Goalkeeper (association football)

A goalkeeper in action.

Goalkeeper, often shortened to keeper or goalie, is one of the major positions of association football. It is the most specialised position in the sport. The goalkeeper's primary role is to prevent the opposing team from successfully moving the ball over the defended goal-line (between the posts and under the crossbar). This is accomplished by the goalkeeper moving into the path of the ball and either catching it or directing it away from the vicinity of the goal line. Within the penalty area goalkeepers are able to use their hands, making them (outside of throw-ins) the only players on the field permitted to handle the ball. Goalkeepers usually perform goal kicks, and also give commands to their defence during corner kicks, direct and indirect free kicks, and marking. Goalkeepers play an important role in directing on field strategy as they have an unrestricted view of the entire pitch, giving them a unique perspective on play development. If an attacker on the opposing team obstructs the keeper from catching or saving the ball, for example, in a corner, it will normally be a free kick.

If a goalkeeper is injured or sent off, a substitute goalkeeper has to take their place, otherwise an outfield player must take the ejected keeper's place in goal. In order to replace a goalkeeper who is sent off, a team usually substitutes an outfield player for the backup keeper (thus effectively the red card and substitution takes out two of the starting eleven players). They then play the remainder of the match with nine outfield players. If a team does not have a substitute goalkeeper, or they have already used all of their permitted substitutions for the match, an outfield player has to take the dismissed goalkeeper's place and wear the goalkeeper shirt.

Goalkeepers often have longer playing careers than outfield players, many not retiring until their late thirties or early forties. This can be explained by noting that goalkeepers play a less physically demanding position that requires significantly less running. For example, Peter Shilton played for 31 years between 1966 and 1997 before retiring at the age of 47.

The squad number for a first choice goalkeeper is generally number 1. Although this is common, some goalkeepers now wear other numbers when in goal.


A goalkeeper being charged by a rival player (1905).

Association football, like many sports, has experienced many changes in tactics resulting in the generation and elimination of different positions. Goalkeeper is the only position that is certain to have existed since the codification of the sport. Even in the early days of organised football, when systems were limited or non-existent and the main idea was for all players to attack and defend, teams had a designated member to play as the goalkeeper.

The earliest account of football teams with player positions comes from Richard Mulcaster in 1581 and does not specify goalkeepers. The earliest specific reference to keeping goal comes from Cornish Hurling in 1602. According to Carew: "they pitch two bushes in the ground, some eight or ten foot asunder; and directly against them, ten or twelve score off, other twayne in like distance, which they term their Goals. One of these is appointed by lots, to the one side, and the other to his adverse party. There is assigned for their guard, a couple of their best stopping Hurlers".[1] Other references to scoring goals begin in English literature in the early 16th century; for example, in John Day's play The Blind Beggar of Bethnal Green (performed circa 1600; published 1659): "I'll play a gole at camp-ball" (an extremely violent variety of football, popular in East Anglia). Similarly, in a 1613 poem, Michael Drayton refers to "when the Ball to throw, And drive it to the Gole, in squadrons forth they goe". It seems inevitable that wherever a game has evolved goals, some form of goalkeeping must also be developed. David Wedderburn refers to what has been translated from Latin as to "keep goal" in 1633, though this does not necessarily imply a fixed goalkeeper position.

Initially, goalkeepers typically played between the goalposts and had limited mobility, except when trying to save opposition shots. Throughout the years, goalkeeping has evolved, due to the changes in systems of play, to be a more active role. Goalkeeper is the only position in which you can use your hands (other than during throw-ins). The original Laws of the Game permitted goalkeepers to handle the ball anywhere in their half of the pitch. This was revised in 1912, restricting use of the hands by the goalkeeper to the penalty area.

In 1992, the International Football Association Board made changes in the laws of the game that affected goalkeepers – notably the back-pass rule,[2] which prohibits goalkeepers from handling the ball when receiving a deliberate pass from a teammate that is made with their feet. This rule change was made to discourage time-wasting and overly defensive play after the 1990 FIFA World Cup which was described as exceedingly dull, rife with back-passing and goalkeepers holding the ball. Also, goalkeepers would frequently drop the ball and dribble it around, only to pick it up again once opponents came closer to put them under pressure, a typical time-wasting technique. Therefore, another rule was introduced at the same time as the back-pass rule. This rule prohibits the goalkeeper from handling the ball again once he has released it for play; an offence results in an indirect free kick to the opposition.

General play and technique

The goalkeeper position is the most specialised of all positions on the field. Unlike other players, goalkeepers may touch the ball with any part of their body while in their own penalty area. Outside their penalty area, goalkeepers have the same restrictions as other players.

Goalkeepers routinely perform extension dives. To execute this, they push off the ground with the foot nearest to the ball, launching themselves into a horizontal position. At this point, the ball may be caught or pushed away. In the latter case, a good goalkeeper will attempt to ensure that the rebound cannot be taken by a player of the opposite team, although this is not always possible.


A goalkeeper making a save

The tactical responsibilities of goalkeepers include:

Although goalkeepers have special privileges, including the ability to handle the ball in the penalty area, they are otherwise subject to the same rules as any other player.

Goalkeepers in playmaking and attack

Australian goalkeeper Mathew Ryan[3] playing with his feet.

Goalkeepers are not required to stay in the penalty area; they may get involved in play anywhere on the pitch, and it is common for them to act as an additional defender during certain passages of the game, such as Manuel Neuer, who has been described as a "sweeper keeper", due to his ball control, distribution, and speed when rushing off his line to anticipate opposing forwards.[4][5] Goalkeepers with a long throwing range or accurate long-distance kicks may be able to quickly create attacking positions for a team and generate goal-scoring chances from defensive situations, a tactic known as the long ball.

Some goalkeepers have scored goals. This most commonly occurs where a goalkeeper has rushed up to the opposite end of the pitch to give his team a numerical advantage in attack. This leaves the goalkeeper's goal undefended. As such, it is normally only done late in a game at set-pieces where the consequences of scoring far outweigh those of conceding a further goal, such as for a team trailing in a knock-out tournament.

Some goalkeepers, such as Rogério Ceni and José Luis Chilavert, may also be expert set-piece takers. These players may take their team's attacking free kicks or penalties. Ceni, São Paulo's long-time custodian, has scored 100 goals in his career, more than many outfield players.[6][7]

Equipment and attire

Liverpool F.C. team photo prior to their UEFA Europa League clash against FC Gomel. Note the differing attire of goalkeeper Brad Jones with that of the rest of his teammates.

Goalkeepers must wear kit that distinguishes them clearly from other players and match officials, as this is all that the FIFA Laws of the Game require. Some goalkeepers have received recognition for their match attire, like Lev Yashin of the Soviet Union, who was nicknamed the "Black Spider" for his distinctive all-black outfit; Klaus Lindenberger of Austria, who designed his own variation of a clown's costume; Jorge Campos of Mexico, who was popular for his colourful attire; and Gábor Király for wearing a pair of grey tracksuit bottoms instead of shorts.

Most goalkeepers also wear gloves to improve their grip on the ball, and to protect themselves from injury. Some gloves now include rigid plastic spines down each finger to help prevent injuries such as jammed and sprained fingers. Though gloves are not mandatory attire, it is uncommon for goalkeepers to opt against them due to the advantages they offer. At UEFA Euro 2004, Portuguese goalkeeper Ricardo famously took off his gloves for the quarter-final penalty shoot-out against England. He then went on to score a penalty in sudden death before saving Darius Vassell's penalty to win it for the Portuguese.

Common injuries

Lower and upper extremity injuries are very common and vary from cartilage tears, anterior cruciate ligaments (ACL), and knee sprains. In general, goalkeepers can incur any injury that their outfield counterparts are also vulnerable to. The main exception to this guideline is that goalkeepers, as they run much less than outfield players, very rarely fall victim to fatigue-related injuries, such as leg cramps, pulled hamstrings, and dehydration.[8]


Oliver Kahn, the first and only goalkeeper to win the FIFA World Cup Golden Ball award.
Lev Yashin, the first and only goalkeeper to win the Ballon d'Or.
Gianluigi Buffon is the world's most expensive goalkeeper, moving from Parma to Juventus for £33 million, and is the only goalkeeper to have been named UEFA Club Footballer of the Year.

Goalkeepers are crucial in penalty shoot-outs. The record for most penalties saved in a shoot-out is held by Helmuth Duckadam of Steaua București. Duckadam defended four consecutive penalties in the 1986 European Cup Final against Barcelona.[9] Stefano Tacconi is the only goalkeeper to have won all official Club Competitions.[10]

José Luis Chilavert is the only goalkeeper to score a hat-trick (three goals in a game), doing so through penalty kicks. He also was a free kick expert. Rogério Ceni has scored the most goals for a goalkeeper, having scored his 100th goal in official games on 27 March 2011. Ceni scored his goals through free kicks and penalty kicks.[11]

Buffon is the only goalkeeper to have won the UEFA Club Footballer of the Year Award.[12] Oliver Kahn holds the record for most UEFA Best Club Goalkeeper and Best European Goalkeeper Awards, with four.[13] Casillas holds the record for most appearances by a goalkeeper in the FIFPro World XI, and in the UEFA Team of the Year; he also holds the record for the most IFFHS World's Best Goalkeeper Awards, winning the Award for five consecutive years between 2008–2012.[14] Casillas also holds the record for the most clean-sheets in UEFA Champions League history.[15]

At international level, Dino Zoff is the goalkeeper who has remained unbeaten for the longest period of time,[16] whilst Walter Zenga holds the record for the longest unbeaten run in a FIFA World Cup tournament, as he went unbeaten for 517 minutes in the 1990 edition of the tournament.[17] Gianluigi Buffon, Fabien Barthez and Iker Casillas hold the record for least goals conceded by a winning goalkeeper in a World Cup tournament, only conceding two goals and leading their team to victory, as they were also awarded the Yashin Award for best keeper. Gianluigi Buffon is also the only World Cup winning goalkeeper not to have conceded a goal in open play throughout the whole tournament (one goal coming from an own goal after a free-kick, and the second from a penalty). Fabien Barthez and Peter Shilton hold the record for most clean sheets in World Cup matches, with 10 clean sheets each.

Pascal Zuberbühler holds the record for least goals conceded by a goalkeeper in a World Cup tournament and holds the record for most successive matches at an international tournament without conceding (five games), he did not concede a goal in 463 minutes of World Cup games against hard shots from France, South Korea, and Togo as his team lost in the last 16 on penalties against Ukraine. Pascal Zuberbühler made Switzerland the only team in the history of the tournament not to concede a goal in normal time. Tim Howard holds the record for most saves made in a FIFA World Cup match, with 16 saves against Belgium in the Round of 16 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Oliver Kahn is the only goalkeeper to have won the Adidas Golden Ball for the best player of the tournament in a World Cup; Lev Yashin is the only goalkeeper to have won the Ballon d'Or. Gianluca Pagliuca of Italy became the first goalkeeper to be sent off in a World Cup Finals match, dismissed for handling outside his area against Norway in 1994. His team went on to win 1–0 and reached the final before losing to Brazil in a penalty shoot-out, in which he became the first goalkeeper ever to stop a penalty in a final shoot-out.

Iker Casillas holds both the record for fewest goals conceded in a European Championship (1) and the record for longest unbeaten run at a European Championship, beating the previous record held by Dino Zoff.[18] He also holds the records for most international clean sheets (74) by a male goalkeeper beating the previous record held by Edwin Van der Sar (72).[19] Buffon holds the record for most minutes without conceding a goal in European Championship Qualifying matches, going 644 minutes without conceding a goal.[20]

The overall record for the most international clean sheets is held by US goalkeeper Hope Solo, who became the first goalkeeper to reach 100 clean sheets at international level in 2016.

Highest fees

As of February 2016, the most expensive goalkeeper of all time was Gianluigi Buffon following his 2001 40.29 million transfer to Juventus from Parma.[21]

Rank Player From To Fee (£) Fee () Year
1 Italy Gianluigi Buffon [22] Italy Parma Italy Juventus £33m 40.29 2001
2 Germany Manuel Neuer[23] Germany Schalke 04 Germany Bayern Munich £19m €24m 2011
3 Spain David de Gea[24] Spain Atlético Madrid England Manchester United £18m €22m 2011
4 Chile Claudio Bravo[25] Spain Barcelona England Manchester City F.C. £17m €20m 2016
5 Italy Angelo Peruzzi[22] Italy Internazionale Italy Lazio £15.7m €17.8m 2000
6 Slovenia Jan Oblak[22] Portugal S.L. Benfica Spain Atlético Madrid £12.6m €16m 2014
7 Czech Republic Petr Čech[26] England Chelsea F.C England Arsenal F.C. £10m €13.9m 2015
8 England Fraser Forster[27] Scotland Celtic England Southampton £10m €12.5m 2014
9 Chile Claudio Bravo[28] Spain Real Sociedad Spain Barcelona £9.7m €12m 2014
10 Germany Marc-André ter Stegen[29] Germany Borussia Mönchengladbach Spain Barcelona £9.7m €12m 2014
11 Uruguay Fernando Muslera[30] Italy Lazio Turkey Galatasaray £9.93m €11.75m 2011
12 Slovenia Samir Handanović[31] Italy Udinese Italy Internazionale £9m €11.00m 2012
13 Belgium Simon Mignolet[32] England Sunderland England Liverpool £9m €10.5m 2013
14 Scotland Craig Gordon[33] Scotland Heart of Midlothian England Sunderland £9m €10.2m 2007
15 Germany Kevin Trapp Germany Eintracht Frankfurt France PSG £8.5m €10.0m 2015

See also

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Association football goalkeepers.


  1. "The Survey of Cornwall by Richard Carew". Retrieved 1 February 2013.
  2. "From 1863 to the Present Day". FIFA.com. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
  3. Ryan, Mathew (12 June 2013). "Mathew Ryan is a young, Australian keeper with good reflexes and a very good set of feet.". clubbrugge.be. Archived from the original on 7 July 2015. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
  4. "Manuel Neuer and the evolution of the goalkeeper". FourFourTwo. Retrieved 9 January 2015.
  5. "Why Manuel Neuer should not win the Ballon d'Or". The Score. Retrieved 9 January 2015.
  6. "Rogerio Ceni: Sao Paulo keeper into club record books". BBC. 4 June 2015. Retrieved 3 April 2016.
  7. "They said it: Jose Luis Chilavert". FIFA.com. 24 September 2010. Retrieved 13 March 2013.
  8. Burger, Rob; Fine, Kenneth. "Soccer Injuries". Stop Sports Injuries. Retrieved November 3, 2015.
  9. "First goalkeeper who saved four consecutive penalties: Helmuth Duckadam set world record (Video)". worldrecordacedemy.com. 7 May 2011. Retrieved 20 August 2014.
  10. "Journey through the Stars: Stefano Tacconi". Juventus.com. 24 June 2011. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  11. The World's most successful goalscoring Goalkeepers of all time, IFFHS, 23 October 2006.
  12. "Buffon hailed after 500th Juventus appearance". Retrieved 9 February 2015.
  13. "UEFA Club Goalkeeper of the Year". uefa.com. Retrieved 11 February 2015.
  14. "Iker Casillas named World's Best Goalkeeper by IFFHS". Retrieved 11 February 2015.
  15. Edward Bennett (23 April 2015). "Most clean sheets in Champions League history: Iker Casillas moves ahead of Chelsea & Man United legends". Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  16. "Dino Zoff". Retrieved 26 June 2012.
  17. "Zenga: I've Dedicated My Life to Football". Retrieved 26 June 2012.
  18. Javier Estepa (2 July 2012). "Casillas, world record-breaking goalkeeper". Marca. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  19. "International feats and a fitting farewell". FIFA. 30 May 2012. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  20. "Buffon, felice per il record di imbattibilità". Retrieved 2013-08-19.
  21. "Manchester United confirm signing of David de Gea". BBC Sport. British Broadcasting Corporation. 29 June 2011. Retrieved 30 June 2011.
  22. 1 2 3 "Most Expensive Goalkeepers Ever". Cricbeat.com. 1 June 2011. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
  23. "Bayern agree on Neuer transfer fee". fifa.com. 14 May 2011. Retrieved 5 February 2013.
  24. "Manchester United confirm signing of David de Gea". BBC Sport. British Broadcasting Corporation. 29 June 2011. Retrieved 29 June 2011.
  25. "Claudio Bravo: Manchester City sign £15.4m Chile goalkeeper from Barcelona". bbc.co.uk. 25 August 2016. Retrieved 30 August 2016.
  26. Fifield, Dominic (29 June 2015). "Petr Cech seals £10m Arsenal move and tweets goodbye to Chelsea fans". theguardian.com. Retrieved 29 June 2015.
  27. "Fraser Forster: Southampton sign Celtic goalkeeper for £10m". bbc.co.uk. 9 August 2014. Retrieved 9 August 2014.
  28. "Fraser Forster: Barcelona sign Real Sociedad goalkeeper for £9.7m". bbc.co.uk. 9 August 2014. Retrieved 9 August 2014.
  29. "Fraser Forster: Barcelona sign Borussia Mönchengladbach goalkeeper for £9.7m". bbc.co.uk. 9 August 2014. Retrieved 9 August 2014.
  30. Part of the transfer fee was paid with the transfer of Lorik Cana to Lazio who Galatasaray paid €4.5m for in 2010. The remaining €6.75m was paid to Montevideo Wanderers
  31. "Inter agree €11m fee for Handanovic, Udinese confirm". Goal.com. 4 July 2012. Retrieved 1 February 2013.
  32. "Simon Mignolet: Liverpool sign Sunderland keeper for £9m". bbc.co.uk. 25 June 2013. Retrieved 15 August 2013.
  33. "Gordon completes Sunderland move". bbc.co.uk. 8 August 2007. Retrieved 2 April 2013.
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