Manuel Neuer: 10 things on the Bayern Munich and Germany No.1
He's voiced a Disney cartoon character, has a solid forehand and is the ideal son-in-law. Oh, and he could also be the world's best-ever goalkeeper.
bundesliga.com turns the spotlight on Bayern Munich and Germany's number one Manuel Neuer, the planet's safest pair of hands.
1) A Royal Blue blood
Standing on his tiptoes having barely moved out of diapers and onto solid food, Manuel Neuer could see Schalke's old stadium, which stood next to the Veltins Arena, from his bedroom window. Signed up for the Gelsenkirchen outfit's Bambinis club aged four and put in goal because - ironically, given he now measures 6'4" (1.93m) - he was the smallest, he was an avid fan of his hometown team even as he progressed through its famed Knappenschmiede academy. A member of the Buerschenschaft fanclub, Neuer, an A-grade pupil at school, would get to the ground early on matchdays to do more homework…on his hero, then-Schalke 'keeper Jens Lehmann, during the warm-up.
2) Drawing comparison
Stuttgart might have had themselves a future goalkeeping star had Neuer's father, Peter, a policeman, not been transferred from Baden-Württemburg in Germany's south-west to Gelsenkirchen before his birth. His family, notably his brother Marcel, provided a support network for 'Manu', even keeping the future FIFA 2014 World Cup winner out of trouble with teachers at school. "Manuel isn't a born artist," explained Marcel, who is a year older and currently referees in the Gelsenkirchen area. "So I would quickly draw his art homework and take it to him in class, saying: 'Oh Manuel, you'd left your art homework at home again.'"
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3) Faking it
Perhaps Neuer might have drawn better wearing gloves, because as soon as he pulled them on, he clearly needed no help. When Schalke number one Frank Rost was injured, Neuer was handed his Bundesliga debut on 19 August 2006, aged 20. Yes, of course, he kept a clean sheet, the first of 19 that season as Schalke finished Bundesliga runners-up.
Within eight months of that game in Aachen, he went from being the youngest and lowest-ranked of the club's three 'keepers to being the oldest and the number one with Schalke's later captain Ralf Fährmann one of those behind him. He seemed to take it all in his stride, but perhaps all was not what it seemed. "I was actually incredibly nervous," said Neuer after making his top-flight bow. "Guess I fooled everyone!"
4) Act-ion man
Neuer's acting talents and his film-star good looks have served him well off-the-pitch too. He put the dusky tones heard as he - apparently - karaokes 'Singin' in the Rain' in the shower to good use when he voiced a character in the German version of Monsters University in 2013, and appeared in a TV advert for a global soft drink brand that spawned a social media joke-fest. And if he hadn't made it in football? "I did my work experience in a rehabilitation centre, so perhaps physiotherapist?"
5) Local hero...
In five, fruitful seasons at his hometown club, Neuer morphed from promising youngster to bona fide world-beater, and he did not waste time doing it. After his breakthrough campaign, the 2007/08 season was the one in which he made the football world sit up and say, 'What have we got here?' Dominant domestically, he was spectacular in Europe, notably the UEFA Champions League Last 16 second leg in Porto.
6) Toni, the guy
Tailormade to finally fill - and even outgrow - the gloves of Oliver Kahn, Neuer's move to Bavaria was a logical but wildly unpopular one. While the Schalke fans he had once stood amongst felt betrayed, a vocal group of Bayern Ultras could not forgive Neuer for celebrating a 1-0 Schalke win over their team in Munich in April 2009 in the style of Kahn: waving a corner flag above his head! "Manuel explained it to me like this," said his brother, Marcel. "For him, football is a job. It can be over tomorrow, and everyone strives to work for the best employer."
"Bayern can congratulate themselves on a really good deal," said Ivan Rakitic in 2011. No, the Sevilla and former Schalke and Barcelona midfielder was not talking about the swoop for his former teammate Neuer, but the move for Toni Tapalovic (below, left). Never heard of him? Most Bayern fans hadn't either, but the former Schalke and Mainz reserve team goalkeeper has played a central role in Neuer's ascent to the summit of his art.
7) Nummer Eins
Since their days at Gelsenkirchen, Tapalovic - six years Neuer's senior - has helped his protege, eventually seeing the pupil now become the master. "I spoke to Neuer," explained Jupp Heynckes, Bayern boss at the time. "I wanted a goalkeeper of his class and personality to put forward his own arguments concerning the goalkeeping coach. When Manuel tells me he has to improve in certain areas and he can only do that with Tapalovic, I think it's really wonderful."
Germany has had a string of world-class goalkeepers from Sepp Maier and Bodo Illgner to Kahn and Lehmann. Neuer was just 24 when he succeeded the latter two as his nation's Nummer Eins - number one - at the 2010 FIFA World Cup. That made him Germany's third-youngest-ever World Cup 'keeper after Illgner, who was 23 when he started the triumphant 1990 tournament, and Wolfgang Fahrian, then a raw 20-year-old at the 1962 finals.
8) Winning it all
In his illustrious career so far, Neuer has almost won everything possible for a European footballer. A nine-time Bundesliga champion, six-time DFB Cup winner, two UEFA Champions Leagues, one FIFA Club World Cup, two UEFA Super Cups, six DFL Supercups, and to top it all off, that prized FIFA World Cup title from 2014.
The only prize that has eluded him has been the UEFA European Championships, where Germany have fallen short with Neuer in the semi-finals twice. At the age of 35, he may still have another chance to win a European Championship with Germany on home soil in the summer of 2024, which would be the cherry on the icing, on top of an already enormous cake in Neuer’s trophy cabinet.
9) Everyone's Phone-a-Friend
A global superstar recognised the world over, Neuer has not let fame nor money go to his head. A devout Catholic, he has used his Manuel Neuer Kids Foundation to improve the lives of less fortunate and talented children in the Ruhr Valley.
"I want to give back to disadvantaged children in my home region something of what I was lucky enough to have in my own youth: opportunities and prospects in life," he explained. His brains came in handy for that: in 2011, he won €500,000 ($587,000) for his charity on the German version of Who wants to be a millionaire?
Watch: The Bundesliga - home to the world's best goalkeepers!
10) The best ever?
So, to the big question..."For me he's the best goalkeeper ever, out of all the ones I've seen," explained Cesar Luis Menotti, the man who masterminded Argentina's 1978 FIFA World Cup win. He has certainly redefined the role, requiring his peers to be almost as good with their feet as with their hands and bringing the 'sweeper-keeper' concept to all the planet's biggest clubs. "He could play in midfield," Löw has claimed, while Kahn - not one given to public praise - described Neuer at the 2014 FIFA World Cup as being "the best goalkeeper in the world right now."
Only Lev Yashin, Dino Zoff and Gianluigi Buffon have placed higher in the Ballon d'Or vote than Neuer, third in 2014, while his weighty haul of five IFFHS World's Best Goalkeeper awards is a record alongside Buffon and Iker Casillas. His dazzling list of individual and club honours makes his case still stronger, but they will never blind Neuer to his main focus: "I'm someone who gets annoyed with every goal conceded, every training game lost. This hunger, to get up every day and live for your sport, is the most important thing."
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