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Since its birth, the Premier League has been home to some of the world’s most talented footballers. Exotic outfield players from all over the world arrived in Middlesbrough, Crystal Palace and Southampton to revolutionise English football.
The same was true between the sticks where Danes, Dutchmen and Spaniards were brought to the Premier League. A tough list to whittle down, there was no place in the final 10 for the likes of title-winning Englishmen Joe Hart and Tim Flowers, Americans Tim Howard and Brad Friedel or Jussi Jaaskelainen and his 436 appearances. An honourable mention goes to Ian Walker’s hair, however.
All stats come from premierleague.com and are correct as of the publish date. Image credits: PA.
Despite joining the Premier League with Blackburn in 1994, Shay Given was still playing in the top flight just five years ago with Stoke City – a tribute to both his longevity and fitness. Shorter than your average goalkeeper, the Irishman, more than made up for it with his agility and reflexes. "He is one of the hardest working guys you will ever meet,” explained Given’s Newcastle team-mate of nine seasons Alan Shearer. “Great shot-stopper and quick to react.” Picked in both the 2001/02 and 2005/06 PFA Premier League team of the season, Given is currently first-team coach at Derby.
The first player to win the Premier League Golden Glove award for most clean sheets three times in a row (subsequently equalled by Joe Hart), Reina was born into goalkeeping as Barcelona and Atletico Madrid great Miguel Reina’s son. "He's a great goalkeeper,” said Rafa Benitez, who signed the stopper for Liverpool, Napoli and tried again at Newcastle. “Pepe is a great player, but above all, a leader in the dressing room, he can make a difference both on and off the pitch.”
At points in his career, ‘Calamity James’ was better known for his gaffes, Armani modelling and his ever-changing barnet, but make no mistake, he was a keeper of extreme talent. Until Petr Cech broke it, James held the Premier League record for clean sheets with 169 during his 17-year, five-club career. The athletic 6ft 4in keeper backed himself to reach balls into the box that others couldn’t get to (248 high claims, 179 catches), which meant that percentage-wise, he’d drop a few. One of Liverpool’s Spice Boys (and blamed by Robbie Fowler for choosing the suits), he appeared 214 times for Liverpool and enjoyed a career renaissance in Portsmouth in 2006. His David James Foundation now helps to raise AIDS awareness in Malawi among other good causes.
Only seven players in history have played more Premier League games than Mark Schwarzer, who played until he was 42. Despite his 20-year top-flight career though, the Socceroos’ most prolific Premier League player never finished above seventh until the last four seasons of his career, when he joined Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in 2013/14. The following year he left the Blues in the January of their championship season for Leicester, with Mourinho calling him a “fantastic professional” then didn’t get a medal for the Foxes’ title win as he didn’t make a PL appearance.
Hand-picked over Manuel Neuer by Sir Alex Ferguson as successor to Edwin Van Der Sar, the 18-year-old Spaniard didn’t appear to fit the bill after his first season at Old Trafford but would grow to become one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Just 12 months later, he was a Premier League champion and in the first of his five PFA Team of the Years. According to Phil Neville, the choice was a masterstroke: “I look back at the signings Alex Ferguson made, I wonder if he’s the best one he ever made. If you think of the great signings; Cantona, Van Persie, Ronaldo, he’s up there with them.”
Twice in his career, Nigel Martyn was most expensive goalkeeper in English football – becoming the first million-pound goalkeeper when he moved to Crystal Palace from Bristol Rovers before the Premier League’s birth in 1989. His £2.5 million move to Leeds seven years later would break the record again. A Leeds legend, the Cornishman was outstanding during his time under Howard Wilkinson but did some of his best work as Everton finished fourth in 2004/05, despite being 38 at the time.
Already established as one of Europe’s best goalkeepers, Edwin Van Der Sar’s £7 million switch from Juventus to newly promoted Fulham shook the footballing world in 2001. It did, however, bring him closer to the watchful eye of Sir Alex Ferguson, who’d hoped to sign him when he left Ajax to replace Peter Schmeichel. The United manager pounced at the end of Van Der Sar’s Fulham deal and the pair would win four Premier League titles (becoming the oldest player to win one in 2010/11) and a Champions League (becoming the eighth player to achieve that with two teams) together.
“David Seaman made me a better striker just by training with him every day – you had to be at your best to beat him,” said Ian Wright, Seaman’s teammate for seven years at Arsenal. “He made it look easy.” That ease was part of the goalkeeper’s personality, known as he was for (well, a dodgy ponytail for a while) his big smile. On the pitch, he was a two-time Premier League champion under Arsene Wenger, represented England 75 times, and was the PFA’s goalkeeper in their Team of the Year after the 1996/97 season. He's also one of the best England goalkeepers of all time.
The bedrock of Chelsea’s mid-2000s success, Petr Cech was signed in 2004 by Jose Mourinho to back up Carlo Cudicini. After a preseason injury to the Italian, however, Cech stepped in (with a clean sheet) and never looked back. In his first season, he kept a record 21 clean sheets, going a then-unmatched 1,025 minutes without conceding as the Blues won their first top-flight title for 50 years. Cech ended his career with four seasons at Arsenal, becoming the first goalkeeper to win the Premier League Golden Glove with different clubs and retiring with a record 202 clean sheets.
Some sportsmen just have ‘presence’ – waiting in the ring as Mike Tyson performed his ring walk, his face a mask of pent-up anger, opponents have talked about being beaten before a punch was thrown. Peter Schmeichel had that same effect on strikers at kick-off. An imposing figure despite only being 6ft 3in, the great Dane filled the Manchester United goal for seven Premier League seasons, winning the title in all but two of them, including two doubles and the famous 1998/99 treble. Liverpool legend John Barnes was one of those tasked with breaching Old Trafford’s wall. “There are goalkeepers with presence who aren’t much good, but Schmeichel had both presence and raw ability,” said Barnes. “He was a great shot-stopper and a fine taker of crosses, he read the game superbly, he commanded his box. Simply one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time.” It's hard to disagree.
Featured Image Credit: PA
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