Real Madrid CF custodian Iker Casillas talks through his top ten goalkeeping heroes – from the "invincible" Peter Schmeichel to scary Lev Yashin via an Octopus, a Cat and eccentric King Kahn.
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In the latest edition of Champions, the official magazine of the UEFA Champions League, Real Madrid CF's Iker Casillas discusses his goalkeeping heroes. Here are his top ten in his own words.
This list is not in any particular order, but if I were to choose my number-one all-time No1, then it would be Peter Schmeichel. Simply the best. I first saw him on television when I was just a kid and thought, 'Wow ... this lad is invincible!' I was eleven at the time and Schmeichel was playing for Denmark in the 1992 [UEFA] European Championship. He was just fantastic. The impression he left was of sheer perfection. From then on I knew I wanted to be just like him: he became my football hero. I followed him closely after that, watching him on the telly at every opportunity. I wanted to learn from him.
It is hard to know where to begin when it comes to pinpointing his outstanding qualities, he has so many. And it's impossible to pick out a weakness. One of the most important qualities in a goalkeeper is calmness – an ability to stay cool under pressure is very important – and if he can transmit that quality to the defence and to his team-mates, it has a very positive effect on the way the team play. Buffon's presence reassures his colleagues. He is the contemporary keeper everyone playing in goal looks up to and aspires to emulate.
King Kahn or the Titan, they called him – which says it all. He is certainly a very different character to me, and it's fair to say he was quite eccentric. I don't know if that helps a goalkeeper, but it certainly worked for Kahn. I've always said your mental approach to the game and state of mind is more important than physical preparation – and for me, the ideal presence in goal is one of stability and calm. Kahn was nothing like that, but at the end of the day he has won more trophies than any other keeper in history.
He was the Oliver Kahn of his day in the way he was an enormous presence in German football on and off the pitch. From what I've seen on video, he was very agile for a big man and was so flexible they called him the Cat. He's a name from the generation just before I was born, so I've always heard a lot about him from people my dad's age. They tell me he was very consistent, never made mistakes – which is such an important quality in a keeper because it transmits confidence throughout the team.
José Luis Chilavert
Paraguay's former No1 really was unique. He was a fantastic free-kick taker and scored more than 60 goals in his career. It would be a real shame if people only remembered his career because of his goalscoring statistics because he was a fantastic keeper as well. He was voted the best in the world three times in the 1990s. I have a very good memory of playing against him at the 2002 [FIFA] World Cup in Japan – a game Spain eventually won 3-1. He showed real agility when he tipped one shot from Raúl [González] over the bar. I had to face one of those famous free-kicks of his. Thankfully, I saved it.
Kahn and Maier were typical of goalkeepers with huge personalities, fire and passion; Zoff is the embodiment of the opposite. He was always a calm, reassuring presence on the pitch, a solid, dependable rock of confidence at the back. He had fantastic reflexes and is always worth watching on video because of his exemplary positioning. Certainly someone I'd like to emulate. I'm envious of a player who captains his country to World Cup victory at 40 years of age.
José Ángel Iribar
Iribar is one of the greatest keepers Spain has ever produced. He was a big presence in goal and had that ability to intimidate opponents. But it wasn't all about his size, which is useless on its own. He combined his physicality with terrific positioning. In a way, I feel a connection with him because he was the last Spanish keeper to lift the European Championship trophy [in 1964] before we repeated the feat at [UEFA] EURO 2008. This links us to the next keeper on my list.
Arconada was known as El Pulpo [or Octopus], which speaks for itself. He was tremendously brave with a big personality and was the automatic choice for Spain when I was a kid in the 1980s. A lot of people have said we have similar styles, particularly in how we use our feet. Unfortunately, unlike Iribar and me, Arconada never got to lift a major trophy with Spain and is often remembered for conceding a goal in the 1984 European Championship final against France. He had put in a terrific performance all tournament and Spain would not have been where they were without him. This goes to show how unfair life can be for a goalkeeper. People often remember just one mistake and forget the rest.
As a star of the 1920s he's not someone I have ever seen play – aside from glimpses on grainy old tapes. But he's an absolute icon of Spanish football, whose name has been immortalised in the trophy awarded every season to the keeper with the most clean sheets in the Liga. They say he was a great keeper with terrific reflexes and very brave. There's a story about him playing against England with a broken breastbone. He was a huge figure on and off the field – and a special case in Spain as he is a legend for both Real Madrid and [FC] Barcelona fans, having played for both.
Finally, I really have to mention another player I never saw with my own eyes. You can't argue with him being top of pretty much every list of all-time great keepers. I've seen those incredible acrobatic one-handed saves on video. I understand he developed his tremendous reflexes as a keeper in ice hockey. He's the only keeper to have won the Ballon d'Or [in 1963; Zoff and Buffon were runners-up in 1973 and 2006, Kahn third in 2001 and 2002]. He was called the Black Spider. Opponents were scared of him – a real asset to any team if you can gain a psychological advantage over opposition strikers before a ball has been kicked.
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