Manuel Neuer is back. Despite spending most of the 2017/18 season on the sidelines due to a foot injury, the Bayern Munich No.1 is in Germany’s preliminary squad for Russia 2018 and coach Joachim Löw has made it clear that he is still Die Mannschaft’s preferred choice in goal.
With Germany’s curtain-raiser against Mexico looming, bundesliga.com has compiled the 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 last 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.
Neuer consistently walks on a tightrope between two skyscrapers with a knife between his teeth. Who doesn’t want to see that?
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.”
Can you imagine celebrating a Germany goal assisted by Neuer?
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 quite 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.”
That “Golden Heart” is screaming to be paired with the “Golden Glove” – the same accolade he won four years ago in Rio - at Russia 2018.
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).
Another World Cup-winning performance will elevate Neuer’s status in the history books to another level.
5) Record chaser
Should Neuer help Germany defend their world crown, he would become only the second starting goalkeeper to win the title twice. When Pelé led Brazil to successive titles in 1958 and 1962, their goalkeeper Gylmar Santos became the first full-time stopper to lift the biggest prize in world football more than once. His understudy at both tournaments, Carlos José Castilho, shares this honour on paper, but did not play a single minute in either competition. Italy’s Guido Masetti won the 1934 and 1938 World Cups from the bench as well.
No team has successfully defended their World Cup title in 56 years. Germany look like strong candidates to break this streak in no small part thanks to Neuer’s timely recovery. Despite missing most of the season, we can expect him to quickly get back to his best shape. It might be a cliché to say that “form is temporary, class is permanent”, but Neuer’s case seems to confirm this piece of popular football wisdom.
Neuer will be out to reclaim his rightful place at the pinnacle of world football and perhaps even the sport’s history. It doesn’t get much more exciting than that.
Jaime Duque Cevallos