Ensconced in a golden throne in Doha, Qatar, Manuel Neuer gave a kingly press conference in response to questions about his future rival, Alexander Nübel. In pointed statements, Neuer downplayed Nübel’s talent, questioned his decision to accept a secondary role at Bayern Munich, and indicated he would not willingly concede anything to his hypothetical heir. He also expressed his displeasure that details of his negotiations with Hasan Salihamidzic had leaked to the media (comments translated from kicker and Bild+).
Skepticism of Nübel
Neuer’s initial assessment of the Nübel signing spoke volumes about his annoyance. He distanced himself from the club’s decision to sign Nübel and instead highlighted Sven Ulreich’s excellent performances as second keeper:
That is a decision of the club in regard to the coming years. He is a good goal-keeper. But we also have very good goal-keepers with us. Sven Ulreich has always done his thing very well, when he stood in for me and played his games.
Whereas it has been reported that the club wants to give Nübel some 15 games to play to prevent him from stagnating on the bench, Neuer reiterated his position that he wants to play every single game. He said,
I’m an athlete and professional and would always like to play. I’m ambitious and love standing on the pitch. I’m not an extra, but rather the lead and would always like to play.
Neuer was skeptical when asked whether new board member Oliver Kahn might mediate between himself and Nübel. He remarked, “I know how he reacted, after all, when he didn’t play,” alluding to Kahn’s anger over his demotion behind Jens Lehmann before the 2006 World Cup.
Neuer also drew a sharp contrast between himself and Nübel also in regard to the latter’s decision to leave Schalke on a free transfer to sit on the bench at Bayern. Neuer said,
I decided differently, of course. I did not transfer to a club where I would potentially be the number 2. I always wanted to play, especially when I was young. I don’t know whether I would have acted and decided that way.
Neuer was particularly annoyed that details of his private conversation with sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic about giving starts to Nübel had leaked to Bild. He said,
I think, with respect to conversations behind closed doors and when Brazzo and I sat there alone, no one should say anything outside. Nothing leaks from me. And everyone else should do what they want.
It is important to note that Neuer is not necessarily blaming Salihamidzic himself for the leak: someone in the front office who knew details of their discussion leaked that information to Bild.
Leverage for a contract extension?
The timing of Nübel’s transfer also incidentally falls in the middle of Neuer and Bayern’s negotiations about a contract extension. That potentially places Neuer in a position of strength with respect to the terms of his contract extension at Bayern. Neuer was cryptic about his demands:
I decide the conditions for [the extension], of course; I have the thoughts in my head. I will not reveal them. But you can also think of a some things...
Neuer seems to mean he is ready to play hardball with Bayern over his terms, but could Nübel complicate the negotiations?
Neuer lobbed an underhanded insult Nübel’s way by denying that he was a factor at all. Neuer described Nübel’s signing as “immaterial”: “For me, the fact that he is coming to FC Bayern does not play any part whatsoever [in my decision].”
That is at least partially true. According to Sport1, Neuer’s deliberations depend above all on who coaches Bayern in the coming years. Neuer reportedly can imagine continuing to work with current interim coach Hansi Flick, but he will not sign an extension until the question is formally settled to his liking. Flick, meanwhile, is saying all the right things about his first keeper. He told the media,
For me, Manuel Neuer is the best goal-keeper in the world. Hence I believe that Bayern will do everything possible to keep him signed.
Neuer reiterated his happiness with Flick at the press conference:
For me, it is very important how things proceed with Hansi Flick. You see how much fun we’re having in training and in games.
Neuer praised the solidarity and team morale under Flick. His communication with the team is evidently outstanding.
Neuer’s ultimate goal is to win the Champions League again, ideally with Bayern. If Bayern can convince him that they have the right coach to make that possible, he presumably will suffer Nübel to nip at his heels.