The Early Sub: Guardians of the Back. Iker vs. Gigi. Who’s the Superior Keeper

After a hard fought 2-0 victory on Wednesday night. Juventus will go into the 2nd leg of their Round of 16 tie up 2 goals and will be in front of their home crowd. A lot of the attention wasn’t focused on the two sides and their crucial European tie. A lot of the attention were on the men manning the back, the ones between the sticks. Facing each other a little over 100 yards apart, stood two of the most significant figures to ever strap on Goalkeeper gloves. Two of the most successful men to ever have stepped on the pitch. World champions, League champions, Cup champions. Name any competition and one if not both of them have won it. Domestically or internationally, it’s hard to find any two men more successful then these two. Now towards the twilight of their careers (well maybe not for Gigi Buffon) Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon meet perhaps for the final time in this round of 16 clash and it finally begs the question, who is the superior goalkeeper?

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Club Legacies

Not only will it be difficult to find two men more successful then these two outstanding keepers, you’ll also have a hard time finding two men more loyal to their club. Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon stood guard at the goal for their clubs for well over a decade. Casillas first made his debut for Real Madrid in 1999 while Buffon didn’t move to Juventus from Parma until 2001. The day both these men stepped on the pitch for their clubs was when everything changed for them both. Countless trophies may speak for themselves, but the longevity that these men stayed at their clubs and the length of time that both men held their posts without any possibility of a replacement for that length of time. It took until 2015 for Madrid to show Casillas the door and even then, they were reluctant to give the Number 1 to Keylor Navas. As for Buffon, well I don’t think anybody will know when he’ll move on. He’s still the top shot stopper for Juventus and there’s absolutely no sign of anyone moving him out.

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International Legacies

Just as hard as it was to find any keeper better for their respective clubs, it was just as hard to find anybody better in their countries. Since the late 90’s both Spain and Italy had only one keeper manning the goal and they both led their nations to insurmountable glory. I won’t go into the specifics of silverware (that comes in the next sections), but they shared the ultimate glory when it comes to international football and were the foundations of their nations defenses for years. Both made exactly 167 caps for their nation (still counting for Buffon) and the length of service for their nations is almost ludicrous. Both have the most caps in the history of their nations and have represented their countries for every single major tournament, since 2000 (Gigi broke his hand and was unable to participate in Euros 2000 and Iker was an unused substitute). They both have been heroes for their nations when they needed it most and are two of the greatest men to don the captains armband for their nation.

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Reign of Dominance

For a span of a few years, each one of these men had a run where you couldn’t purchase a goal past them. Nothing flew by them and the amount of hardware they collected at that time was apparent. For Iker it came from 2007 to 2012. 6 Seasons, 3 La Liga titles, 2 European Championships, 1 Copa Del Rey and 1 World Cup in that span. That is breathing winning. That is winning on every scale. He was the Goalkeeper for arguably the best international side in history and snatched 3 league titles in the midst of the Guardiola brigade. Pep may have owned Spain during his time at Barca but Iker was still able to lead Madrid to titles despite Barca’s dominance (and Madrid’s coaching carousel). In addition to all these accolades, Iker was named IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper from 2008-2012. As for Gigi, his dominance came in two waves. Pre-scandal and after scandal. Gigi was arguably the best goalkeeper on the planet from 2001 to 2006. He immediately asserted his dominance as soon as he got to Turin. Juventus swept Serie A from 2001 to 2006 with the exception of 2003-2004 (and of course the two titles stripped in the Calciopoli scandal). He also took home Goalkeeper of the year in 2003 and 2004 and he was a world champion in 2006 with Italy. After the Calciopoli scandal, Gigi and Juventus began to struggle in Serie A (assisted with the dominance of Milan from 2005-2010) and the best goalkeeper in the world was given to Iker. Gigi’s second run of dominance began in 2011 with Conte’s first title with Juventus. Since that year, Juventus has swept Serie A every year to this day and Gigi finished runner-up in the 2012 Euros. After Iker’s run of dominance, Manuel Neuer became the best keeper in the world but Gigi’s incredible feats in Italy have not gone unnoticed. Gigi has certainly proved that we are in the midst of his second golden age.

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Good Old Fashioned Hardware

Now it’s time to consider the hardware. The number one thing that defines a player. At the end of the day, what do you have to show for your career? And I’m not saying individual accolades. Individual awards are nice and they tell a lot about a player’s skill but the number one thing that a player will forever be remembered for is his trophies won with their team. And boy do both of these men have plenty. Between them, 12 League titles (7 for Buffon, 5 for Casillas), 5 Domestic cups (3 for Buffon, 2 for Casillas), 3 Champions Leagues (all for Casillas, Buffon finished runner up twice). 2 World Cups (1 for each) and 2 Euros (both for Casillas, Gigi finished runner up once). That’s a lot of hardware. That’s a lot of trophies and that’s surely a lot of glory. Those numbers for themselves makes these two in the company of the greatest of all time.

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Final Verdict

So who is the more superior goalkeeper? God I hate having to answer these questions because it’s just so damn hard. All the numbers and stats and accolades that both of these men have garnered is on an absurd level. Looking at their careers though, Gigi had the more successful domestic career, while Iker excelled more on the European and global stage. The biggest thing that separates Iker from most is his 3 Champions Leagues and his 2 European championships (and his World Cup but Gigi has one of those as well). Not many can say that for about half a decade, they were the undisputed best at their position. Iker was winning trophies as often as he was drinking water and it became routine. It’s what made Spain’s failure in 2014 so colossal and it’s what makes Casillas the top keeper of the last generation. Many would crown Gigi in this matchup due to the fact that he’s still performing at a world class level, but Gigi still isn’t performing at the level to win him his first Champions League. He may never win it if Real, Barca, Atleti and Bayern have anything to say about it. So in short if I had to pick one in their prime, I’d go with Iker over Gigi. But I’d give my arm for either.

 

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