For as much attention as forwards and attacking midfielders receive for their elegant strikes and electrifying goals, the true backbone of a team sits with the man protecting the net: The goalkeeper. Often times lost in the shuffle after glorious victories and devastating defeats, the keeper is arguably the most important position on the pitch, yet often the most underappreciated. As we celebrate Gigi Buffon's 38th birthday, we here at FOXSoccer.com are honoring the top ten goalkeepers in the world. -- FOXSoccer.com
Vincent Enyeama (Lille and Nigeria)
He might not be a household name, and that’s perfectly forgivable. The 33-year-old moved to Lille in 2011 following a long career in Nigeria and Israel. 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 in 2013 and led the Super Eagles to a KO stage berth at the 2014 World Cup before retiring from international duty last year.
AFP/Getty ImagesNICOLAS TUCAT
Claudio Bravo (Barcelona and Chile)
2015 was a special year for the former Colo Colo and Real Sociedad standout. Bravo captured the Zamora Trophy -- the award for conceding the fewest goals in the Spanish Primera -- in his first season between the Barca sticks during the Catalans' treble winning campaign. Things only got better from there as the 32-year-old Chilean captain led La Roja to their first-ever Copa America title after stopping a penalty in the decisive shootout vs. Argentina last summer.
Getty ImagesDavid Ramos
Joe Hart (Manchester City and England)
How time flies when you're having fun. England’s undisputed No. 1 has grown leaps and bounds after being "panenka’ed" by Andrea Pirlo at the Euros back in 2012. But don't be fooled, Hart is still the class of a team in transition. The 28-year-old has also grown into his role at Manchester City, collecting over 100 Premier League clean sheets since his arrival to the Etihad in 2006. Eyes will be squarely on Hart during Euro 2016 but the sky's the limit for the former Shrewsbury Town prodigy.
Getty ImagesAlex Livesey
Iker Casillas (Porto and Spain)
The last two seasons at the Santiago Bernabeu were not easy for "San Iker," who was inexplicably benched at Real Madrid during the Jose Mourinho regime and shipped out to Portuguese giant Porto last summer. Sure, Casillas is entering the twilight of the career but he remains a figure of stability. The former Real captain has won two Euros and a World Cup while in goal for Spain, has 165 caps and was Real’s undisputed number one since 1999. Even if he will likely backup David De Gea in France this summer, Casillas remains an important figure during Spain's transition. As well he should be.
AFP/Getty ImagesJOSE JORDAN
Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus and 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 wth 154. At 37, even though he announced he will retire after the 2018 World Cup, 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 ImagesValerio Pennicino
Hugo Lloris (Tottenham and 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 29-year-old long-time France and Olympique Lyonnais goalkeeper -- with his freakish reflexes and quick instincts -- emerged from the shadows when he signed for Tottenham Hotspur in 2012. And while his form hasn’t yet soared the way it sometimes did back in his home country, the Tottenham captain has certainly been among the Premier League’s best at his craft.
Getty ImagesClive Rose
Petr Cech (Arsenal and Czech Republic)
Sometimes in life, all you need is fresh start. After winning all the trophies imaginable at Chelsea, the 33-year-old signed with Arsenal last summer and the move has been seamless for the Czech legend. Many felt Cech was feeling his age after losing out to Thibaut Courtois at Stamford Bridge but that certainly hasn't been the case as the Gunners remain alive in Europe (UEFA Champions League) and still hold Premier League title aspirations thanks to Cech's heroics between the sticks.
Getty ImagesCatherine Ivill - AMA
Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea and 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, Courtois made a breakthrough during his loan stint at Atletico Madrid, leading Los Colchoneros to a memorable 2013-14 season. The rest, as they say, is history. The 23-year-old phenom returned to Stamford Bridge the next season and picked up where he left off by collecting the Premier League title in his first full year. Courtois is already among the greatest goalkeepers in the world and more will be expected from the Genk product for years to come.
Getty ImagesCatherine Ivill - AMA
David De Gea (Manchester United and Spain)
The transfer saga surronding De Gea's reported switch to Real Madrid from Manchester United dominated headlines for all the wrong reasons last summer. De Gea’s $41 million move to the Santiago Bernabeu looked all but complete before it collapsed because the necessary paperwork was not submitted in time. But it's easy to understand why Real were interested to break the bank for Spain's No. 1 and tipped De Gea as Iker Casillas' successor. Size, technique and decision-making are important attributes for the modern-day goalkeeper and De Gea possesses them all. Whether or not United can retain his services after Euro 2016 will be a storyline to follow.
Getty ImagesJames Baylis - AMA
Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich and Germany)
He may look a little like a Jame Bond villain or Greek god -- depends on who you ask at the FOXSoccer.com Towers -- but Neuer has not only anchored all-conquering Bayern Munich’s backline for five seasons now, but was one of Germany's heroes during their World Cup conquest in 2014. Not only that, but Neuer once famously won some $700,000 for his kids’ foundation on the local Who Wants to be a Millionaire. When Disney's Pixar flick 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 29 years of age, he is uncommonly consistent and the best at his position.