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.

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.

Goalkeeper World Rankings

Goalkeeper World Rankings
Jan. 27th 2011

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

Casillas
“31st in the world my ass.”

These rankings are my opinion.
Unabashed, possibly biased and undoubtedly debatable opinion.
There’s not much in the way of statistics, data analysis or science.
It’s nothing more than my gut feeling after watching mountains of football and paying nerd-like attention to the goalkeepers. I fully acknowledge they’re flawed, open to discussion and quite possibly wrong.

They’re still not the worst goalkeeper rankings I’ve seen. In my own slightly biased opinion.
That honour goes to Castrol World Rankings. They were brought to my attention this week and after deciding the overall rankings weren’t completely laughable i.e. Lucas Leiva isn’t at the top with Emile Heskey pushing him close, I checked out how they rated the world’s goalkeepers. ‘Bizarrely’ is the short answer.

Now everyone is entitled to an opinion, but if it’s so wrong it’s borderline gibberish just don’t bother. Daniel Aranzubia is a good pro, but rarely in his career has he looked like one of the world’s elite. Maybe being exposed to those fumes all day long is affecting the people at Castrol. Likewise Mariano Andjuar (3rd best in the world apparently) has impressed me on occasion, but his lack of consistency over a long period of time rules him out as one of the world’s best. Here’s certainly one of the top keepers in Serie A but gone are the days when that honour automatically qualifies you as one of the word’s best. With Curci, Storari and Sorrentino to also feature towards the top of the list all of a sudden you’ve got 5 Serie A goalies in the top 11, a figure which is wrong by in the region of 4 to 5. Other major queries I’d have would be:

Julio Cesar at the top is just wrong. Ceasr is an excellent goalkeeper, but at no point in the last year, month or even week has he been better than the likes of Iker Casillas, Petr Cech, Edwin van der Sar etc.
Craig Gordon at 7 – he’s playing very well, but it’s only been for a few months. Needs to have done it for a longer period of time to be that high on my list.
Cesar Sanchez at 12 – I’m not even convinced he’s the best goalkeeper at Valencia.
Marcus Hanneham at 17 – this makes him better than Petr Cech, Joe Hart and Heurelho Gomes. Again, he’s probably not even the best keeper at Wolves.
Petr Cech the 20th best goalkeeper on the planet? Which planet? He’s one of the top two on earth.
Finally – Iker Casillas at 31 in the list of keepers and 145th best player in the world overall?? Ok, now you’re just coming out with utter garbage to get attention – it’s the Sepp Blatter approach.

I didn’t actually get around to compiling my best goalkeeper of the year list last month, but regular readers will know how highly I rate Iker Casillas. It probably sounds a bit like man-crush. He should have been a genuine contender for the Ballon d’Or rather than the obligatry afterthought he appeared to be. He has carried his World Cup excellence back to Real Madrid and his crucial saves have facilitated a smooth transition to the Mourinho era at the Bernabau. One negative was the amount of picking the ball out of the net he had to do against Barcelona, but it was Barcelona at their rampant finest and concrete wall would have struggled to keep them at bay for 90 minutes. He was the best goalkeeper in December and of the Ministry’s Goalkeeper of 2010.

The rehabilitation of Peter Cech is complete. Not only has he returned to the heights of earlier in his career, but he has exceeded them. He is wiser with experience and combined with his supreme reflexes, agility and bravery he is awesome. With Chelsea struggling, there’s not much positive comment about any members of the team, but Cech has been simply outstanding. He’s a joy to watch and regardless of what happens with the Blues season, if he maintains his current levels he deserves to be considered for all end of season awards, not just the ones for goalkeepers. Reina maintains the good form that has kept Liverpool out of some serious trouble whilst Van der Sar still looks perfectly comfortable at the highest level of the game. The Dutchman’s retirement will be a huge loss to United and the fact that goalkeeping coach, Eric Steele was only half-jokingly asked by a BBC interviewer if he could convince Van der Sar to change his mind and stay for another year reflects how well he’s still playing having reached the big 40.

After a long spell out injured and an unseemly argument with the Juventus manager who suggested his reinstatement to the first team wasn’t a mere formality, Gigi Buffon has returned to action. Eyebrows were raised when he maintained his heady place in the rankings, but it’s unfair to demote someone due to injury. Sitting on the bench because you’re getting paid truckloads of money is a different matter …

That brings me on to Shay Given. I’ve been a huge fan of Given for many years, but the lack of activity in the transfer window does not paint him in the most ambitious of lights. Of course I understand that a football career is short and players need to feather their nests for a long period of earning a mere fraction of their professional days, but would the Irishman really be on the receiving end of a self-inflicted financial knee-capping if he moved to another Premier League club or major European league? Having such talent yet watching on from the bench isn’t right and Man City’s number two needs to play to prove he’s still one of the world’s best. Sporadic Europa League and international games are a start, but he should have bigger ambitions than that. Given isn’t suddenly a bad goalkeeper, we just haven’t seen enough of him. Joe Hart has been making mistakes of late and Roberto Mancini should give him a quick taste of the bench. It may not be a long term arrangement. The type of errors seem to come from complacency and a reminder that he’s not undroppable, wouldn’t be a bad idea. Hart is still a top quality keeper, but maybe we shouldn’t tell him quite so often.

Given has been dropped from the top 10 for Manuel Neuer. Ironically he hasn’t been playing a great deal lately either, but that’s got more to do with the Bundesliga winter break than anything else. His form has been crucial in Schalke’s recent surge from relegation candidates to European contenders.

Do you think any other goalkeepers deserve to be included? Leave your suggestions, abuse or praise in the comments section.

Best Goalkeeper Performance 2010

A fumble, a drop, a public embarrassment.
As ever, it’s the howlers and calamities that the majority of the attention from the mainstream media when it comes to goalkeepers, but 2010 saw no shortage of truly excellent performances.

Considering the importance of the match and the quality of his saves, what Iker Casillas did in the World Cup Final was astonishing. The compressed historical version will see it as a deserved triumph for free-flowing Spanish football over the wrecking ball approach of the Dutch, but in truth the Netherlands produced some silky skills of their own and could very easily have brought the stereotype of Spanish self-doubt back if they had taken the lead. It wasn’t the busiest or even most spectacular night of Casillas’ career, but the Spanish captain was excellent in denying Arjen Robben at crucial moments in the game. His concentration was supreme and when his time came, he was there time and time again with confident and assertive goalkeeping. His saves in one on one situations were the most memorable, but the way in which he fielded so many high balls with the minimum of fuss shouldn’t be forgotten. He took the pressure off his defenders and laid the foundations for a famous victory. Considering the size of the occasion and the poor start he made to the tournament, it was an excellent all round performance. Not quite performance of the year mind.

Julio Cesar ended the year known as the goalkeeper who cost Brazil their place at the tournament, but that once off blip can’t take away from an excellent first part of the year when he starred in Inter Mlian’s treble. His reactions and agility were a huge assistance to the Champions League campaign in general and the semi-final tie with Barcelona in particular. Over the two legs he made some outstanding saves and with the second leg taking place at the Nou Camp, his team needed whatever advantage they could muster. Much like Casillas on the night in South Africa, it may not have been the sheer volume of saves that impressed, so much as the command and composure he exerted in his area. Without Cesar, it could have been a different story and the hunt for their third European Cup could have run well beyond 45 years.

There were no World Cups or European trophies up for grabs in the match which saw the Ministry Of Glove’s Performance of 2010, but it did end up in silverware. Whilst being amongst Europe’s elite players means Casillas and Cesar are playing for bigger stakes, for a journeyman pro pressure comes in different ways. The FAI Cup Final rarely reaches an audience of hundreds of thousands, let alone hundreds of millions, but for Ciaran Kelly it was a massive game and he delivered for his team in real style. The game was played at the fabulous Aviva Stadium in front of a raucous crowd comprising Sligo Rovers and Shamrock Rovers fans. The game finished 0-0 after 120 minutes of football, but don’t allow the scoreline to paint a dreary mental image of the game. It was thrilling from start to finish and Kelly played no small part in helping Sligo Rovers keep pace with their more celebrated opponents in normal and extra time, but it was when the game reached the dramatic crescendo of a penalty shoot-out that Kelly excelled. He saved an incredible 4 of the Shamrock Rovers penalties, but even more impressive was the quality of the saves. He combined agility with intelligence and guts to put his team in with a great chance of winning – a chance they firmly grasped. Watch it all below.

Kelly’s first save was ultimately straightforward, but his movement along the goal-line plants the seed of doubt in the penalty-takers’ mind. The second save is genuinely top class. He reads the penalty-taker and flings himself acrobatically across the goal to make the save. A simple analysis would suggest he guessed right and made a full stretch save, but it’s the way in which he watches the taker – almost hunting him down – that gives you the sense he is in control. For me, the third save is the pick of the high class bunch. Kelly looks like he’s going to his left, but adjusts magnificently to stay upright and get a strong hand to the shot – it was superb anticipation from Kelly and required bravery because he ran the risk of looking very foolish indeed in front of a huge psyched up crowd. At this stage, Kelly making a fourth save looks like a mere formality, but again he adjusts brilliantly to get to one going down the middle. He has gone to his left, but the moment he realises where the shot is heading, slows down his dive and gets his legs to up and in the way. It was truly superb and it says so much about Kelly’s performance that the only criticism you could level his way is the Shearer-esque ‘too cool to celebrate wildly’ run he goes on after making the winning save. It was a great performance and the fact that it wasn’t at the highest level doesn’t take away from it one bit. Excellent goalkeeping isn’t dependent on the prize being competed for and Kelly deserves the accolade.

Honourable mentions
Joe Hart had numerous excellent performances both for Birmingham and upon his return to Man City. Petr Cech was excellent as Chelsea powered to the top of the table and still is despite the dramatic downturn in form. David de Gea has emerged as a top quality young goalkeeper and he had some outstanding games in La Liga throughout 2010. It wasn’t a good year for Liverpool, but the form of Pepe Reina saved it from being a whole lot worse. The Spaniard wasn’t always at the top of his game, but his habit of making crucial saves saved the Reds a hatful of points. He’s not without his own flaws, but Mark Schwarzer also deserves a lot of credit for his role in Fulham’s run to the final of the Europa League. It was a late entry for consideration, but Manuel Neuer’s performance for Schalke against Bayern Munich was remarkable and showed exactly why their such interest in signing him.

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Disclaimer bit
Apologies for any major omissions here. As much as I try, it’s just not feasible to take in everything on offer in the lower British leagues, around Europe and across the globe. My choices are based on what I’ve watched or researched following glowing reports about the goalkeepers involved. Week in, week out there are goalkeeping performances that no doubt fully deserve to be mentioned. Although I may make the same mistakes in 2011 and miss out on some performances, I thoroughly enjoying watching and appreciate all the efforts of the goalkeepers out there.

Goalkeeper World Rankings

The Ministry’s Top Ten Goalkeepers In The World

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

For yet another month, there can be little debate about Iker Casillas at the top of our Goalkeeper World Rankings. Critics may point to a costly error at the San Siro that handed AC Milan a goal, but on that occasion, it was a handling error accentuated by over-aggression and over confidence. Anticipating a cross along the six yard box, he took a step off his line, only to be left virtually stranded as the pass was skewed towards goal. His other performances in the last month were largely flawless however and he has plenty going for him in the pro column. Not for the first time, it’s the quality of his saves rather than overwhelming quantity that makes him so impressive. With Real’s new Galacticos routinely dismantling opponents, his involvement is kept to a minimum, but time over time throughout November he came up trumps for his team when called upon. His concentration is supreme and a great addition to his obvious athleticism. His performance could be the decisive factor in the first Clasico of the season on Monday,

Chelsea’s swift reversal of fortune has been dramatic, but the sudden glut of balls Petr Cech is now picking out of his net are no reflection on his performances. Throughout the crisis, he has remained firm and in actual fact minimized the impact of the faltering defence in front of him.

In an interesting twitter exchange with Shaka Hislop, we learned the former Newcastle and West Ham goalkeeper thinks our #3, Gigi Buffon is “well past his best”. It seems a harsh assessment for a players we haven’t seen since the World Cup in June, but clearly there’s something in the Italians game that Hislop has identified as being a concern. By his own admission, the Trinidad and Tobago international said he felt a deterioration in his own performance at around the age of 36 or 37 whilst he was still at Upton Park. Although it feels like he’s been around since the advent of the wheel, Buffon doesn’t turn 33 until next January. That would give a few more years in his relative prime to defy the predictions of Hislop. For the time being at least, we’re giving him the benefit of the doubt and leaving him largely untouched in the World Rankings until he eventually returns from injury.

Elsewhere on the list, there is little change. Pepe Reina is performing well behind a misfiring Liverpool team and something similar can be said of the 40 year old Edwin van der Sar. Shay Given continues to slide based almost solely on his inability to usurp Joe Hart in the Man City team. Hart is doing little wrong and with Mancini struggling to keep fans onside, he may just stick with the residual benefit that comes from sticking with the Englishman.

David de Gea makes his first appearance on the World Rankings list after another strong month, taking the Spanish representation to 4. Atletico Madrid are being their typically inconsistent selves, but were it not for his performances, they’d be simply be their atypical woeful selves. As we’ve said many times in the past, De Gea looks to have the complete package and one thing that’s stood out over the last few games is his desire to take command in his penalty area. It’s standard for most experienced keepers, but for man who only a few weeks ago left his teenage years, it’s impressive. Igor Akineev is the goalie to drop out of the Top 10. A few weeks ago we expressed concern about his handling and over reliance on punching when Ireland hosted Russia in a Euro 2012 qualifier and our follow up scouting missions of CSKA Moscow games found this to be the norm rather than the exception. It’s probably rather telling that speculation linking him with a move to Europe’s top clubs has died down in recent months.

The keeper of the month award goes to Casillas with Cech and De Gea occupying the places. He’ll no doubt be delighted.