FourFourTwo’s Best 100 Football Players in the World 2016: 10 – Manuel Neuer
Having already revolutionised the goalkeeping position, Manuel Neuer, like many of his Bayern Munich teammates, was going to have to do something remarkable to go one better in 2016. We rarely see Neuer roaming out of goal to head the ball clear or rob an attacker of possession any more, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been there when his team have needed him most.
This season, with Bayern wobbling against Ingolstadt, Neuer made an incredible save to deny Matthew Leckie. It wasn’t his only big stop of the game, with his performance sparing Bayern’s blushes on what may otherwise have been an extremely embarrassing afternoon.
The German made a brilliant start to Euro 2016 in France this summer. As the world champions’ new captain, Neuer delivered a complete performance against Ukraine that included two superb saves and excellent recycling of the ball with his feet. He led by example; Germany followed suit.
Neuer then went one better against Italy in the nail-biting quarter-final, performing brilliantly in regulation time before saving two penalties in an incredible shoot-out. The Azzurri's goal in that game was the first Neuer had conceded in 665 international minutes.
His concentration sometimes seems superhuman, which means it’s a major surprise when it drops
The 6ft 4in stopper was, as he so often is, reliably inconspicuous during Bayern’s charge to the Bundesliga title last season. It’s clear that the Bavarians’ defence is more comfortable when he’s in between the sticks, but other than a sharp display in the 2-0 win in Wolfsburg and the 0-0 draw against Borussia Dortmund, there was little to write home about in terms of his league form. The same could be said for Neuer’s German Cup performances, although a crucial save in the penalty shoot-out against Dortmund was a reminder of just how brilliant a goalkeeper he is.
For goalkeepers, though, no news tends to be good news. As much as he can be involved with his feet, Neuer’s remarkable ability to be out of the game for so long but still deliver when he’s called upon never fails to impress. His concentration sometimes seems superhuman, which means it’s a major surprise when it drops.
In 2016, however, that happened a lot more than expected. Despite having a great tournament, Neuer’s performance against France in the European Championship semi-final was a far cry from his dominant display in the quarter-final clash with the same opponents at the 2014 World Cup. And in the Champions League last season, he had a horrible night in a 2-2 draw with Benfica.
This term, Neuer didn’t cover himself in glory for Anthony Modeste’s acrobatic goal against him, while he looked equally awkward for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s winner in the recent defeat by Borussia Dortmund. The 30-year-old may be enduring a blip, although it’s more likely that the outstanding standards he set in 2015 were always going to be impossible to maintain.
Still the best
In nearly 300 games for Bayern, Neuer’s conceded fewer than 200 goals
Having said all that, Neuer’s still the goalkeeper that any manager would want between the sticks. His statistics might not make for incredible reading, but he’s always been a player of quality more than quantity. In nearly 300 games for Bayern, Neuer’s conceded fewer than 200 goals; look closer and you’ll realise nearly half of those games ended with a clean sheet for the Gelsenkirchen-born keeper.
The year ahead will be a big one for Neuer. With Bayern struggling to adjust to life after Pep Guardiola, the club will look to their senior players to step up and lead by example. Neuer’s task will be made easier by the completion of Germany’s defensive triangle (Neuer-Hummels-Boateng) at club level, but with new challenges looming he knows he must be better than ever before.
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