Best goalkeeper in the world. Best goalkeeper of all-time? Although it is always difficult to rank elite players across eras, Manuel Neuer is undoubtedly one of the best goalkeepers to ever grace the pitch. A player who asserts his excellence in his own unique way, the 31-year-old German ‘sweeper keeper’ shows no sign of stopping his dominance in front of the net.
Progressing through every age group of Schalke’s youth teams, Neuer signed professional terms with the German club in 2005. After being promoted to Schalke’s first team in 2006, then-20-year-old Neuer took advantage of an injury to regular first-choice keeper Frank Rost and impressed in several matches. His first season was profound to say the least: pundits were already tipping him as the potential successor to Jens Lehmann’s throne atop the German goalkeeping hierarchy. Never losing his first-team place for the remainder of his Schalke career, Neuer’s 5 seasons with the 7-time German champions are most fondly remembered through the spectra of his Herculean performance in the 2007/08 Champions League knockout round against Porto. The 21-year-old singlehandedly kept his team in the game with several show-stopping saves throughout the 120 minutes, forcing penalties and saving two of Porto’s penalties to propel his side to the quarterfinals. Easily one of the most remarkable performances in his impressive career, Neuer was already making waves in Europe. His unremitting development at Schalke drew plenty of interest from European clubs, most notably from Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. On June 1 2011, it was confirmed that the 25-year-old would be joining rival club Bayern Munich for a reported fee of €22M.
Although tensions were high regarding the transfer, Neuer showed almost no signs of struggle in adapting to his new side. In his first weeks with the Bavarian giants, he broke Oliver Kahn’s record for most competitive clean sheets in a row. If this wasn’t enough evidence of his prowess, Neuer further cemented his stardom in the Champions League of that same season. Notwithstanding that Bayern fell one step short of the trophy in losing to Chelsea in the final, Neuer served as one of the crucial catalysts to their success. In the semifinal, Neuer had stopped both the penalties of Kaká and Cristiano Ronaldo, before saving Juan Mata’s penalty in the final and converting a spot kick of his own. Although his valiant efforts fell just short of the finish line, it was evident that Neuer would continue to enhance his game and develop into the force he is today.
Since joining Bayern, Neuer has kept 155 clean sheets in 294 appearances in net. He has won 13 trophies at Bayern, including 5 Bundesligas and a Champions League in 2013. His career is extremely distinguished individually, especially for a goalkeeper, completely dominating all the accolades awarded to his position. Among his wide array of achievements are the 2014 World Cup Golden Glove, 4-time-consecutive IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper, and a third place finish for the 2014 FIFA Ballon d’Or. Internationally, Neuer has anchored the ever-powerful Germany XI, keeping 29 clean sheets in his 74 appearances. Neuer’s presence in net is an advantage to his team in itself, and his outstanding shot-stopping ability enabled Die Mannschaft to defeat Argentina and take home the 2014 World Cup. A revolutionary player, Neuer has utterly defied the stereotypes of his natural position and transformed our conception of a keeper’s influence during the match.
The 2016/17 season was filled with trials and tribulations for Manuel Neuer. Two foot injuries saw the German miss a total of 10 matches for Bayern towards the end of the season, and has been ruled out until the end of July. Despite missing 8 Bundesliga matches, Neuer kept the most clean sheets in the league (14). In 40 appearances across all competitions, the 6’4 keeper managed clean sheets in half of these matches (20) and merely conceded 25 goals. Bayern only lost 4 matches this season with Neuer in net, an exemplification of his importance to the team. Whilst a total of 47 saves in the Bundesliga isn’t exemplary (a tribute to Bayern’s usual dominance), his 3.62 saves per goal demonstrates how often Neuer is called into action and comes up with crucial saves on the off-chance they do come about. His best performances of the season came in the Champions League against Real Madrid, where he produced multiple magnificent saves in both legs to keep his side in the tie. Jaw-dropping saves against the likes of Ronaldo, Benzema, Bale weren’t enough to propel his side to the semifinals; however, Neuer certainly did his part and more for Bayern.
Distinguishable by his revolutionary ‘sweeper-keeper’ playstyle, the idiosyncratic Neuer has wholly metamorphosed the notion we have of goalkeepers. More than just a net guard, Neuer patrols the defensive third of his side— perfectly exemplified by his infamous heat map against Algeria in the 2014 World Cup. Without touching on his world-class reflexes, Neuer is adept with his feet, capable of lightning fast distribution. His defensive skills are also to be commended, as Neuer often leaves his box to intercept through balls and sweep up his defense. This ‘11th man’ playstyle enables defenders to push higher up the pitch, constricting the opposition’s spacing and forcing the game into the opponent’s half.
Perhaps labeled as insane to begin with, Neuer’s dynamic responsibilities for both club and country have been embraced by most as a unique evolution that could redefine the goalkeeping position altogether. Some have been quick to label the playstyle as “dangerous” or “unnecessary,” but it is difficult to question a keeper who has broken Bundesliga records for fewest goals conceded in a season. The ‘sweeper-keeper’ isn’t some rapid evolution that can be applied to any keeper around the world; in fact, a combination of Neuer’s dynamic skillset and the playstyles of Bayern Munich and Germany enable such a position to come to fruition. Beyond his distinctive ‘sweeper-keeper’ playstyle, Neuer also excels at the traditional parts of goalkeeping: shot-stopping, reflexes, and distribution. Standing tall at 193cm, Neuer commands his box with ease, skillfully plucking crosses out of the air.
His concentration is one of his key assets, as he is often called to action only once or twice during the entire 90 minutes. However, he rarely loses focus and maintains his composure to keep his side from sloppily conceding an unnecessary goal. His good control allows him to spur quick counterattacks, accurately spraying the ball out to any area on the pitch. Neuer’s tactical awareness lets him anticipate dangerous situations and cut them out before they have a chance to develop. Altogether, Manuel Neuer’s dynamism and unique skillset have propelled him to the top of goalkeeping hierarchy, a place he is likely to remain atop for many years to come.
Carlo Ancelotti recently compared his shot-stopper to the likes of a “computer.” Despite the fact that Neuer’s game is not without his flaws, he is undoubtedly the world’s best at his position. His effervescent playstyle, integrated with his phenomenal reflexes, have spurred his rise in the goalkeeper position. At the mere age of 31, Manuel Neuer has plenty of years left in him to further surprise the footballing world.
Written by: Brandon Duran/@Alcxntara6