You may not have heard of him, and that’s perfectly forgivable. Because Enyeama is only just finishing up his second season in Europe, following a long career in Nigeria and then Israel. But at 31, he has quietly manifested himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Early in his career, back in Nigeria, he walked away from a deadly car crash with only bruises – he was a passenger in a car that summersaulted twice. But he nevertheless went on to captain Nigeria to the African Cup of Nations victory last year. And this season he posted the second-longest streak of keeping his goal empty in Ligue 1 history for Lille, at 1,062 minutes.
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Tim Howard, USA
Timmy is as steady as they come, holding down both the Everton and USA jobs without interruption since the summer of 2006. At 34, his immense athleticism has diminished only slightly. And he has compensated for it with a savvy and polish acquired with age. Aston Villa’s Brad Guzan is a fine goalkeeper, but he has had nary a whiff of the USA job because Howard very rarely makes mistakes. What’s more, Howard is a good story: he has overcome Tourette’s Syndrome and pulled off the rare trick of going pro and succeeding without going to college or being drafted.
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Julio Cesar, Brazil
Brazil never really had a world-class goalkeeper until Julio Cesar came along. He thrived at Inter Milan from 2006 through 2010, making stupefying saves with regularity. His club form dropped off significantly since then though, and by 2012 he was off to lowly Queens Park Rangers of the Premier League. And since their relegation to the Championship, Cesar has lost the job to Robert Green. He is now on loan with Toronto FC in search of minutes before the World Cup. Funny thing is, though: Julio Cesar was excellent at the 2013 Confederations Cup, keeping four clean sheets and saving a crucial penalty as Brazil romped to the title, being named goalkeeper of the tournament. On that evidence, he seems, at 34, to still have it.
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David Ospina, Colombia
The upward trajectory Ospina has traveled is quite dumbfounding. At 17, he was the starting goalkeeper for one of Colombia’s biggest clubs, Atletico Nacional. They won the title that season, as he would twice more before leaving for France. He arrived at Nice in 2008 as a 19-year-old and quickly settled into the job. Quiet but fearless, he has maneuvered Nice away from relegation time and again. And, at 25, it’s surely not long before he pops up at a major club.
Fernando Muslera, Uruguay
Perhaps the most telling thing about the Galatasaray goalkeeper is that whenever either of the powerhouse clubs in Manchester, United and City, see their goalkeepers have a bad day, Muslera’s imminent arrival for many tens of millions is immediately rumored. And indeed, the Uruguayan, who is an expert at stopping penalties with a long track record, would be a major upgrade between the sticks for just about any club. Backstopping Uruguay in their surprise run to the semifinals at the 2010 World Cup, it took four games before any team scored on him. In the quarterfinals, his two saved penalties pushed them into the final four.
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Thibaut Courtois, Belgium
For a time, it looked like Belgium’s golden generation, presently storming to the top of the world’s game, would be incomplete. Simply put, it lacked a goalkeeper. Then, Simon Mignolet made a breakthrough at Sunderland and next earned a transfer to Liverpool. And then an even better one stood up. Signed by Chelsea but immediately loaned out to Atletico Madrid, Courtois is surely already among the greatest goalkeepers in the world, even if he is biding his time until Chelsea says goodbye to Petr Cech. But while in exile, the 21-year-old has glittered like the great Belgian goalkeepers of yore – Jean-Marie Pfaff and Michel Preud’homme.
Getty ImagesDean Mouhtaropoulos
Asmir Begovic, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Born in war-torn Yugoslavia, Begovic’s refugee family fled for Germany and then re-settled in Canada. At 16, he made his way to England and earned a contract with Portsmouth. Lacking a European passport, he had to go on loan to Belgium to earn a work visa. Four more seasons spent on loan at various clubs within England honing his craft resulted in a move to Stoke City, where he has excelled as a starter for the last four years. At 26, he has risen to the top of his field, with his ceiling not yet in sight.
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Hugo Lloris, France
It took some time for the world to notice that it had one of its very best goalkeepers in Lloris, stashed away in the French league as he was. But the 27-year-old long-time France and Olympique Lyonnais goalkeeper – with his freakish reflexes – emerged from the shadows when he signed for Tottenham Hotspur for the season before last. And while his form hasn’t yet soared the way it sometimes did back in his home country, he has certainly been among the Premier League’s best at his craft.
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Manuel Neuer, Germany
He may look a little like a Bond villain, but Neuer has not only anchored all-conquering Bayern Munich’s back line for three seasons now, and been Germany’s number one for four years, but he once won some $700,000 for his kids’ foundation on the local Who Wants to be a Millionaire. When Disney/Pixar came out with the German version of Monsters University, Neuer voiced one of the characters. But he is most famous for his versatility as a goalkeeper and incredible distribution. For his mere 27 years of age, he is uncommonly consistent at his position.
Bongarts/Getty ImagesLars Baron
Gianluigi Buffon, Italy
Italy have known many great goalkeepers in the last two decades. Gianluca Pagliuca, Angelo Peruzzi, Francesco Toldo, Christian Abbiati, to name but a few. But none of them had much of an international career. That is because before them always stood Gigi. He made his debut at 19, led his country to a World Cup win in 2006 and is now its all-time caps record-holder. At 36, he is hardly showing the wear and tear and remains the baffling shot-blocker at Juventus. At this point, we’re not even debating whether he’s one of the best right now. We’re wondering if he’s the best of all time.
Getty ImagesClaudio Villa
Iker Casillas, Spain
The last two seasons haven’t been easy for San Iker, who was inexplicably benched at Real Madrid under Jose Mourinho and continues to be the understudy to Diego Lopez. Never mind that Casillas has won two Euros and a World Cup while in goal for Spain, has 152 caps to Lopez’s one, and was Real’s undisputed number one since 1999. For whatever reason, Mourinho’s successor Carlo Ancelotti continues to shun the team’s official captain. But that doesn’t mean his strange club situation has affected his standing with Spain. Even with Victor Valdes, Pepe Reina, David De Gea and indeed Lopez available, Casillas remains inscrutable there. As well he should be.