Being a goalkeeper is cool again.
Despite the old guard doing their best to hang around forever (we’re looking at you Mr Buffon), there are a new breed of hungry, gloved-up goal-protectors waiting to place their names in the football history books.
Manuel Neuer, David De Gea, Thibaut Courtois and Marc-Andre ter Stegen are the new kids on the block, and their swift rise to first-team regulars (at some of the world’s best clubs) has proven that youth could be the future when it comes to picking your man between the sticks.
No longer is it better to go and grab yourself a prehistoric Brad Friedel to maintain a genuine title challenge; these days all you need is a confident young starlet, or son of one of the best goalkeepers to ever play the game apparently.
So what does the future hold for goalkeeping? Well, it looks very bright indeed. The new Buffon, Iker Casillas, Edwin van der Sar, Petr Cech and Peter Schmeichel are just around the corner, and many are already playing in Europe despite being in their early 20s.
So with all that in mind, we’ve taken a look at the best young keepers (23 or under) in the world:
Club: AC Milan
Career clean sheets: 10
Goals conceded: 27
Strengths: Reflexes, aerial reach, strength
Weaknesses: Decisions, communication
Remarkably, 17-year-old Gianluigi Donnarumma has made 20 appearances for AC Milan this season, establishing himself as the historic club’s first-choice goalkeeper. He’s the youngest keeper to ever start a match in Italian football (aged 16 years and eight months).
The excellent shot-stopper is clearly a massive talent, so it will be exciting to see how he develops.
Club: FC Twente
Career clean sheets: 3
Goals conceded: 46
Strengths: Jumping reach, decisions
Weaknesses: Punching, communication
A product of the FC Twente youth academy, Joel Drommel signed a professional deal with the club in 2015 and has made 12 appearances this season. He made his debut against Ajax in a 2-2 draw, aged 19.
Club: Uniao Madeira (on loan from Porto)
Career clean sheets: 11
Goals conceded: 67
Strengths: Reflexes, handling
Weaknesses: Communication, strength
Raul Gudino won the CONCACAF Young Goalkeeper of the Year award in 2013 for his performances in the U-17 Championships and FIFA U-17 World Cup. He signed a professional loan contract with Porto in 2015, but only featured for the B-team.
The shot-stopper went out on loan to Uniao Madeira at the start of the 2016 season, but will return to Porto at the end of the campaign as the club activated his buy-out option.
Career clean sheets: 14
Goals conceded: 72
Strengths: Determination, reflexes, agility
Mouez Hassen has developed from Nice’s academy into their first-team, making 14 appearances in the 2015-16 season. The French goalkeeper (from Tunisian descent) has been a regular member of the national youth team set-up, and possesses excellent shot-stopping ability.
Club: FC Koln
Career clean sheets: 75
Goals conceded: 222
Strengths: Reflexes, one-on-ones, natural fitness
Weaknesses: Distribution, command of area
Timo Horn has spent his entire career at FC Koln, already making 133 senior appearances for the club. The confident shot-stopper has established himself as the German club’s first-choice keeper, and at 6ft4 could easily be the next Neuer.
Club: Mainz 05
Career clean sheets: 38
Goals conceded: 160
Strengths: Reflexes, anticipation, rushing out, composure
Weaknesses: Concentration, throwing
More competition for Neuer, Loris Karius was a product of the Manchester City youth academy, but moved to Mainz 05 in 2011. After a decent spell in the B-team, he was promoted to the first-team in 2012 and is now the German side’s first-choice goalkeeper.
He’s kept seven clean sheets in 25 appearances this season, and is known for his excellent reflexes and shot-stopping ability.
Career clean sheets: 29
Goals conceded: 87
Strengths: Handling, command of area
Weaknesses: Balance, agility
Aged just 22, Sergio Rico is Sevilla’s first-choice goalkeeper, keeping nine clean sheets in 25 games this season. The Spaniard has spent his entire career in Seville, developing through the club’s youth system before breaking into the first-team in 2014.
Although he didn’t play in either fixture, he was called up to the Spain national team by Vicente del Bosque in 2015. Certainly one to watch.
Club: Stoke City
Career clean sheets: 49
Goals conceded: 242
Strengths: Aerial reach, reflexes, agility
Weaknesses: Rushing out, tendency to punch
A genuine contender to start in goal for England at the European Championships, Jack Butland is currently on par with Manchester City’s Joe Hart. The 23-year-old has been brilliant for Stoke City this season, keeping 10 clean sheets (two behind Hart playing for a far less superior side) in 29 appearances.
Career clean sheets: 41
Goals conceded: 101
Strengths: Balance, strength, jumping reach
Weaknesses: Kicking, tendency to punch
Villarreal’s regular number one, Alphonse Areola is a product of the Paris Saint-Germain youth system, but has spent three years on loan since signing a professional deal with the Parisians.
He’s found some outstanding form this season on loan at Villarreal, keeping 14 clean sheets in his 28 appearances, helping the club to a fourth place spot in La Liga so far this season. No doubt we will see Areola return to Paris at the end of the current campaign.
Club: Atletico Madrid
Career clean sheets: 77
Goals conceded: 141
Strengths: Handling, positioning, reflexes
Weaknesses: Jumping reach
Courtois’ replacement, Jan Oblak has been sensational since signing for Atletico Madrid in 2014. Now established as the club’s first-choice goalkeeper, the Slovenian shot-stopper has been an integral part of Atleti’s rock-solid defence, keeping 18 clean sheets (six more than any other keeper in La Liga) in 28 games.
Certainly one of the most promising goalkeepers in the world, so it will be interesting to see if he stays at the Vicente Calderon.
Career clean sheets: 43
Goals conceded: 248
Strengths: Reflexes, eccentricity, jumping reach
Weaknesses: Tendency to punch
A product of Genoa’s youth academy, Mattia Perin has worked his way through the ranks and into the first-team. The shot-stopper has kept six clean sheets in 21 games in Serie A this season, and is known for his vibrant personality and exceptional reflexes. He’s made one appearance for the Italian national team, but will no doubt gain many more.
Career clean sheets: 22
Goals conceded: 147
Strengths: Kicking, agility, composure, throwing
Weaknesses: Communication, positioning
Similar to Courtois, Koen Casteels started his youth and professional career in Belgium with Genk before making a move to one of Europe’s top leagues, signing for Bundesliga side Hoffenheim.
The 23-year-old spent a year on loan at Werder Bremen after signing for Wolfsburg in 2015, but when returning to the Volkswagen Arena he’s made eight appearances this season.
Club: Frosinone (on loan from Juventus)
Career clean sheets: 39
Goals conceded: 236
Strengths: Natural fitness, agility
Weaknesses: Positioning, throwing
Playing for newly promoted Frosinone, Nicola Leali started his youth career at Brescia before signing for Juventus in 2012. Since joining the Italian giants, he’s been sent out on loan four times, but is currently enjoying a great run in Frosinone’s first-team, keeping six clean sheets in 26 appearances.
Club: Real Sociedad
Career clean sheets: 45
Goals conceded: 96
Strengths: Reflexes, one-on-ones
Weaknesses: First touch
One of the hottest Argentinian talents in world football, Geronimo Rulli has excelled since making the move from his homeland to Spain. Already the Real Sociedad number one, he’s kept nine clean sheets in 27 appearances this season, and is well-known for his excellent reflexes.
It’s likely that he will move from the Basque side in the near future, with a number of top European sides tracking his progress.