What Makes a Great Goalkeeper?

In the first of our “Anatomy of a Successful Football Team” series, we look at what makes a great goalkeeper.

A goalkeeper is the under-loved player between the sticks, whose errors are forever remembered and whose heroics are often forgotten. They are the last line of defence against an opposition attack and can be the fine line between success and failure.

There are several good goalkeepers, who make important saves. But, what makes a goalkeeper great?

Attributes Required to be a Great Goalkeeper


Every goalkeeper must keep an eye on what’s happening during a match. A moment of lapsed concentration can lead to disaster.

However, the best goalkeepers can read a game throughout, they are fully aware of their surroundings, and are ready to react to every possible on-field action.

If a goalkeeper reads the game well and is always fully concentrating, a team cannot take them by surprise with a hopeful long-shot or quick break.


A great goalkeeper will command their area and protect their goal by always being in the correct position.

Being in the right place at the right time allows the outfield players to rely on, and have confidence in, the goalkeeper behind them.

If a goalkeeper is constantly caught out of position, it will lower confidence in the rest of the team and lead to below-par performances.


The best goalkeepers of all time have been leaders on the pitch. They organised their defence, inspired their team, lifted confidence, and commanded respect.

These attributes all contributed to the team performing a level higher than they would have done with a less-than great goalkeeper.

Defenders will be less likely to make mistakes if they have a vocal goalkeeper commanding and organising them.

Confidence/Strength of Character

Everyone makes mistakes, that’s just a fact of life, and a goalkeeping error can often be catastrophic. Even the greatest can have an off day.

The best keepers in the world will not dwell on any mistakes they make and they will have the inner strength to bounce back immediately.

A huge mistake leading to their team/country losing a match has seen some promising goalkeepers lose confidence enough to negatively impact the rest of their career.

The greatest have had a way of bouncing back and proving themselves as soon as the opportunity arises.

All-Round Ability

Good jumping ability, fantastic co-ordination, excellent distribution, solid catching, wonderful agility, strong punching, and fast reflexes are all attributes you will find in a great goalkeeper.

By perfecting the basic requirements that a goalkeeper should have, the best can become brilliant in all areas. This is what makes them stand head and shoulders over everyone else.

Positives of a Great Goalkeeper & Negatives of a Poor One

As previously said, a great goalkeeper can be the difference between success and failure.

Great goalkeepers will improve confidence in the team, and inspire the out-field players to perform better.

Brilliant saves, a great catch just as a striker was about to connect with a bullet header, rushing out to break down an attack, and the odd penalty save, all add up to the rest of the team trusting in the player between the sticks.

A poor goalkeeper can lower confidence, to the point where the fans and rest of the team hold their head in their hands every time an opposition player lines up a shot.

If a player doesn’t trust in their keeper, the pressure on them to perform will increase. This can lead to more nerves and an increased risk of making errors. Errors which the goalkeeper will undoubtedly not be able to deal with.

Even fantastic teams have been undone by a poor goalkeeper making mistakes.

Three of the Best Goalkeepers of All-Time

Lev Yashin

Widely considered to be the greatest goalkeeper of all-time, Yashin revolutionised the position.

Playing for Spartak Moscow between 1950 and 1970, and earning 74 caps for the Soviet Union, “The Black Spider” was the first keeper to bark orders at his defence, rush out to intercept attacking players, and come off his line to meet crosses.

An Olympic gold medal winner and the only goalkeeper to ever win the Ballon d’Or, Yashin was an athletic and imposing figure between the sticks known for his great reflex saves.

Dino Zoff

The greatest Italian goalkeeper of all-time and the oldest keeper to win the World Cup, Zoff had incredible agility and cat-like reflexes.

Between 1972-74, he went an unbelievable 1,142 minutes without conceding a goal in international tournaments.

A record-breaking goalkeeper, whose name is widely known across the world by fans of all ages, Zoff was truly one of the greatest.

In a career filled with success, his biggest achievement was captaining Italy at the age of 40 to become world champions in 1982. He was also named goalkeeper of the tournament to add icing to the cake.

Gordon Banks

Arguably England’s greatest goalkeeper, whose career was unfortunately cut-short due to an eye injury suffered in a car accident.

Banks made one of the greatest saves of all-time during the 1970 World Cup, and was named FIFA goalkeeper of the year an incredible six times.

Having been the backbone of the England team that won the World Cup in 1966, perhaps the biggest indication of Banks’ importance to the team came after he was forced to miss the 1970 Quarter Final. His replacement Peter Bonetti didn’t instil the same confidence in the team that Banks did and was made the scapegoat as England crashed out of the tournament.

Great, and Not So Great, Goalkeeper Moments

We will start with the sublime by showing two of the greatest saves in the history of football.

First, is Gordon Banks making perhaps the greatest save of all-time as he showed amazing reflexes to keep out a bullet header from Pele during the 1970 World Cup.

Next up is a save by another English goalkeeper, David Seaman, who somehow got a hand to a Paul Peschisolido header from less than three-yards out. A save that must be seen to be believed.

Now, the ridiculous as we look at a couple of goalkeeper calamities.

Roy Carroll was well known for making big mistakes, but this may just be his worst. Instead of waiting for an opposition player to move out of the way before clearing the ball, the keeper kicked it straight at him. It rebounded and went straight into the goal.

Finally, the famous Andy Dibble mistake which showed why goalkeepers should keep a firm hold of the ball and always stay aware of their surroundings.

Read the rest of the series

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