Is Manuel Neuer Bayern Munich's best ever goalkeeper?


"We've always had good goalkeepers in Germany, at Bayern Munich, when you talk about Sepp Maier or Oliver Kahn, but I think Manuel Neuer has taken goalkeeping to a new level. He's the best goalkeeper in the world, I think he's even the best goalkeeper of all time." Those are the words of former Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge - but is he right?

bundesliga.com assesses Neuer's place in the pantheon of Bayern custodians…

Sepp Maier (1962-80)

Bundesliga appearances: 473
Goals conceded: 653
Clean sheets: 137

Sepp Maier (c.) underpinned Bayern's first dominant era alongside record goalscorer Gerd Müller (l.) and perhaps the greatest sweeper of all time, Franz Beckenbauer (r.) - IMAGO / Fred Joch

Twenty-four goalkeepers have represented Bayern since their promotion to the Bundesliga in 1965. Sepp Maier was the first.

Maier made 473 Bundesliga appearances for Bayern, including a record 422 in a row, excelling as the last line of defence during the era that shaped the club's dominant destiny. Between 1969 and 1976, the Bavarians won - among others - four Bundesliga titles, four DFB and three European Cups.

Maier earned the nickname 'the Cat from Anzing' on account of his feline reflexes and the small Bavarian municipality where he spent much of his youth. In addition to his cat-like reactions, his anticipation - he would often charge off his line to snuff out danger at source - marked him out as a pioneer of modern goalkeeping.

In many ways, he was the prototypical Neuer. More on that later...

Jean-Marie Pfaff (1982-88)

Bundesliga appearances for Bayern: 156
Goals conceded: 166
Clean sheets: 57

Watch: From the archive, meeting Bayern great Pfaff

When a serious road accident ended Maier's playing career in 1979 at the age of 35, Manfred Müller and Walter Junghans shared the void for three seasons.

Replacing generational players doesn't come easy, but the arrival of Jean-Marie Pfaff from Belgian outfit Beveren in 1982 marked a new chapter between the Bayern goal-posts. An own goal in a 1-0 defeat on his debut proved something of an anomaly: Pfaff proceeded to lift three Bundesliga titles, whilst reaching the final of the 1987 European Cup.

Bayern won 57 percent of their 156 Bundesliga games Pfaff played in, compared to 52 per cent with Maier as goaltender. On average, Maier conceded 46 goals per season; Pfaff shipped a mean 27.6. He was also beaten at a clip of once every 84 minutes; Maier once every 65 minutes.

Like 1974 world champion Maier, Pfaff's club form translated onto the international stage. He kept Spain at bay for Belgium in the 1986 FIFA World Cup quarter-finals, before running into a Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina in the last four.

His stint at Bayern lasted six years - ample time to reset the bar.

Raimond Aumann (1982-94)

Bundesliga appearances for Bayern: 216
Goals conceded: 229
Clean sheets: 81

Raimond Aumann lifted the Bundesliga meisterschale six times with Bayern. - IMAGO / Kicker/Liedel

Playing understudy to Pfaff had the desired effect on Raimond Aumann. The Augsburg native claimed three of his six Bundesliga winner's medals in the post-Pfaff role as Bayern's outright No.1, keeping clean sheets in 81 of his 216 Bundesliga appearances whilst conceding 229 at a rate of one every 85 minutes.

The fact the record champions lost fewer games with the no-nonsense Aumann in goal (16.6 percent) than with Pfaff (17.3 percent) and Maier (25.5 percent) speaks volumes. Yet the performances were not loud enough for him to unseat Cologne's Bodo Illgner internationally. When West Germany lifted the 1990 World Cup, he was their non-playing No.2.

Not that being on the fringes for country prevented Aumann from being a fulcrum for club. He inherited the captain's armband from celebrated defender Klaus Augenthaler in 1991 - a distinction he held for three years.

Oliver Kahn (1994-2008)

Bundesliga appearances for Bayern: 429
Goals conceded: 407
Clean sheets: 169

Der Titan, Oliver Kahn was a great leader for Bayern as well as the world's best goalkeeper in his day. - Ben Radford /Allsport

Bayern's next great leader from the back for club and country was Kahn, who more than justified his €2.5 million price tag - a then record for a Bundesliga goalkeeper - when he swapped Karlsruher for 14 decorated years in Munich.

Marrying supreme shot-stopping skills with spring-loaded reflexes and a competitive edge that had more bite than a Nile crocodile, Kahn was undoubtedly the finest No.1 of his generation.

His silverware collection included eight Bundesliga titles and the 2000/01 UEFA Champions League. A back-to-back recipient of the German Footballer of the Year prize, he also ranked third in the Ballon d'Or standings in 2001 and 2002 - but his record of 204 Bundesliga clean sheets has been swiped away by the hands, and feet, of long-term successor, Neuer.

Manuel Neuer (2011-present*)

Bundesliga appearances for Bayern: 299
Goals conceded: 219
Clean sheets: 148

*correct up to and including 3 January 2022

Manuel Neuer's place in history is already assured. - DFL

Three years separated the end of the Kahn years and Neuer's summer 2011 transfer from hometown club Schalke. In that time, Bayern finished second, first and third in the Bundesliga, claimed one DFB Cup and advanced beyond the Champions League last eight just once, losing 2-0 to Inter Milan in the 2009/10 final.

Since Neuer set up shop 10 years ago, the record champions have gorged on nine of a possible 10 Bundesliga titles, five DFB Cups and two Champions Leagues as part of unprecedented 2013 and 2020 continental trebles.

The first goalkeeper to reach 100 caps for Germany, Neuer missed the rump of the 2017/18 season due to a recurring metatarsal fracture, but has otherwise been an ever present. A remarkable achievement in itself, given that he has played with a metal plate in his right foot since 2008.

He may have a steel plate in his foot, but Neuer can distribute like a midfielder - on either side. - Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images

Yet Neuer is a quite extraordinary athlete.

Early in 2020/21, he surpassed Kahn for the most clean sheets in Bundesliga history, despite playing in over 100 games fewer than 'Der Titan'. The 35-year-old has also reached 300 top-flight wins in just 447 matches, including a formative stint at Schalke. Only Kahn has accumulated more (310).

Bayern's win ratio with Kahn in goal was 60.6 percent. On Neuer's watch it has risen to almost 77 percent. Hardly a surprise considering the 2020 FIFA and five-time IFFHS World's Best Goalkeeper is beaten on average once every 122.26 minutes in the Bundesliga - a club best-mark.

On top of the other-worldly shot-stopping and one-on-one capabilities that underpin the numbers, the Bayern and Germany skipper has developed into a gloved libero - capable of both breaking up opposition attacks well beyond the boundaries of his own area, and actively participating in build-up play.

Watch: Neuer under the tactical microscope

Though not the game's first 'sweeper-keeper', Neuer has become the reference point for the role. His pass completion rate from open play in recent times has hovered around the 85 per cent mark. Former coach Pep Guardiola even ran the idea of trialling the 2014 World Cup winner in midfield past Rummenigge.

The Bayern chief declined, but agreed that Neuer's ability with the ball meant that it was not such an outlandish suggestion.

"I'm sure he'd have done well in midfield, but Manuel invented the art of being a footballer as a goalkeeper and revolutionised the position," he recalled in an interview with the club magazine.

Rummenigge is not the first to say it, and he won't be the last. While the likes of Maier, Pfaff, Aumann and Kahn are true goalkeeping greats, Neuer is Bayern's undisputed GOAT.

Chris Mayer-Lodge