Manchester City were comprehensively outplayed by Borussia Dortmund in their midweek Champions League fixture but managed to salvage a crucial point thanks to the heroic efforts of their outstanding custodian, Joe Hart. The England number one pulled off a string of spectacular saves to keep City in the game and his exceptional performance has prompted Wayne Rooney, among others, to label him the best goalkeeper in the world.
Hart’s performance against the Bundesliga champions was arguably his best for City and perhaps the best of his career so far. Mario Goetze in particular could have easily bagged a hat trick had he not been repeatedly thwarted by Hart’s excellence. It’s not often that a manager admits that an individual saved the rest of the team but Roberto Mancini had no qualms about doing so in the aftermath of the draw.
|"Joe saved us. He did well. We deserved to concede three or four goals. We didn't play well."
- Roberto Mancini
Hart has gone from strength to strength since overthrowing Shay Given as City’s first choice between the posts and has been the deserving recipient of the Barclays Golden Glove for the last two seasons. At 25 years old, he is already excelling at club level and is regarded as one of his country’s star performers. So how does he compare with some of the best keepers in the world?
Gianluigi Buffon - JUVENTUS
Gianluigi Buffon has long since acquired legendary status. The 34 year old has been named Serie A Goalkeeper of the year for a record eight times with Angelo Peruzzi coming closest with three. He is Italy’s captain and third most capped player having made 122 appearances so far while he looks certain to overtake previous captains Paolo Maldini (126) and Fabio Cannavaro (136) to become the nation’s all-time most capped player.
Buffon has always been a commanding presence in his penalty box. Apart from being a great shot-stopper, the Italian is renowned for his organization skills and leadership qualities. He is the epitome of composure in one-on-one situations and an intimidating opponent when it comes to penalties. He produced incredible performances during Italy’s World Cup triumph in 2006 and was rewarded with the Silver Ball that year.
Earlier this year, the International Federation of Football History and Statistics (IFFHS) named Buffon the best Goalkeeper of the 21st Century with 199 points, narrowly beating his Spanish counterpart Iker Casillas (197).
Perhaps Buffon’s best asset lies not in what he does but in what he avoids. Every player is susceptible to mistakes but goalkeepers have nowhere to hide when they succumb to one. Buffon has been in the spotlight for nearly his entire career but amazingly seems to avoid even the occasional howler. That kind of security at the back has a calming defence on the defenders ahead of him. His decision making has also been top notch throughout his career.
Manuel Neuer - BAYERN MUNICH
Manuel Neuer is one of the most confident players around. At just 26 years old the German number one has earned the right to be considered among the best keepers in the world. His reflexes and shot stopping ability are the attributes that make him stand out.
He was named the Bundesliga Best Goalkeeper in 2007 and the Player of the Year in 2011. Towards the end of his time at FC Schalke, Neuer was the most sought after goalkeeper in the world with the likes of Manchester United showing a keen interest. He opted to stay in Germany and join the Bundesliga giants, Bayern Munich.
Neuer maintains a good penalty record as well while he always making himself as big as possible in one-on-one situations. At such a young age, Neuer has just as much of a chance to become the world’s best keeper as Joe Hart does.
Petr Cech - CHELSEA
Petr Cech was an integral part of the side during the Jose Mourinho era at Chelsea and was widely regarded as the best goalkeeper at the time. Cech couldn’t put a foot wrong during that period but a head injury he suffered against Reading in 2006 sidelined the custodian for three months and many have suggested that he has never been the same keeper since.
However, the Czech Republic international has continued to perform at the highest level and produced a couple of inspirational displays in Chelsea’s Champions League winning campaign last season.
Cech’s positioning and shot stopping is top notch but many claim that the 30 year old looks hesitant when diving in among the boots ever since his horrific head injury.
Iker Casillas - REAL MADRID
Iker Casillas is the pride of Real Madrid’s youth academy having progressed through the ranks to eventually captain his club and country. In his stint as Spain’s captain, he has already won the World Cup once and the European Championships twice.
At the tender age of 16 he was drafted into Real Madrid’s first team squad and that stands testament to his phenomenal ability even at that point of his career. At 19 he became the youngest keeper to win the Champions League.
His incredible reflexes and agility has established him as a world class shot stopper and earned him the name ‘Saint Iker’, owing to his heroic displays. The truly amazing part is that Casillas has maintained his high standards over the years as is regularly demanded at the Santiago Bernabeu.
He has matured into a sensational keeper and leader but he is known to make the odd blunder whether it’s fumbling a ball when attempting to collect it in a crowded area or choosing to come off his line when it would have served him better to stay on it.
Goalkeeper statistics in the 2011-12 domestic seasons
Joe Hart definitely looks the part to challenge for the tag of the best goalkeeper in the world and certainly does not look out of place among such illustrious company. If he can keep up his performances then perhaps in a few years he can undisputedly be regarded as the best in the world. Until such time, Hart would do his claim no harm if he continues to pull off exquisite saves as he did against Dortmund.
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