Just who can be labelled the world’s best goalkeeper? The criteria for picking the preeminent custodian seem to differ greatly from those attributed to the normal outfield player.

Knighting the world’s elite goalkeeper as the best man between the posts is a title its beholder usually carries over a period of two to five years, both formally and informally. To clear up any confusion, the world’s best goalkeeper is recognised by his peers and the International Federation of Football History and Statistics – the ruling body in that contest – as the best there is, while an outfield player could be stripped of his Ballon d’Or award, but still be the de-facto preeminent player due to his ability and potential, which contrary to form, does not fade away with time. Such scenario could have happened had Wesley Sneijder won the 2010 FIFA Ballon d’Or award instead of Lionel Messi.

The subject of the number 1 out of the world’s number 1s is a fiercely debated one, but at present the balance has tipped to Spain and Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas as being the best pair of hands any club could have at the moment. The Mostoles-born prodigy is an accomplished player, having won it all for club and country alike. Captaining Los Merengues and La Furia Roja, Casillas will surely go down in history as the best goalkeeper his country has ever witnessed.

Yet the World Cup-winning captain hasn’t always been the number 1 figure in the modern era. For years, Iker Casillas was but one of many pretenders stuck in Italian Gianluigi Buffon’s orbit; his personal idol and competitor. At the time when Casillas’ stock was rising, Buffon was transferred from Parma to Juventus in 2001 for a record fee of £32.6M.


But Buffon’s age and injury issues, alongside the Calciopoli scandal, meant that the Italian number 1 could not hold onto his crown much longer against the upcoming trophy-thirsty Casillas, and as such, the mantle was passed in 2008, a year that non-coincidentally, saw the Spaniard win La Liga and the European Championship in Austria and Switzerland.

It is a life cycle, where the young arms aspire to replace the old legs. “San Iker” might still have many good years ahead of him, but surely he realises that the suitors are more than ready to jump at the chance to dethrone him. At the moment of writing, no keeper in the world comes as close to Casillas as Schalke 04’s Manuel Neuer.

Born and bred in the city of Gelsenkirchen, Neuer joined the youth ranks of city club Schalke 04, aspiring to be one of the game’s best between the sticks. He finally made his breakthrough into the senior team as a result of Frank Rost’s injury, and a string of solid performances meant that the then-20-year-old cemented his place as the Royal Blues’ first choice glovesman.

As Oliver Kahn and Jens Lehmann’s international careers entered the last tunnel, the race for Germany’s number 1 keeper ignited, with the likes of Rene Adler, Michael Rensing, Tim Wiese and Neuer all battling for the honour. A string of luck and accidents managed to elevate the young blond keeper to be the Nationalmannschaft’s prime shot-stopper, as the tragic suicide of Robert Enke and Rene Adler’s pre-World Cup injury meant that Neuer had now the chance to establish himself on the international front.

His excellent display at the World Cup helped Germany reach the tournament’s semi-finals, before being knocked out by eventual winners Spain. Since then, the German has claimed the position as his own, and looks certain to be the leading goalkeeper in Germany’s future European and global tournaments.

But Neuer is more than just a youngster who managed to grab his given opportunity ahead of others. His performances for his club remain the strongest indication that the Schalke captain is surely one of the safest pair of hands any team would find.

At the time of writing, his team sit tenth position in the Bundesliga. While die Knappen managed to be one of the Champions League’s surprise packages, progressing into the quarter-finals, their domestic form remains highly inconsistent, at best.

This is where Neuer’s true value appears: Winning or losing, the keeper always puts in a memorable performance for his club, and turns out to be the team’s best player in almost every match, such is the lamentable standard of Schalke’s Bundesliga form.


Having catlike-reflexes and an excellent sense of positioning, Neuer is Schalke’s leading figure amidst a bunch of players that have struggled to truly make an impact on the domestic front. With that, the natural gossip of a departure away from Gelsenkirchen is becoming more and more audible.

Make no mistake about it. Neuer is to Schalke what Daniele De Rossi is to Roma: A club icon and legend. While De Rossi is not captain – yet – in the Eternal City, both represent the hopes and dreams of fans that have longed to see silverware. Young, powerful, and ambitious, it is no surprise to see De Rossi constantly linked with the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United and Chelsea at every occasion.

The same verdict applies to Neuer. The young keeper is at a crossroads in his career: Stay and help a team whose chances of winning silverware are slim, or move on to start a new adventure in his career.

Suitors certainly aren’t a problem for the self-confessed Jens Lehmann fan. Manchester United have long since made their admiration public, in the hope of making him Edwin van der Sar’s worthy successor. Bayern Munich too are keen, where Hans-Jorg Butt is in the twilight of his career.

A transfer to Manchester United is as good as it gets. Establishing himself at Old Trafford would be the perfect step in making his mark in the pantheon of the game’s greats. As Sir Alex Ferguson moulds a team for the future around Javier Hernandez, Chris Smalling and the Da Silva twins, the addition of Manuel Neuer to the team’s books would be the ideal move.

Neuer could ultimately refuse the lucrative offers and choose to remain at his hometown club. But such a move comes at a costly price: Schalke remain a team without a clear vision in the Bundesliga. 11 points away from the Europa League spots and 17 from the Champions League, the team has a near-impossible task in qualifying for European tournaments next season. For a player of Neuer’s calibre, missing out on the competitions at such a crucial stage is certainly career suicide.

The future is bright for Manuel Neuer, but certainly not in Gelsenkirchen. To truly impose himself, the player knows that a life beyond Schalke is needed. Should he choose to make the transition, then he could very well be the heir to Iker Casillas’ golden gloves.