"In life, I’m a guy who likes to drive a car quite fast, but I wear a seat belt at the same time." It is a definition of the approach of a modern goalkeeper to the game that comes from football's greatest exponent of the art, Manuel Neuer.
The sight of the Bayern Munich and Germany number one racing out of his penalty area to intercept an opponent's menacing through ball — quite literally cutting them off at the pass — has become as commonplace as seeing him produce world-class saves.
The vanguard of the 'sweeper 'keeper' style, Neuer has, naturally, been caught out on occasion, but in a new book by Sports Illustrated contributor Grant Wahl, admitted the idea he might commit a mistake does not cross his mind with the ball down on him and a forward at full pace not far behind.
Watch: Manuel Neuer's top 5 saves
“I don’t feel the fear in my head at that moment. I always think positively. It’s all about the first step. If I think I will get the ball, I go out. I can’t stop halfway because the goal is empty and the player would have the opportunity to shoot. You make the reaction, and then, of course, you have to be sure to get the ball.
"But it’s years of practice. You can’t say from one day to the other: ‘Now I will do it,’ you know? You have to feel it," he explained in Wahl's new book Football 2.0: How the World’s Best Play the Modern Game
“It’s up to me to help my defenders and it’s better for me to get the ball before the striker than to [wait and] have a one-on-one situation in the box. That’s more dangerous than to go out, because the striker has a chance to score a goal. If he can’t get the ball, he won’t have any opportunity.”
He added: “I take risks a bit, but I stand for security and protection, and you have to give your team-mates that feeling as well."
While he sometimes needs not only a seat belt but also the airbag of back-up from his defenders, Neuer has given the impression of being all but unpassable since coming through the ranks at Schalke.
But his 2011 move to Bayern was the first step to him not only innovating his own natural playing style, but also giving goalkeeping a face-changing makeover, taking the position to new heights.
That was in large part down to the thinking of former Bayern boss Pep Guardiola, who sees his goalkeeper not as the last line of defence, but the starting point of the attack.
“To be a modern goalkeeper, I have to think offensively, to initiate our attacking moves safely and securely,” says Neuer, who is racing to be fit for Germany's World Cup defence in Russia next month. “Both my teams, Bayern and Germany, usually have more than 60% possession. So I have to be outside the box and be involved in the passing game from the back to get the ball to the first, second and third row of players. All these things are incorporated in my game, but I can afford it because I’m in these strong teams.”
With the use of his feet just as important as the work he does with his hands, Neuer works hard in training with Bayern goalkeeping coach, Toni Tapalovic, on all aspects of his game.
The pair have worked in tandem since Neuer was an up-and-coming 'keeper at Schalke and Tapalovic was the Gelsenkirchen club's number two. As Neuer's career took off, Tapalovic's peetered out through injury, but he has been key to his former protege's development into the planet's number one number one.
"I recommended him to Bayern. I think he has brought me to my best level," Neuer said, admitting he and Tapalovic have had to focus on improving his diving to his right, something the Bayern custodian revealed does not feel as natural as moving to the other side.
"It's the same power, but it looks different because the body changes when you are up in the air. When you are lying down on the grass and need to stand up, you stand up in a different way on each side. It’s not symmetrical. The important thing is that you can jump high and long and stand up quickly. It doesn’t have to look perfect, but it has to be quick."
Unfortunately for opposing forwards, they cannot tell Neuer's left from his right as he infuriatingly manages to combine both artistry and efficiency. Bayern have been able to boast the best defensive record in the Bundesliga every season since he arrived in Bayern — albeit with back-up Sven Ulreich playing for most of the 2017/18 campaign — with Neuer becoming the new benchmark for aspiring 'keepers to match and, potentially, surpass, just as he has done.
“In Germany, Jens Lehmann was a model style for a German goalkeeper. In the international style, my idol was [the Netherlands’] Edwin van der Sar. He was so modern, much more modern than Lehmann. He had another level. He could play with his left and right foot and go out of the box and go out to get crosses. He was present as a personality.
"Then there was Oliver Kahn: his reflexes, his ambition. He trained hard, and in that sense he was my idol. So I have some different pieces put together. It’s like having a lot of coaches, and you save something from the coach that you think is good for you – and that becomes you," said Neuer, who admitted there remains one opponent he still struggles to keep at bay as he waits to suddenly be called into thrilling, game-changing action.
“Sometimes in the winter it’s very cold, you know, especially in Bavaria. It’s not easy at that moment, because you have to go from 0 to 100.”