The development of a goalkeeper is similar to that of a fine wine, in that they often improve in quality with age.
Nevertheless at the moment there are some outstanding young European goalkeepers who in previous seasons have defied their tender years to amass a considerable number of first team games and are destined to build upon that during the 2016-17 European club season.
Whilst it is altogether possible to profile tens of young goalkeepers to whom that claim applies, this article will focus upon five who have become widely recognised as being among the most talented in European football due to their superb performances.
Sergio Rico – Sevilla
At just 22-years-old, Rico is Sevilla’s undisputed first choice goalkeeper and kept 10 clean sheets last season in La Liga, whilst helping his club to win the Europa League.
During the 2015 La Liga season, Rico’s saved 72.79 per cent of the shots which hit his target and performed consistently well, which resulted in him earning a call-up to Spain’s Euro 2016 squad. Despite not playing in the finals, Rico has the potential to usurp David De Gea’s as Los Rojo’s no.1 in the forthcoming years.
Mattia Perin – Genoa
A graduate of Genoa’s youth system, Perin made his debut for the club’s first team in May 2011 against Cesena. Subsequently the 23-year-old has made 94 further appearances for Genoa, after he gained valuable experience of playing in Serie A whilst on loan at Pescara for the 2012-2013 season.
That proved to be a baptism of fire in Italy’s top flight for Perin, since Pescara finished bottom of the league and conceded 84 goals. Despite that Perin performed brilliantly to convince Genoa’s management team that he was worthy of becoming the club’s number 1.
He retained that position until suffering a serious injury in April. That ruled Perin out of Euro 2016, which he was due to attend as Italy’s third choice goalkeeper.
Whilst still rehabilitating from his injury, Perin is expected to return to action by October, whilst undoubtedly possessing the potential to establish himself as the Azzuri’s first choice goalkeeper.
Jack Butland – Stoke City
Standing at 6’5” tall, the 23-year-old Butland is a tower of physical strength, whilst he uses his powerful physique to superbly handle the demands of playing in the English Premier League with Stoke City.
After joining the club in January 2013 from Birmingham City for a fee in the region of £3.3 million, Butland played the role of understudy to Asmir Begovic before becoming Stoke’s first choice goalkeeper last season, following the Bosnian internationalist’s transfer to Chelsea.
Butland brilliantly marshalled Stoke’s defence from August to mid-March, as he made 31 consecutive Premier League appearances, keeping 10 clean sheets in the process. However he then fractured his ankle whilst playing in a friendly for England against Germany, which ruled him out of both the remainder of the Premier League season and Euro 2016.
Nevertheless Butland has now made a full recovery and begun pre – season training with Stoke, with whom he signed a new five-and-a-half year contract in March, to commit his future to the club until 2021.
Timon Wellenreuther – Schalke 04
Despite being just 20-years-old, Wellenreuther has already proven himself to possess many of the qualities synonymous with great German goalkeepers, whilst starring for his parent club Schalke and Mallorca, with whom he spent the 2015-16 season on loan.
During that Wellenreuther kept 11 clean sheets in 33 La Liga 2 appearances to earn some valuable first team experience, which will serve him well as he bids to replace Ralf Fahrmann as Schalke’s no. 1 for the forthcoming season.
Whilst that constitutes an extremely difficult challenge to Wellenreuther, he undoubtedly has the potential to successfully conquer it, particularly given that he previously produced a number of superb performances for Schalke’s first team when unexpectedly given the opportunity during the 2014-15 season.
Jan Oblak – Atletico Madrid
Now Slovenia’s first choice goalkeeper after superseding the retired Samir Handanovic in 2015, Oblak made his professional debut for Olympia Ljublijana at the age of just 16 in 2009 and played another 33 games for the club before moving to Benfica the following year.
Despite that, Oblak did not make his first appearance for Benfica until 2014, since he spent three consecutive seasons out on loan fellow top level Portuguese sides Beira Mar, Olhanense, Uniao Leira & Rio Ave.
Although forced to wait patiently for his first team chance at Benfica, when presented with that midway through the 2013-14 season, Oblak seized the opportunity brilliantly. Specifically he conceded just six goals in 26 games, whilst keeping 22 clean sheets in the process, to help Benfica win the domestic treble and earn himself the Primeira Liga goalkeeper of the year award.
In the summer of 2014 Oblak moved to Atletico Madrid for approximately £12m, which made him the most expensive goalkeeper in La Liga history.
Subsequently the 23-year-old has both proven to be a wonderful acquisition for Atletico and justified his transfer fee by performing superbly throughout the 2015-16 season.
As well as conceding just 18 goals and keeping 24 clean sheets in 38 La Liga games, Oblak played in each of Atletico’s 13 games on route to the Champions League final, which they lost on penalties to Real Madrid. During that run Oblak kept 8 clean sheets, to further enhance his reputation as one of the best goalkeepers in Europe.