Manuel Neuer and the inevitable goalkeeper debate before the 2024 European Championship

Manuel Neuer and the inevitable goalkeeper debate before the 2024 European Championship

No matter what Julian Nagelsmann says: After Manuel Neuer’s latest gross blunder on Friday evening, the national team is sliding into a goalkeeper debate. The European Championships are likely to be uncomfortable for the goalkeeper.

It was an hour before midnight when Julian Nagelsmann saw an unpleasant topic coming his way. Nagelsmann was asked what he thought about the mistake made by his goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. Without hesitating for a second, he answered: “I don’t allow any discussion to arise, even if everyone tries.”

One could say that at least the national coach’s reflexes are still good. He tried to squash a debate that is currently becoming increasingly heated in German football.

Is Neuer still the right man? That is the question that has been posed since today, and everything indicates that it will continue to occupy the national team for a long time, possibly even throughout the entire European Championship, which begins on June 14th.

Manuel Neuer’s series of mishaps

Manuel Neuer’s crisis did not begin on Friday evening in Borussia Park in Mönchengladbach. Neuer’s mistake in the 37th minute of the friendly against Greece is significant because it is one of many mistakes he has made in the recent past. There was the blunder against Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the Champions League, there were three goals in the 2:4 defeat against Hoffenheim on the last day of the Bundesliga in which Neuer cut a so-called poor figure, there was a miserably botched chip ball against Ukraine that only did not result in a goal being conceded because the referee called an offside position. And now there is the mistake against Greece, when Neuer failed to get hold of a slightly deflected but harmless ball from Christos Tzolis and Giorgos Masouras slotted it in to make it 1:0.

Neuer was lucky that the Germans still won, 2-1, thanks to a late goal from Pascal Gross. That made it a little easier for Julian Nagelsmann to portray Neuer’s mistake as a minor lapse. Neuer also made three world-class saves, he said, and overall “everything was fine.”

Nagelsmann has apparently decided to solve a problem by denying its existence. This strategy raises questions that go beyond the technical aspects of sport, namely whether Neuer has become a security risk: What does Nagelsmann’s holding on to his number one mean for the internal climate in the team? Is it understood as an oath of loyalty, as a grand gesture? Or is the interpretation exactly the opposite: Does Nagelsmann’s stoic commitment override the principle of performance in the national team? Do only past achievements count?

Is Nagelsmann also sending a fatal signal to the team?

Nagelsmann would not be the first national coach to underestimate the impact of a personnel decision. In the summer of 2018, shortly before the start of the World Cup in Russia, there was a similar case, and Manuel Neuer was the focus then too. Neuer had returned to the national team after a long injury break, which did not stop Joachim Löw from immediately declaring him the first-choice goalkeeper for the World Cup. The victim at the time was Marc-André ter Stegen of FC Barcelona, ​​the German number two. The subtext of Löw’s decision was: A Neuer who has just recovered from a metatarsal fracture and has no competitive experience is still better than a healthy ter Stegen with plenty of routine.

It was not Neuer’s goalkeeping performance that caused the Germans to fail in the preliminary round. But the signal that Löw had sent was a fatal one. The DFB team believed that Löw was primarily selecting players based on their lifetime achievements and favored the 2014 World Cup winners. This had a sedative effect on the German game; rarely before had one seen such poor and complacent performances from a DFB team as in Russia in 2018.

This scenario does not necessarily have to repeat itself at the European Championships (although poor ter Stegen will feel like he is caught in a time warp). Manuel Neuer, 38 years old and a national player since 2009, will, however, go into a tournament burdened with doubts like never before. Every action he takes, every save, every punch, every run out and every pass will now be viewed with skepticism. His credit is used up, he will know that himself. Not a good basis for a goalkeeper whose game has always been based on the self-image of being the best.

Source: Stern

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