I remember fondly a Bundesliga match between Bayern Munich and Bayer Leverkusen during the 2012-13 season. Bayern Goalkeeper Manuel Neuer runs up towards the Leverkusen goal. He dribbles and sets up a cross that drifts into the area, and in the end the ball skips off the crossbar. Bayern loses the game. This was no doubt a tough loss for Bayern Munich to absorb, but it was a moment of important reflection as they would go on a tremendous rampage afterwards. The season culminated with the Bavarian club winning a treble. Even at that time, many were amazed at Neuer’s capabilities and his penchant for the spectacular far away from his own net. This World Cup has furthered Neuer’s legend and shown what a great technical soccer player he is in addition to being a great goalkeeper.
Moments like that against Leverkusen were what made Neuer irreverent and rebellious. At the same time, it’s very much a style unique to what we have seen in recent years when compared to other goalkeepers around the world. The Bayern Munich net-minder is even more impressive when you take into account his body frame. He also shows such great movement and smoothness when knocking the ball around and feeling so comfortable with the ball at his feet. To many in South America, his style harkens back to the glory days of goalkeepers past.
Neuer made many reminisce about former Boca Juniors goalkeeper Hugo Orlando Gatti who was a true entertainer in his own sense. Gatti was intelligent on the pitch as well as a showman. When he first arrived at Boca, the fans really did not have an affinity towards him due to his River Plate past. One day, they threw a broom at him. His first reaction was to start sweeping his area. That action was one of the first instances where we saw a love affair that lasted over two decades between the keeper and his faithful.
He also shows the moxie of a goalkeeper also nicknamed “El Loco”, René Higuita. England fans still remember what he did at Wembley back in 1995. Yet it was his dribbling and his ability to kick freekicks that made him a showman that very few players could compare.
Yes, they were crazy and whooped up fans with their antics. At the same time they were part of that rare breed of goalkeeper-libero that emerged in different eras. Neuer is that man in this era. While goalkeepers now come out of the box to just smash the ball into the stratosphere, Neuer can clear it out but he can also chest it down and dribble it out. He offers you that option to keep the ball secure.
The great example of that performance is the match against Algeria. In that match, Neuer was coming out to cut off counters and any runs that were being made past the defense and challenging attackers outside of the box. What helps a shaky German back line is to know that you have your goalkeeper watching your back. Neuer has this uncanny ability to read a match and know where to position himself on the pitch.
Neuer came up huge against France in the quarterfinals, making some critical stops at important times in the game. He also slammed the door on Brazil in the few tough situations he was faced with, further breaking the will of the host nation that was already battered. Yet it was all in some cool and collected demeanor, part of the reason why former German international Mehmet Scholl began calling the former Schalke man “Icecube” prior to the match against Brazil. At the same time, Oliver Kahn declared that the Neuer was the best goalkeeper in the game.
This tournament will have a legacy of being one of the highest scoring major events in history. Yet at the same time, this tournament has also was impressive because of the performances that were put on by several goalkeepers.
Yet if there is one thing that Manuel Neuer will be known for, and that’s not the Keylor Navas or Tim Howard-like saves. It’s not the penchant that Sergio Romero or Tim Krul showed in penalty kick shootouts. What Neuer has done goes beyond that; he’s the best goalkeeper in the world right now and he’s also changed the way the goalkeeping position is played. In the process, he has made it entertaining and filled with personality once again.