When analyzing the reasons for Germany’s victory against the Ukraine at Euro 2016, one man rules the headlines: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich). But not only is the German goalkeeper responsible for his getting off to a good start team, in the end it could be the decisive factor if they are to win the title.
As the group stage is still in its early steps, it is obvious, a good keeper makes champions. Like Germany, some other teams can rely on a man between the posts that opponents don’t like to face eye-to-eye in the box.
The Spaniards might never forget the name of Petr Cech (Arsenal) — the man with thousands of arms in the Czech Republic’s goal. Despite dozens of clear-cut chances, all they could manage was a single goal in the dying minutes.
You don’t have to talk about the quality of Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), the one of the French number one Hugo Loris (Tottenham Hotspur) or Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea) or England’s Joe Hart (Manchester City). Head and shoulders above them all is however Manuel Neuer, presumably the world’s best keeper.
No other goalie has influenced modern goalkeeping like Neuer. According to the 30-year old, German goalkeeping is more than pulling off spectacular saves. Neuer see himself as part of the game, as the first man to start the attacks and even sometimes as part of the midfield when he starts to operate high up the pitch in as the defense’s last man. “It is about keeping the ball in play, initiating attacks and being dominant in the box,” Neuer says. “It’s not only about great saves, you have to be part of the game and organize it.”
To be dominant is an important part for Neuer. You could call it the key to his successful game. After years of honing his skill, Neuer instills unease in strikers bearing down on him in the box. “When a striker approaches me today, he faces someone different than the young Manuel that I was in my first years,” said the German.
Meanwhile even experienced strikers have second thoughts about facing Neuer. Meaning: They are to some extent afraid of the man between the posts. The Munich-based “Sueddeutsche Zeitung” called Neuer a “terminator” .
Looking back at the 2014 World Cup final, Neuer’s reputation is said to have influenced Argentina’s strikers in their attempts to score a goal. They felt they had to be perfect if they had a chance of getting past Neuer when shooting or heading. That, pundits assume, affects a striker’s instinct and confidence. Neuer admits “it is part of my goalkeeping strategy to make the goal appear small and me big instead”.
Neuer oozes a calm authority and doesn’t have to jump around to pose a threat. His way of playing counts on total fitness and to send out the message to strikers, no matter who you might be, I am not afraid. And: Give strikers the impression you are a wall. On top, no other keeper adds that much risk and speed to his game. No one has more ball contacts and is leaves his box so often to influence the game.
Former Bayern Munich coach Ottmar Hitzfeld called Neuer’s style a “revolution in goalkeeping”. His teammates had to get used to and adapt his more open style. “Wanting to play the ball back to him, I have to be careful he might already be on his way to the center line,” said Bayern and Germany teammate and central defender Jerome Boateng. According to the former Bayern Munich and Real Madrid coach Jupp Heynckes “you can only win Euro 2016 with an outstanding keeper. And Manuel Neuer is the best of all”.
Like Heynckes, French-born former Bayern Munich player Bixente Lizarazu (European Champion in 2000 and World Champion in 1998) and Willy Sagnol (58 caps for France) are convinced: “Germany has the world’s best goalkeeper”. In Heynckes’ view, Neuer’s will to improve is exceptional. “He is a leader,” Heynckes says. “It is an attitude that everyone becomes aware of when they meet him. His poise and confidence are his strengths.”
On his way to becoming world class, Neuer relied, and still does, on detailed training routines which goes far beyond plucking balls out of the air. “I watch other goal keepers while on the pitch and look at how they react when they have to keep out difficult shots. I take a close look at their footwork, their posture and in what angle their legs are,” Neuer says. For weeks he thought about how to close the gap between his both legs as every human has a stronger leg which normally is the one he take off with when jumping. “I think it’s important for a goalkeeper to think about the difference between your takeoff-leg and the other one. I tried to get them at the same level as best as I could,” Neuer said.
Germany head coach Joachim Loew had no doubts as to who he was going to name captain after Bastian Schweinsteiger was not ready in time for the first match of the tournament against Ukraine. It was Manuel Neuer who took over the captaincy.