You all know Thibaut Courtois. He’s the next in line for the ‘best in the world’ goalkeeper crown – you may have seen him at Atletico Madrid, winning the Copa del Rey last week. He’s 21. That’s young, isn’t it? It is. Are goalkeepers getting younger?
My instinct would be to think that they are, but thinking of it in terms of Saturday’s match throws up an interesting data set. I figure that looking at all the European Cup Final keepers that have gone before, any trends would be at least vaguely apparent. So that’s what I’ve done. They’re a lovely data set – from Juan Alonso, through Helmut Duckadam to Petr Cech and all those in between and you might be surprised by what I found.
I’ll do two graphs for this. One for the average age of winning goalkeepers (the faded line is the specific age at each given final) and one for the losing goalkeepers.
If we start with the winning keepers, you’ll see a fairly (and understandably) wiggly faded line behind a stable line that suggests that winning Champions League keepers are 30 years old – indeed, the current average is just over a month over 30 years old; it is well worth bearing in mind that the average age hasn’t been more than half a year either side of 30 since 1971, when 27 year old Heinz Stuy was helping Ajax to the title.
Let’s move on, then, to the losing keepers and you’ll see a fairly (and understandably) wiggly faded line behind a stable line that suggests that winning Champions League keepers are 30 years old – indeed, the current average is just over a month over 30 years old; the losing keepers have been within six months of that figure (though under, rather than over) since Silviu Lung in 1989.
That’s interesting, isn’t it? We have reached a point wherein the winning keeper and the losing keeper are, on average, a little over a month over 30 years old. The average age of Manuel Neuer and Roman Weidenfeller (Saturday’s stickmen) is bang on 30 years old, so they’ll bring the averages down a little, but (and discovering this was the reason I wanted to write this piece) if Bayern win, the difference between the average ages (and this is exact – I’ve used the dates of birth and the dates of the final – the first game in the one instance of a replay) between winning and losing European Cup goalkeepers will be three days. Three. Days.
So, if you’ve got nothing else to say should Bayern wind up winning the thing, you can at least say that.
There’s a few other facts I can give you from the dataset that you might find interesting.
• 46/57 winning goalkeepers have been from the same country as their club, which will rise to 47/58 (whereas one fewer losing keeper has done so, though 7 of the last 10 losing keepers have been foreign) • The oldest winning keeper was 37½ (Edwin van der Sar, 2008) whereas the oldest losing keeper was 41¼ (Dino Zoff, 1983)
• The 13 years between Edwin van der Sar’s triumphs in 1995 and 1998 was the longest gap between such victories.
• The biggest age gap between winner and loser was 12 years 8 months, between Uli Stein of Hamburg and Dino Zoff in 1983.
• Only twice have starting goalkeepers not finished a final – 2006, Jens Lehmann was sent off for Arsenal against Barcelona, and 2002, Cesar Sanchez was replaced by Iker Casillas for Real Madrid. One won, one lost – I used the starting keeper’s age for the other statistics. • In 1958, Juan Alonso of Real Madrid and Narcisio Soldan of Milan were born 2 days apart, 13th and 11th December 1927.
• Edwin van der Sar’s 5 finals is a record for a goalkeeper, followed by 4 for Giuliano Sarti in the 1960s.