Iker Casillas is set to break Paolo Maldini’s record for most appearances in UEFA club competitions on Tuesday, making his 175th career start for Porto’s Round of 16 second leg against Juventus.
Twenty years after breaking into Real Madrid’s first team as a 16-year-old, “Saint Iker” is still playing at the highest possible level, but is he the best goalkeeper of all time in the Champions League?
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You won’t hear anyone claim that Valdes’ talent compares to most of his peers on this list, but the 35-year-old is still one of just two goalkeepers with three Champions League titles (one of five including the European Cup era). Sure, having had the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Carles Puyol in front of him was pretty beneficial for his record, but Valdes did play his part in Barcelona’s golden age. His two saves against Thierry Henry from point-blank range in the 2006 UCL final were critical to Barca’s first title in the Champions League era. Valdes is also fourth all-time with 45 clean sheets in the competition.
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“Mad Jens” will forever be linked with Arsenal’s “Invincibles,” but on the European stage he’s remembered for being the first player and only goalkeeper to ever get sent off in a European Cup final. That’s tough, because Lehmann was arguably the biggest reason Arsenal even reached their first-ever final in 2006. Lehmann obliterated the competition’s all-time consecutive clean sheets record with 10 straight that season, shutting out Real Madrid, Juventus and Villarreal over two legs en route to the final.
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Like Valdes, Dida will never be remembered as one of the all-time greats, but the longtime AC Milan goalkeeper was incredibly reliable and successful in the Champions League. A two-time winner with the Rossoneri, Dida also kept 35 clean sheets (sixth-most all-time) at a rate of 49 percent of his Champions League games (second-best all-time). Yes, Dida had one of the best defenses the Champions League has ever seen in front of him, but the imposing Brazilian was also instrumental to Milan’s success.
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Probably the best Premier League goalkeeper ever, Schmeichel spent eight seasons with Manchester United, winning the league five times and capturing three FA Cups. The crowning moment of his club career, however, was winning the 1999 Champions League to complete United’s first ever treble. Schmeichel only had to watch as his teammates scored two goals in stoppage time to stun Bayern Munich in the final, but the three-time UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year made some clutch saves earlier in the final and throughout United’s run to the final.
Cech may not have been Arsenal's first-choice goalkeeper in the Champions League for the past couple of seasons, but perhaps he should have been? After all, few have had better UCL careers than the Czech legend. Cech more or less on his own kept Chelsea in the 2012 Champions League final against Bayern, saving an Arjen Robben penalty kick in extra time before besting Manuel Neuer in a shootout to win the title. The four-time UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year is also third all-time with 46 clean sheets in the competition.
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It's a crime that Gigi Buffon has never won the Champions League. Buffon is one of just five goalkeepers with at least 100 UCL appearances, ranks fifth all-time with 43 clean sheets in the competition, and has made the final twice. The world’s most expensive goalkeeper ever has won plenty of silverware -- seven Serie A titles (one shy of the all-time record) and the 2006 World Cup, but Buffon is still missing the trophy with the big ears in his collection.
Kahn is the best goalkeeper never to win a World Cup, but he earned plenty of other accolades with Bayern Munich. “The Titan” racked up eight Bundesliga titles, six DFB-Pokals and won both the Champions League and the UEFA Cup. In the signature moment of his club career, Kahn stopped three Valencia penalties in the shootout to win the 2001 UCL final, just two years after suffering heartbreak against Man United despite a heroic effort in goal. A four-time UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year, Kahn is also the only goalkeeper to have multiple top-three finishes in Ballon d’Or voting.
Neuer might only be 30 years old, but he’s already one of the all-time greats at his position and in the Champions League. The Bayern keeper has one title and a runners-up finish under his belt, and he’s quickly moving up the all-time clean sheets list with 33, one shy of Kahn for 7th place. Neuer also stands alone with a record five UEFA Goalkeeper of the Year awards, and he’s won the IFHHS World’s Best Goalkeeper award four years running (only Iker Casillas has more). Once he decides to hang up his gloves, Neuer might well go down as the GOAT.
Edwin Van der Sar
Van der Saar remains the only goalkeeper to have won the Champions League/European Cup with two different clubs, doing so with Ajax in 1995 and Man United in 2008. For his second title, van der Sar saved the decisive penalty in the shootout against Chelsea. The Netherlands’ all-time caps leader is also second all-time with 51 Champions League clean sheets, not conceding a goal in a UCL-record 52 percent of his games. Overall, van der Sar is the second-most decorated goalkeeper ever, behind only Porto’s Vitor Baia with 25 major trophies.
Numbers don’t lie: Casillas is the best Champions League goalkeeper of all time. Not only does Casillas now hold the all-time UEFA appearances record, he also has more Champions League titles (three) and clean sheets (57) than any other goalkeeper, and he also holds the competition’s all-time wins record with 94. Add the five La Liga titles with Real Madrid, a World Cup and two European Championships with Spain, and a record five IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper awards, and there’s all you need for your argument that “Saint Iker” is the best goalkeeper ever, period.