has the potential to let his guard drop and succumb to a howler. I’ve argued that although every goalie is allowed to make mistakes, it happens to him too often for him to be considered amongst the world’s very best.

Alan Blayney brings up the rear, but it’s not intended as a sign of lack of admiration. I saw a good bit of him during the Carling Nations Cup and he thoroughly impressed me. His shot-stopping and reflexes were outstanding, but I feel that in general he’s a little sloppy. He struggled to make the grade in England earlier in his career, but ironically he’s probably operating at a higher level now that he’s settled at Linfield. It’s no shame to be listed behind some of the names on this list which speaks volumes for the quality of goalkeeper currently at the disposal of the nations.

Who do you think is the best goalkeeper of the British and Irish nations?

Premier League and La Liga GKs dominate latest Goalkeeper World Rankings

Guillermo Ochoa

It may have been a relatively barren summer with little by way of regular football fare, but it’s back and it’s been no sleepy start the season. It’s especially the case when it comes to the goalkeepers with a multitude of storylines to witness unfolding with fascination.

David De Gea dominated much of the goalkeeping related headlines for July and August. First there was the anticipation if seeing him line out for Manchester United in their pre-season programme. Then came the excitement of seeing him try the role in something more akin to the heat of battle with the Community Shield and the first league games as United the bid for league number 20. Sadly, it hasn’t been the start De Gea dreamed of, but although his fee comes with the expectation of near perfection, his age means a certain amount of slip-ups are to be expected. The frequency and nature of the mistakes have been surprising, but it’s too early to push the panic button. The media have once again displayed their remarkable ignorance of the goalkeeping position by essentially writing him off as a Fergie flop with immediate effect, but a less sensationalist analysis is required to thoroughly diagnose why the young Spaniard looks so far removed from the dominant nigh-on wall who impressed so for Atletico and the underage Spanish sides in recent seasons. It’s speculation on my part, but I believe his errors stem from over-thinking as a result of the realisation of the pressure at United. Having watched him closely for the guts of 2 years, I’m utterly convinced he has the ability to be a huge success at Old Trafford and he will overcome his difficulties in time. That said, at the moment his status in the Top 10 is under threat and his progress will be one of the more interesting subplots to the season.

A goalkeeper more than capable of speaking about putting short-term disappointment behind him is Shay Given and the early stages of Aston Villa career suggest his sustained period of inactivity at Manchester City hasn’t blunted his ability. Even throughout his spell of bench-warming, he was highly regarded by me and although being continually overlooked by Roberto Mancini meant he had to be eased out of the rankings, I have little difficulty in reinstating him into the Top 10. It’s a little harsh on Steve Mandanda who has really come along at Marseille, but in short – do I think Given has proven himself to be a better goalkeeper than the Frenchman? Personally I think he’s better than players higher up on the list, but time will tell if he can recapture the startling consistency that has made him one of Europe’s top goalkeepers for much of the last decade and return to his lofty position of the past.

At the top of the rankings, what we’ve seen from Iker Casillas suggests he will continue performing to the high standards now almost taken for granted. Two Super Copa games and 5 goals conceded isn’t the most compelling of stats to back up that claim, but his performances in keeping brilliant Barcelona at bay was far better than the scoreline suggested. Serie A hasn’t yet resumed so we haven’t seen Gigi Buffon, but will surely remain one of the world’s finest keepers. Petr Cech only managed one game before suffering an injury likely to keep him out for a month. That game wasn’t his most convincing and due to Pepe Reina’s good start to the season for Liverpool, the Premier League pair swap places. Hugo Lloris has been playing well for Lyon, but Manuel Neuer’s career at Bayern Munich hasn’t got off to the perfect start, either on or off the pitch. We’re more concerned about what happens on the pitch and for those reasons, he takes a slight dip in the rankings.

The most impressive performance from a goalkeeper this month came from a goalkeeper yet to break into the top 10. Guillermo Ochoa has long since been spoken about as the hottest goalkeeping property outside of Europe, so it was a surprise to many when he signed for newly promoted Corsican outfit, Ajaccio in Ligue 1. He has since explained that the move is in part to rehabilitate his reputation after allegations of doping and also as a stepping stone to one of Europe’s bigger name clubs. He may not stay with the islanders for long, but while he’s there the locals will be treated to some show. Already he has put in a couple of performances of remarkable agility and athleticism. He doesn’t yet break into the Top 10 on account if the fact I haven’t seen enough of him to be sure of his consistency, but more of the same and he’ll be there and most likely in a lofty position. He’ll have to make do with Goalkeeper of the Month honours for August.

Also in good form and narrowly missing out is Wojciech Szczesny. Arsenal have had a troubled start to the season, but one major ray of sunshine has been the form of the young Pole. Over the summer, Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to make a move for a high-profile keeper was questioned, but it was always apparent that Szczesny would be his first choice and he looks to have repaid that faith by developing significantly during the close season. Confidence has never been an issue for the youngster, but his performances so far indicate he now is a more assured performer. The stunning penalty save from Antonio Di Natale in Arsenal’s Champions League was the cherry on top of the cake, but more impressive is the overall improvement in his game.

Another goalkeeper bubbling outside the Top 10 are Fernando Muslera who was simply brilliant at the Copa America. He’s another supremely talented goalkeeper who is yet to convince me of his consistency despite obvious ability. For a long time I had him pegged as something of a calamity keeper, but I’m more than willing to admit that may be an inaccurate reflection. I will follow his progress at Galatasaray keenly. Samir Handanovic of Udinese also impressed immensely in the Champions League tie with Arsenal and after getting a lot of good reports about him last season, he’ll be one to watch when the Serie A season finally gets underway.

Current (Former)
1. (1) Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain)
2. (2) Gigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy)
3. (4) Pepe Reina (Liverpool and Spain)
4. (3) Petr Cech (Chelsea and Czech Rep.)
5. (5) Victor Valdes (Barcelona and Spain)
6. (6) Hugo Lloris (Lyon and France)
7. (9) Joe Hart (Man City and England)
8. (8) Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich and Germany)
9. (7) David de Gea (Manchester United)
10. (=) Shay Given (Aston Villa and Ireland)

Goalkeeper World Rankings – June 2011

Current (Former)
1. (1) Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain)
2. (3) Gigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy)
3. (4) Petr Cech (Chelsea and Czech Rep.)
4. (5) Pepe Reina (Liverpool and Spain)
5. (6) Victor Valdes (Barcelona and Spain)
6. (7) Hugo Lloris (Lyon and France)
7. (9) David de Gea (Atletico Madrid)
8. (8) Manuel Neuer (Schalke and Germany)
9. (10) Joe Hart (Man City and England)
10. (=) Steve Mandanda (Marseille and France)

With the European season coming to an end, there’s been a lull in major activity in my Goalkeeper World Rankings, but there was one major movement that kept me ticking over. The retirement of Edwin van der Sar leaves a hole right at the top of my World Rankings. When it became clear that this would be the Dutchman’s last season as a player, I worried that his lofty place in the rankings may have had too much to do with nostalgia and an over-sentimentality. As the season went on and van der Sar performed with assurance and no lack of agility, it was clear that despite his age, he was still very much one of the world’s elite.

His performance in the Champions League pretty much summed it up. There were some questions asked of his positioning, but I genuinely believe his hesitancy had more to do with the wide variety of attacking options in the Barcelona arsenal rather than error. With los Cules cutting United apart, I think he was on his guard for the through ball and for Pedro and Messi’s goals was a pace or two away from the ideal starting position. Overall though, his performance was excellent and even though it ended with a runners-up medal, individually he went out on a high. Without him, the United could well have been staring down the barrel of a 4 goal defeat.

So despite not having the major European leagues to follow, I’ve spent most of my time looking back over performances from throughout the season to pick out the goalkeeper I think deserves to make it into the Top 10. I had a long hard look at South America and spotted a few keepers I’ll be watching closely in future, but they weren’t quite up to making the Top 10. I threw it open to the floor and I was given cupboards full of food for thought with a wide array of possibilities. In the end, I went for Steve Mandanda and he makes his first appearance on my immensely subjective and totally debatable chart. For a long time, I rated the sheer agility of Mandanda as being comparable to the very best keepers in the world. Where he always fell down for me was his handling. To me it was always a little too untidy and he couldn’t really be trusted to gather most shots at the first attempt, but this season there was a significant improvement in that part of his game. He looks far move comfortable in both his handling and his decision-making. If he continues his progress, he’ll be challenging Hugo Lloris for the starting position with Les Bleus.

There’s little movement elsewhere. Pretty much everyone moves up one to allow for van der Sar hanging up the gloves. The exception is David de Gea, the man entrusted with the responsibility of replacing the Dutchman at Old Trafford. I’ve bumped him up a couple of places based on the strength of his performances at the U21 Euros. His handling was excellent and his showed the agility and command of his penalty area he’ll need to succeed in the Premier League. There were a couple of blips, but what also impressed me is how quickly he seems to be able to get them out of his head and concentrate on the next task.

His progress is almost certainly going to be the main talking point when I look at the rankings next time around.

Goalkeeper World Rankings

Best Goalkeeper In The World Rankings – May 2011

Goalkeeper Rankings
1. (1) Iker Casillas (Real Madrid and Spain)
2. (4) Edwin Van Der Sar (Man Utd)
3. (3) Gigi Buffon (Juventus and Italy)
4. (5) Pepe Reina (Liverpool and Spain)
5. (2) Petr Cech (Chelsea and Czech Rep.)
6. (6) Victor Valdes (Barcelona and Spain)
7. (7) Hugo Lloris (Lyon and France)
8. (10) Manuel Neuer (Schalke and Germany)
9. (9) David de Gea (Atletico Madrid)
10. (8) Joe Hart (Man City and England)

Goalkeeper World Rankings

So there’s a deal done. The successor has been identified and the dotted line has been signed. You didn’t have to squint too tightly to read between the lines to see what Fergie was getting at. Whilst his team-mates had been begging Edwin van der Sar to reconsider his retirement plans, Sir Alex Ferguson responded like a man who has already bought the gold watch and arranged the catering for the retirement shindig. ‘Go away and enjoy your life, I’ve got my plans in place’ was the gist of what Ferguson was saying and such was the solemnity and unambiguity of his statements, that it was clear if he doesn’t have a replacement already secured, the process is at an advanced stage.

Having reached his forties still capable of excelling at the highest level, the calls for van der Sar to stay on are understandable. For much of this season I was worried that my assessment of the Dutchman’s performances was being coloured by over-sentimentality. Knowing we wouldn’t be seeing him for much longer, the temptation to eulogise decent performances into amazing displays of athleticism is always there, but van der Sar has been so utterly understated and reliable, the praise is warranted. He hasn’t made string of breath-taking saves (although to his credit, he still maintains the agility to do so), but his handling has generally been flawless, his command of his penalty area is supreme and his calmness has diffused throughout a defence that can do with all the reassurance it can get. As his long career reaches its final few games, van der Sar remains one of the best in the world and will be going out on a high. Just how much silverware is involved with this high will surely depend on how van der Sar maintains his level of performance throughout the month of May.

As enjoyable as van der Sar’s performances has been, there’s no doubt who remains number one in the world. Real Madrid didn’t come out of the El Classico series with huge credit, but again Iker Casillas did little wrong. He remains the world’s best and although there have been a sprinkling of mistakes in his performances, he retains a remarkably capacity to recover – both in the short-term sense of making a secondary save to cover for an initial mistake and in the long-term sense of showing mental strength when things don’t go quite right.

It’s been a controversial stance for some time (namely with Shaka Hislop who disagrees whole-heartedly!), but I still rate Gigi Buffon very highly. Throughout his injury troubles I felt it unfair to demote him down the rankings based purely on absence and I maintain that position. When he plays, he retains his talent and his form has been an important part in keeping Juventus in the hunt for an unlikely Champions League place. With Liverpool enjoying a resurgence, Pepe Reina is looking as sharp as ever. When things weren’t going well for the Reds, Reina wasn’t to blame, but playing in a more confident team has rubbed off on him. Petr Cech takes a small drop, mainly because of a couple of mistakes for Chelsea and the Czech Republic in the last few months. Overall however, he has still had an outstanding season and without him Chelsea would be struggling for European football next season, let alone a Champions League spot or even the title challenge they have somehow managed to string together. Joe Hart has dropped a few places, but that’s based on mistakes earlier in the year. It’s been a while since I’ve updated the rankings and although he has been better and still capable of producing amazing saves, those mistakes stick in the memory.

Manuel Neuer is the flavour of the month in goalkeeping circles lately. His performance in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final with Manchester United rightly earned the plaudits, but clearly the pundits who heaped the praise on him haven’t been watching him much in the Bundesliga where he has been putting in similar performances for much of the season. He hasn’t rocketed to the top of the rankings for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I try to make these rankings less knee-jerk and more long-term and as such, my views are based on watching over a reasonably extended period of time. Secondly, I still worry Neuer is more accident prone than is ideal. Every goalkeeper is allowed an occasional mistake, but there is a suspicion that for all his amazing saves, the Bayern bound goalkeeper still suffers from blips on too frequent a basis. In his defence, since first becoming aware of him a few years ago, the mistakes have been reduced dramatically and the sheer volume of work required of him behind the leaky Schalke defence means he’s in the firing line more often than some of his contemporaries on the list.

Although yet to make his debut on the list, Wojiech Szczesny deserves a mention for responding so well after disappointment in the Carling Cup final followed by injury in the Champions League. Criticism of him for going off at the Camp Nou was nonsensical as no-one truly knows the level of pain someone else his experiencing. Sure some people may have experienced dislocated fingers with little discomfort, but Szczesny’s personal physiology and medical history mean it’s may not be the same for him. He looks reliable and assured and Arsene Wenger looks to have solved his goalkeeping issues.