Fear and loathing in Munich as Neuer falters amid fan discontent
Goalkeepers inadvertently share a lot in common with surgeons. To them, the penalty area is much like an operating theatre where interventions are made to either fix what's broken or remove a foreign body and ultimately save a life. In both cases, before work begins, the gloves are pulled on.
Manuel Neuer went through that ritual in the dressing room at the Allianz Arena on Sunday as Bayern Munich prepared for their season opener against Borussia MÃÂ¶nchengladbach. Except the upset in the Germany international's stomach meant that on this occasion he was more patient than doctor.
Neuer isn't the kind to suffer from stage fright. In the build-up to last year's World Cup quarter-final between Germany and Argentina, he told reporters: "I slept well and already no longer get nervous."
But this was different. Indeed, since making the heart-wrenching decision to leave his hometown club Schalke in a Ã¢ÂÂ¬22m transfer earlier this summer, Neuer has had a lot on his mind.
He shed tears during a goodbye press conference back in April. "It wasn't easy," Neuer said. "I wanted to be honest and to explain my reasons. I want to develop further and take a new big step in my career. As a person I want to take a step that will allow me to stand on my own two feet. I know this is not a great moment for Schalke fans, but I am a professional footballer and I am looking from a different perspective. It's clear some fans will be upset."
Neuer certainly wasn't wrong in that assessment, as one even slapped him in the face at the victory parade that followed Schalke's 5-0 tonking of Duisburg in the final of DFB-Pokal Cup a month later. It was clear that some felt betrayed.
Born in Gelsenkirchen in 1986, Neuer has carried a Schalke membership card since his fifth birthday. He grew up watching the Eurofighters, Schalke's 1997 UEFA Cup winning side, and dreamed of emulating Jens Lehmann, the penalty shoot-out hero in the final against Roy Hodgson's Inter.
"Until I became a professional, I was regularly in the stands to encourage the first team," he revealed. None of which of course has gone down at all well with the hardcore supporters of Neuer's new club.
When rumours first surfaced that Bayern were seriously considering a bid for the 25-year-old, some fans reacted by getting behind academy graduate Thomas Kraft. Better one of their own than a player so closely affiliated with Schalke.
And like elephants, the ultras never forget. They remembered how Neuer had flagrantly celebrated a Schalke goal in front of the SÃÂ¼dKurve at the Allianz Arena two years ago and weren't about to forgive him for it any time soon.
Bayern fans appear unmoved by official welcome banners
After completing his move, Neuer turned diplomat and tried his hand at rapprochement. He courageously met the ultras, but to no avail. "Neuer has said how he will behave towards us fans in the future, but our opinion of him has not changed," read a statement. "During the meeting, we explained how he should behave toward us."
For his trouble, Neuer received a 'code of conduct' and was told to keep a 'respectful distance'. He would not be allowed to rejoice with his team-mates in front of the SÃÂ¼dKurve when Bayern scored or even take the microphone and lead the ultras' chants.
In return, they promised not to boo and insult him, but still the protests continued. At a pre-season training camp in Arco, Italy, a banner was unveiled with the words: "You can save the ball as many times as you want, but we will never accept you in our shirt."
Bayern's directors were furious and fought back in paper form. "Due to the events in Arco," they declared, "the people in this group are now persona non grata."
Given tempers are still hot, the situation has yet to calm down. So Neuer walked out on to the pitch to collect his Bundesliga Player of the Year award on Sunday afternoon amid a few discernible whistles from a disgruntled section of the home crowd.
Every coach knows that a goalkeeper's currency is his confidence and it's really not too hard to imagine that, in the current climate, Neuer's has been devalued. Considering the pressure he was under, a mistake against Gladbach was perhaps to be expected.
It came in the 62nd minute, when a long ball from defender Roel Brouwers caught Neuer and JÃÂ©rÃÂ´me Boateng in two minds. With the keeper off his line and in no man's land, the uncertainty allowed Igor de Camargo to sneak in and bravely head past Neuer to put the visitors into the lead.
The SÃÂ¼dKurve had more ammunition now, as Thomas MÃÂ¼ller's equaliser was disallowed for offside and Bayern lost on the opening day of the season for the first time in a decade.
"I take responsibility for the goal," Neuer said. "It wasn't an easy situation, it was a tricky bouncing ball. But it was my mistake, and unfortunately, it led to us losing.
"We have to stay calm. It was the first match. We were the better team and we should have won, but weÃ¢ÂÂve lost. However, there are 33 games to go. We need to work hard on creating clear-cut chances, and then we have to take them."
If, according to a poll taken by the German magazine Kicker, Bayern really are the favourites to win the Bundesliga with 64.7% of the vote, then the cold shower boss Jupp Heynckes got from Gladbach Ã¢ÂÂ his own hometown club, with whom he won four championship winners' medals as a player Ã¢ÂÂ serves as an impromptu reality check.
Bayern's defence let them down last season. They conceded 18 goals more than champions Borussia Dortmund and there definitely needs to be a return on the Ã¢ÂÂ¬41m they've spent on Neuer, Boateng and right-back Rafinha during the transfer window. Otherwise, their annual trip to Oktoberfest might be cancelled for a second year in succession.