Comments by Manuel Neuer’s agent Thomas Kroth in an exclusive interview with the Sueddeutsche Zeitung suggest that the team captain is dissatisfied with the club’s present efforts to reinforce its roster after the departure of several veteran players, most importantly attacking wingers and club legends Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben.
Kroth explained Neuer’s lofty personal goals: “He wants to win the European Championship, and he wants to win the Champions League again.” After two extraordinarily difficult years in which he suffered a metatarsal fracture twice and lost over a year of playing time, Neuer is optimistic that he will rise to meet the club’s own ambitions. “When he notices that FC Bayern digs in, then he’ll really blossom again.”
But Bayern’s efforts to “dig in” this summer have been frustrated thus far. After initial success in signing Lucas Herandez for a record transfer fee in January and arranging for the transfer of Benjamin Pavard well in advance, the club has not been able to finalize any further senior transfers, only departures.
That is too little for Neuer’s taste, his agent suggests:
Manuel is driven by success. My impression is that the distance from the four top English teams is already alarming and Munich’s roster has not yet been set up accordingly — that is, competitively — so as also to pursue Manuel’s goals seriously.
According to Kroth, “Manuel wants and needs a task, a set goal.” If Bayern fails to reinforce its roster, Kroth thus subtly suggests, Neuer may seek to fulfill his goals elsewhere.
The timing of that eventuality is no coincidence. Robert Lewandowski is not the only player who is deliberating whether to extend his contract with Bayern Munich, which expires in 2021: Neuer is in the same boat, but he seems more reluctant than the once will-away striker, who is reportedly already close to signing. Kroth said,
He doesn’t want to stop in 2021. [Hence, it is] now the phase in which he has to make up his mind: what is the perspective for the future? Extending his contract and ending his career with FC Bayern is of course the obvious model. But not the only one.
Last season, Neuer “was under mental stress in particular,” according to Kroth, as his highly publicized struggles for club and country fired debate. Should Marc André ter Stegen take the mantle as Germany’s starting goalkeeper, and how worried should Bayern be? The club’s reported interest in Schalke’s Alexander Nübel is likely directly connected to concerns about Neuer’s post-injury potential.
Kroth gave a carefully worded account of how the debate about Neuer’s post-injury form affected him:
A lot was somehow added up and interpreted against him. He doesn’t consciously follow this discussion, but of coures he was aware of it. These automatic inferences then eventually somehow have an effect. Because the bottom line was basically: “He’s 33 years old now, now everything gradually wearing out” [...] Many people interpreted his performances as indicating that he had lost his extraordinary and impregnable ability.
As mitigating factors, Kroth referred to Neuer’s second injury and the adjustments he had to make to the new team he found when he returned:
We knew after a one-year break an injury would happen sometime again. Manuel had walked on crutches for almost six months the previous year. Unfortunately, it came at an unlucky moment. But it’s typically the case that, after a long break on account of injury, a high is then followed by a weaker phase. Additionally, as captain, he also had many things to deal with at the club: a new coach, building a new team, creating new structures. That costs energy.
But, while Neuer now is injury free, changes at the club continue unabated. Even Neuer’s best friend on the roster, Rafinha — who spent years with him at Schalke before both of them joined Bayern in 2011 — has at last moved on. The coming season will undoubtedly be crucial for Bayern’s 33-year-old captain, on and off the pitch.