In this era, one cannot think of great goalkeepers and not mention the Germans. But it is not only legends like Oliver Kahn and Manuel Neuer who helped build that reputation. Germany has a long line of outstanding goalkeepers from way back when. It is certainly not easy to define who is the best of all, but the numbers don’t lie either. Who has managed to keep the most clean sheets? Who has helped and contributed most to their teams? Who has won the most trophies? Let’s take a history flashback keeping in mind that there will be different opinions to be voiced here.
- Josef Dieter “Sepp” Maier born in 1944 is a German legend. Nicknamed “Die Kazte von Anzing” (The cat from Anzing) for his fast reflexes, he had played 83% of team minutes. The player known for being a one-man club was born in Metten, Bavaria and spent his entire professional career at Bayern Munich. He played with the likes of Franz Beckenbauer, and Gerd Müller. Actually, Maier has made many German records:
- He won three European Cups in a row
- He played 442 consecutive Bundesliga matches
The Bayern Munich captain (1977-1979) was named German Footballer of the Year in 1975, 1977, 1978 and Best Goalkeeper of the World Cup in 1974 when Germany won their second world cup. Maier deserves praise for his mentoring of another German great, Oliver Kahn.
- Harald Schumacher, born in 1954 in Düren, West Germany, is known as Toni Schumacher. The goalkeeper has a quite impressive record, playing 97% of team minutes. However, he is most known for the controversy at 1982 World Cup when he collided with French defender Patrick Battiston who went into a coma following the incident. He managed, nevertheless, to win the UEFA European Championship in 1980, and a Bundesliga title with Borussia Dortmund in 1996.
- Andreas Kopke, born in 1962 in Kiel, West Germany, was not immediately the centre of attention. Although he was outshined by Bodo Illgner during the World Cup 1990 when Germany won their third trophy, he soon proved himself, playing an essential role in the victory of Germany at the European Championship in 1996. He won awards such as the German Footballer of the Year 1993, Best European Goalkeeper in 1996 and was chosen as Germany’s first-choice goalkeeper during the World Cup 1998 after which he retired. However, his success lead him to become the goalkeeping coach of the German National Team, a position he still holds today.
- Bodo Illgner, born in 1967 in West Germany, is actually also a Madrista. Becoming the first ever goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet in a World Cup final in 1990, he helped Germany win the title. In the 1987-88 season, he became the first choice goalkeeper of FC Köln succeeding Harald Schumacher. In 1991, he received an award for Best European Goalkeeper. After a couple of seasons, in 1996, he made a smart decision moving to giants Real Madrid with whom he won two La Liga titles and the 1998 UEFA Champions League. He was then succeeded by Iker Casillas. In 2013, he was voted in the Best Foreign Eleven in Real Madrid’s history. Moreover, unsurprisingly, he was named Footballer of the Year in Germany four years in a row (1989-92) and Best European Goalkeeper in 1991. Interestingly, Illgner retired from his international duties very early at only 27 years old which is unlike most players and particularly goalkeepers.
- Oliver Kahn, born in 1969 in West Germany, is one of the best if not the best goalkeeper Germany and the world has ever seen. Manuel Neuer can arguably become better as the years pass by. Kahn kept 196 clean sheets in the Bundesliga, a league record, including nineteen in succession in the 2001-02 season. He debuted his career with Bayern Munich late, when he was 25. He won far too many individual and team titles to list them all. He was actually nicknamed as Der Titan (the Titan) by the press and Vol-kahn-o (“volcano”) by fans. Here are the most important titles he earned, bearing in mind, he made many more:
- Eight Bundesliga, six DFB-Pokal and one UEFA Champions League with FC Bayern
- 1996 UEFA European Championship with the National Team
- Best Bundesliga Keeper for 7 years
- Best European Goalkeeper from 1999 to 2002
- German Footballer of the Year in 2000 & 2001
- Ballon D’Or Third Place in 2001 & 2002
- FIFA World Cup Golden Ball 2002
Being the legend he is, around 120,000 people turned up for his last appearance for Bayern in 2008 as and what a legacy he has left. After his retirement, in 2009, he was offered the position of manager of FC Schalke 04, but he graciously turned it down.
- Jens Lehmann, born in 1969 in Essen, West German preceded Manuel Neuer as Germany National Team first-choice goalkeeper. He played with all of Schalke 04, Milan, Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal and VfB Stuttgart. The goalkeeper proved himself around Europe, winning titles in three of Europe’s major leagues: Bundesliga, Serie A, and the Premier League. He also wrote history along with Arsenal; he was a member of Arsenal’s “Invincibles” during their unbeaten title-winning season and, in 2006, broke the record for most consecutive Champions League clean sheets (ten) with the Gunners.
The highlight of Lehmann’s international career was in the Quarter-Final match of the World Cup in 2006 when he saved two penalty shots against Argentina leading Germany into the Semi-Finals. He was made a hero and highly praised by long-time rival Oliver Kahn. Surprisingly, Lehmann has also had an acting career and played a football coach in the movie “Themba”. The stellar goalkeeper was named UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year in 1997 then in 2006 and in the FIFA World Cup All-Star Team in 2006.
- Manuel Neuer, born in 1986 in Gelsenkirchen, West Germany is the current first-choice goalkeeper for Die Mannschaft and FC Bayern. Playing an impressive 97% of team minutes, he has managed to break Bayern Munich’s and Oliver Kahn’s record for most competitive clean sheets in a row, having gone over 1000 minutes without conceding. He is known for being a sweeper keeper, a nickname he gained because of his unique style of playing, getting out of his box regularly and saving impossible shots and many goalkeepers today are following his methods. Neuer had a stellar 2014, winning the FIFA World Cup and Golden Glove award, and being named on the Ballon D’Or three-man shortlist alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. Neuer started with Schalke 04 but later in 2011, his permanent home became the Bavarian grounds and he settled in quickly with Bayern Munich. Neuer helped Bayern through UEFA Champions League Semi-Finals in 2012 against Real Madrid when he saved two penalty kicks from both Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaká. In the 2014 World Cup, he managed to keep a clean sheet against the United States, Portugal, and France. His achievements do not stop here of course but here is a short list of his individual trophies:
- Footballer of the Year in Germany: 2011, 2014
- FIFA/FIFPro World XI: 2013, 2014
- UEFA Team of the Year: 2013, 2014
- FIFA World Cup All-Star Team: 2014
- FIFA World Cup Dream Team: 2014
- L’Équipe’s Player of the Year: 2014
And there are more German goalkeepers to look forward to in the future. For example, Marc-André ter Stegen is an up-and-coming goalkeeper. He is a German professional footballer who plays for Spanish club FC Barcelona. Let’s see what he will achieve and I will leave it up to you to decide who was the best and who is the best right now.