Manuel Neuer is back! Not that we're counting or anything, but by the time the Bayern Munich, Germany and world No.1 takes to the field in the 2018/19 Bundesliga curtain-raiser against Hoffenheim, it will be 341 days since his last league appearance.
Reason enough for bundesliga.com to compile five reasons why we should all be excited to see the best stopper in the business back between the goalposts.
1) Sweeping drama
Thanks to his frequent excursions outside of his own box and his extraordinary footwork, Neuer will forever be remembered as his generation’s archetypal ‘sweeper-keeper’. His fearless approach to goalkeeping effectively grants Germany and Bayern an extra outfield player at the back, which in turn allows them to execute dazzling, unorthodox and innovative combinations which can throw even the toughest opposition off their game. Neuer sees the entire defending third of the pitch as his domain and not many teams know how to handle this unusual strategy.
Giving your goalkeeper license to push up the pitch and actively dictate the course of build-up play is a major risk which can only be mitigated by the individual quality of the man wearing the gloves. Neuer displayed his excellence in this role at the 2014 FIFA World Cup when Germany edged past Algeria 2-1 in extra time. Most of his teammates were pushed up looking to break the north African side’s chain lock, and Neuer often found himself cutting off long through balls well outside his box with tackles and headers one would normally expect from Mats Hummels or Jerome Boateng.
With Neuer consistently walking the football equivalent of a tightrope between two skyscrapers with a knife between his teeth, heart-pumping excitement is guaranteed!
2) Show stopper shot stopper
His taste for daredevil antics up the pitch is only one of the many factors that make Neuer special. After years of sitting behind the lines, he has developed a keen tactical eye and a cunning strategic mindset. Just like the Roman generals of old, Neuer uses his privileged position on the field to instruct his legions with commanding authority and, if he fancies his chances, actively participate in the offensive. Where most goalkeepers are happy stopping shots and laying the ball off for someone else to initiate a push forward, Neuer takes matters into his own hands, which often catches the opposition off guard.
Watch: Neuer and the best Bundesliga stoppers give a goalkeeping masterclass.
Despite his enormous talent, the stopper recognizes that a lot of his success is the result of his teams’ combined efforts. “To be a modern goalkeeper, I have to think offensively, to initiate our attacking moves safely and securely,” said Neuer. “Both my teams, Bayern and Germany, usually have more than 60 percent 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.”
3) Good Guy Manu
As if his exploits on the pitch were not enough to endear himself to most football fans, Neuer is actively engaged in the fight against child poverty in his native Gelsenkirchen. Through the Manuel Neuer Kids Foundation, many children from diverse backgrounds are able to enjoy a nutritious free breakfast as well as after-school tutoring and extracurricular activities such as dancing, DJ-ing and of course various sports. In late 2017, the keeper was awarded the 'Golden Heart', a prestigious philanthropic recognition in Germany, for his efforts.
“Helping disadvantaged children is very close to my heart”, said Neuer. “In my home region, every third child is in this position. I started my foundation seven years ago and even though I’m its visible face, our collaborators are the ones who actually deserve this award. We’re giving everything we can to give children better opportunities […] There are more important things in life than not playing football for half a year, like helping others to build a better life.”
Don't be fooled, though: he may have a "golden heart" but those gloves hide a pair of iron fists whenever he steps out onto the pitch.
4) Giant among giants
Even though Neuer has made a name for himself by defying goalkeeping conventions, he is second to none when it comes to the more traditional aspects of the trade. His cat-like reflexes and fearsome presence have saved Bayern and Germany’s bacon on numerous occasions. He is the most complete goalkeeper of his generation and arguably the best ever.
Watch: Manuel Neuer’s top 5 saves in the Bundesliga.
In an era dominated by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, it’s difficult to picture a goalkeeper matching the former Soviet Union’s Lev Yashin, who won the Ballon d’Or in 1963. However, Neuer came close in 2014, when he was named the third-best player in the world behind the two footballing gods of our time. At the very least, this puts him level with other greats who also graced the Ballon d’Or podium like Gianluigi Buffon (2006), Oliver Kahn (2001, 2002) and Dino Zoff (1976).
5) Record breaker
Bayern only let in 28 goals as they romped to the Bundesliga title last season, a highly respectable return by any standards. Well, except Neuer's perhaps. In his first six years at the club, the imposing custodian's goals against column in the Bundesliga reads 22, 18, 23, 18, 17 and 22, giving him an average of just 20 per season. Against that backdrop, Bayern conceding 28 in one term represents a 29 per cent increase on previous years.
Yet that is not all. The 32-year-old is the only goalkeeper in Bundesliga history to have conceded fewer goals (261) than the number of games played (346), keeping a clean sheet in 169 of those. That equates to 49 per cent of all his games – another all-time league record for custodians with at least 100 matches under their belts. Furthermore, during his time at Bayern, Neuer has kept out 78 per cent of shots on his goal and has saved almost a third of all clear-cut chances the opposition have created. For context, Kahn conceded an average of 1.04 goals per game at Bayern; Neuer just 0.75.
In short, that sea of statistics merely confirms what even the most untrained of eyes can tell at a glance: Neuer is currently the best in the business – and perhaps the best there's ever been. And now we get to watch him again on a weekly basis!
Jaime Duque Cevallos