The lowest-costing players on the transfer market are often goalkeepers. Even established stars barely demand transfer fees in the double-digit million range. Yet, a great goalkeeper could shape a season and make all the difference between a successful one and one where the club resolves to find a newer custodian. Here’s a look at the five biggest names between the posts this past season.

Petr Cech

(c)Cech_theshedenderdotcomChelsea may have ended the season without any silverware, but nobody will fault their mean defense. Until the Atletico fiasco, after a carelessly conceded penalty by Samuel Eto’o opened the floodgates, Chelsea’s back four were reliably solid. Assisting their mission, in no small measure, was the presence of someone’s readers voted the best goalkeeper in the Premier League era.

Mind you, that’s a recognition of him as the best goalkeeper to have ever played in the Premier League ahead of Edwin van der Sar, José Reina, David Seaman and David James. The reason? This season, Cech led the way again with 15 clean-sheets in arguably the most aggressive league in Europe and a 0.45 probability of stopping a shot. Will that be enough to stave off a Courtois return?

Thibaut Courtois

(c)thibaut-courtois_footballtopdotcomIt bodes well for Chelsea, that two of its goalkeepers feature on the list. One of them kept them in the running in both the domestic league, and in Europe. The other, Courtois, probably ended their chances in Europe with a save involving his legs that so defied the laws of physics even Jose Mourinho doffed his hat to it.

Only 22, and standing 6’6″, Thibaut has the world at his feet. He’s been ranked the 36th best player at this upcoming FIFA World Cup, a terrific honor for a goalkeeper. Even better is his ranking above Gianluigi Buffon and Iker Casillas on the same list.

Gabriele Marcotti credited his “iceberg-like coolness” and his maturity, for his incredible success. It takes a lot of guts to hold off on a return to Chelsea. Even more gutsy is his view, publicly stated, that his return would be “unfair” to Petr Cech. That takes incredible self-belief, and his newer, warmer embrace of Chelsea can only be good news for Stamford Bridge.

Iker Casillas

Iker_Casillas_SpainHow many goalkeepers can say they’ve won the UEFA Champions League? How many can say they’ve won it thrice, now?

Casillas might have had an unspectacular personal time between the posts, this season, compared to last season. But winning La Decima, by keeping his team in the hunt throughout the final and well into extra-time, deserves a mention here. Both Courtois and Valdes performed better than Casillas did, as did Levante’s Keylor Navas (whom Goal picked in their La Liga team of the season). But for leading his team to an unprecedented tenth Champions League win, it would be a shame to exclude Casillas.

Would he won the Champions League for his side, had the game gone on to a penalty shootout? That’s debatable. And that’s why Casillas’ inclusion on this list will undoubtedly smack of a lifetime achievement award.

Manuel Neuer

Manuel Neuer, GermanyHow do you send the Germans, probable favorites for this year’s World Cup, into a blind panic? Splash pictures of Manuel Neuer in an arm sling. Neuer suffered a small tear in the AC joint of his shoulder which initially sparked concerns he could sit this tournament out.

Joining Phillip Lahm on the injury list after the 2-0 Cup win over Borussia Dortmund, Neuer has nevertheless received a vote of confidence from his doctors who confirmed he should be ready for this summer’s World Cup.

Neuer stood firm and held Bayern Munich aloft on those reliable shoulders, as they raced to two domestic trophies this season. Bayern Munich have been the sole point of consistency in a league that prides itself on throwing up surprises. We dare you to imagine a Munich side that could have achieved just as much, without Neuer sitting right at the back.

Gianluigi Buffon

Euro 2012: Italy's BuffonIf English supporters needed any more riling up, just show them Buffon’s latest sound bite. Buffon not only claimed Italy were in a different league than Group D rivals England and Uruguay, he had the audacity to club both those nations in the same bucket. An honest assessment, you say? Try telling that to Roy Hodgson, who’s been gulping in anxiety on the sidelines wondering how to temper everyone’s expectations back home.

Having captained Juventus and led them to a 3rd consecutive Serie A title, with a whopping 87 saves made in the 2013-14 season, Gigi Buffon has shown no signs of waning. Rapidly approaching his 40s, and having played in a demanding 47 games this season, Juventus and Italy can expect the very best from their main man. But for how much longer?