Manuel Neuer fights for his place in the national team

Manuel Neuer fights for his place in the national team
Manuel Neuer fights for his place in the national team

While Toni Kroos runs laps of honour through the country’s stadiums, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has to refute his many critics at the European Championships.

If one day in the not too distant future Manuel Neuer’s career is to be judged, it should not only be measured by the number of balls he saved, but also by the number of questions he fended off. Because in this discipline, Neuer is still world class, even though he is already 38 years old.

Neuer was asked on Tuesday at the DFB camp in Herzogenaurach what the debate about him was doing to him. “I looked at it from the outside. I haven’t read anything,” said Neuer, and the dull, monotonous tone of his voice underlined how out of place he thought the question was. The important thing is the relationship of trust with the players and the coaching team, “and there is a lot of trust there.”

Debate ended.

National coach Julian Nagelsmann had already countered the public criticism of Neuer in a similarly succinct manner. He saw no reason to doubt his number one, Nagelsmann said ten days ago, “I will not allow a debate.”

Manuel Neuer’s long list of deficiencies

Debate is a friendly collective term for everything Neuer has recently done wrong: the mistake in the Champions League semi-final against Real Madrid. Three weak scenes that led to a win for Hoffenheim and caused Bayern to fall to third place in the Bundesliga table. The failed trick shot in the friendly match with the national team against Ukraine, when Neuer spooned the ball directly into the path of the opposing striker (and luckily for Neuer, the referee called it offside). And finally the slip-up against Greece, in the last friendly match before the European Championship, when Neuer let a ball bounce and the Greeks pushed it in to make it 1-0.

The list of deficiencies is irritatingly long for a national goalkeeper from the goalkeeping country of Germany, but the DFB have decided that Neuer is still a great goalkeeper. They create their own world with words and hope that the world out there, beyond Herzogenaurach, will adapt quickly.

So far, they have been successful in conjuring up the desired reality. Germany won the opening match of the European Championships against Scotland 5:1, and Manuel Neuer made no mistakes. Which wasn’t so difficult, because he had nothing to do on Friday evening in Munich. The match statistics showed a single goal opportunity for the Scots – it was an own goal by Antonio Rüdiger, for which Neuer was not to blame.

His era is coming to an end

The European Championship is the eighth tournament that Neuer has played as number one. On Wednesday against Hungary, he will replace Gianluigi Buffon as the goalkeeper with the most European Championship appearances. Another record for Neuer, the five-time World Goalkeeper of the Year.

And yet Neuer seems to sense that his era is coming to an end. “I will think about it after the tournament,” he said on Tuesday, which can be interpreted as a subtle hint of retirement.

Neuer’s importance in the national team has shrunk in the past two years. At the 2022 World Cup, he got caught up in the collective downward spiral and contributed to the 1:2 defeat against Japan with a positioning error, which later meant failure in the group stage. After the tournament, Neuer was seriously injured while skiing. In his absence, the then national coach Hansi Flick appointed Ilkay Gündoğan as captain – a position that Neuer had held for seven years. Flick’s successor Julian Nagelsmann left it at that, which was also a sign of his loss of status.

One level below Gündogan and Kroos

In the organizational chart of the team, which Neuer led at the top for more than a decade, he is now one level below Gündoğan and also below Toni Kroos.

He is the unofficial leader, a captain without a armband, and the whole team looks up to him. Kroos, 34, six-time Champions League winner with Real Madrid, has already announced his retirement from football. He will retire in a few weeks at the height of his creative powers.

Manuel Neuer missed this moment. He, who is four years older than Kroos, will have to prove himself again at the European Championships. The tournament is a test for him, not a victory lap. Neuer is fighting for the last image that will remain of him with the national team. It has to be a very strong, bright one. One that paints over the many gloomy images of the past few years.

Source: Stern

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