Keepers eclipsed by greatness
© AFP

They say that all great goalkeepers are slightly crazy, their solitary dedication to frustrating the principal aim of the game, scoring goals, requiring a special kind of personality. Yet some of the great goalkeepers have also shown that it is vital to have a huge well of patience, or even resignation.

The dream of one day wearing the national colours can seem like mission impossible for goalkeepers who reach the height of their powers during the reign of superstars such as Iker Casillas, Edwin Van der Sar or Fabien Barthez. When there is only one shirt up for grabs in the starting eleven, it can be a genuine occupational hazard.

Longing for Red, Blue or Orange
Iker Casillas
has been a permanent fixture between the posts for Spain since he graduated with flying colours in the 2002 FIFA World Cup Korea/Japan™ and forced a talented generation of Spanish custodians to settle for the glory at club level. While his understudy Pepe Reina relieves his international frustration by shining brightly for Liverpool, the red door remains firmly closed for Andres Palop, whose brilliance between the posts helped Sevilla win back-to-back UEFA Cups in 2006 and 2007, or Victor Valdes, who makes do with chasing titles with Barcelona. The current Villarreal shot-stopper, Diego Lopez, is another to have been affected by the immovable Casillas. Despite his undoubted talent, the Galician found waiting for his chance at Real Madrid so infuriating that he opted to change clubs rather than wait for the Spanish captain to suffer a loss of form.

Sometimes, even being allocated the No1 is not enough to guarantee a starting berth. Take Fabien Barthez, who chose number 16 before entrenching himself in the French goal shortly before the 1998 FIFA World Cup France. He consigned Bernard Lama to the bench or unimportant games and closed the door to the youngsters for eight long years. Gregory Coupet, in particular, had good reason to toast Barthez's retirement. Despite six consecutive league title wins with Olympique Lyonnais, Coupet had to wait until he was 33 to become the first choice international keeper with France. His big chance came at UEFA EURO 2008, but his international career ended somewhat disappointingly at the age of 36.

Just the opposite was the case for the gifted Ed de Goej, the winner of the Netherlands' Golden Boot in 1994. While he defended the Dutch goal at the 1994 FIFA World Cup USA, there was huge competition on the bench to take his place. Edwin Van der Sar has been lord and master of the Dutch goal since 1995, with De Goej acting as his substitute in the national team at the next three major international tournaments. The latter's move from Feyenoord to Chelsea was one of the landmarks signings in the 1997 transfer market, and he went on to make 179 appearances for the Blues, keeping 71 clean sheets. Another Dutchman left in the shadow of the great Van der Sar was Ruud Hesp. Despite the fact that he was a member of the national squad for EURO 96 and France 1998, he never got to defend his national colours, earning his international successes at Barcelona, where he won two La Liga titles, one Copa del Rey and one UEFA Super Cup.

The outstanding Jens Lehmann was forced to look on from the sidelines when Oliver Kahn was at the height of his powers. The rivalry between these two goalkeeping giants ended with a touch of poetic justice when Jurgen Klinsmann opted to hand Lehmann his place in the starting line-up for 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany. Yet the collateral damage from this duel produced two victims in Hannover's Robert Enke and Hoffenheim's Timo Hildebrand, who could never get a firm grip on the Mannschaft shirt. They pair were deemed too inexperienced to challenge in the Kahn-Lehmann era, then too 'old' on its conclusion, by which time the up-and-coming Rene Adler had moved ahead of them in the pecking order.

It has become a fact of life in Germany that each generation must witness a battle of titans for the goalkeeper's jersey. Bodo Illgner and Andreas Kopke generously shared both the position and the titles, with the former starting at the 1990 FIFA World Cup and the latter at EURO 96. The 1980's rivalry between Harald Schumacher and his substitute Ulrich Stein was a little fiercer, while even Sepp Maier, the great hero of the 1970's, cast a long shadow over the international career of another great, Wolfgang Kleff, who made just six appearances for Germany.

A 'lucky' injury
In the decade or so Gianluca Pagliuca and Gianluigi Buffon have been keeping goal for Italy, two hugely talented players have come and gone. Angelo Peruzzi held the goalkeeping position at EURO 96 and looked likely to do so again at France 1998 when an ill-timed injury handed the gloves to Pagliuca. Unwilling to sit on the bench, Peruzzi refused to travel to Korea/Japan 2002, and when he returned to the Italian squad in 2004, it was as understudy to Buffon. Francesco Toldo got his chance at EURO 2000, where Italy were runners-up to France, but only then after injuries to Peruzzi and Buffon.

Argentinian talent Sergio Goycochea also seemed destined for a non-playing part during Italy 1990 thanks to the solid Nery Pumpido. But Pumpido fractured his tibia and fibula in a group qualifying game against the USSR, and Goyco took over and proved himself to be an expert penalty-saver. His performances against Yugoslavia in the quarter-finals and against the hosts in the semis made him a national hero, but lady luck deserted him in the final, when he failed to save the Andreas Brehme penalty that crowned West Germany world champions.

The list of goalkeepers that have lived outside the limelight is a long one. Take the promising English custodian Nigel Martyn, who was David Seaman's deputy for most of his career. Then there were the Mexicans Adolfo Rios and Felix Fernandez, who found Jorge Campos barring the way to international football. How many more were left waiting in the wings by long-serving legends such as the Colombian Rene Higuita or the Paraguayan Jose Luis Chilavert?

Have you say...
These are only a few examples of the great goalkeepers who have lived under the shadow of a big name at international level. Can you think of any others who have suffered the same fate? Click on 'Add your comment' to have your say.