In an explosive interview with Raphael Honigstein of The Athletic, Bayern Munich captain and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer touched on a number of topics, including the World Cup elimination and his recent foot injury.
One major talking point was the dismissal of longtime goalkeeping coach Toni Tapalovic, which made waves last month. The 42-year-old was a close confidant and friend of Neuer, who had followed him to Bayern from his Schalke days. Despite being the captain, Neuer absolutely tore into the club for taking this step.
“That blow hit me extremely hard,” said Neuer. “I was told by the club officials. It came out of nowhere. For Toni, too. I didn’t understand that at all. It really knocked me down.”
“Toni was always a team player with us, everyone saw it that way. He wasn’t working for me for eleven and a half years, but for the entire goalkeeper group, for the coaching staff and for the club. We were always able to separate work and private life. I understand that it might sound like I’m not being objective or not believable, but I can really tell the difference.”
This is difficult to read, and the sentiment surely won’t be appreciated by the club bosses. However, Neuer chose to take it a step further, which might even anger some fans.
“For me, that was a blow — when I was already down on the ground. I felt like my heart was being ripped out. It was the most brutal thing I’ve experienced in my career. And I’ve experienced a lot.”
So it was worse than the two World Cup group stage eliminations, or the 2012 Champions League final? Okay, Manu. Whatever you say.
“I’ve grown a thick skin,” Neuer added. “But what happened now is on a whole other level. Everyone in our goalkeeper group was torn to pieces. People burst into tears. I think that says it all. We goalkeepers are a team within a team, but Toni was popular with the whole squad.
No officer, nothing to see here!
When asked about the reasons for Tapalovic’s sacking, Neuer remained defiant. For context, it was revealed that Tapalovic and Nagelsmann had serious disagreements over how to do things, and the goalkeeping coach refused to follow instructions. Neuer denies this.
“There was no reason that I could comprehend,” he said. “Things were said that I don’t agree with. Nothing I heard would have ruled out the possibility of people talking to each other and sorting things out.”
Neuer did later add that he “was not on the coaching team” so he might not have had the full picture.
As for the notion that Tapalovic had a poor relationship with Alexander Nubel, the Bayern captain said that he “cannot imagine that.”
“Tapa was responsible for Nubel’s transfer to Bayern in 2020: he had seen Alex at Schalke at a time when no other club had really noticed him and recommended him to Bayern immediately. He worked for Alex as well as for me, for Sven Ulreich and (former Bayern keeper) Christian Fruchtl. In all these years I’ve never heard any coach say anything negative about Tony. Ask Pep Guardiola and his crew, or Carlo (Ancelotti) or Niko (Kovac).”
Importantly, Neuer also denied the rumors that Tapalovic had been leaking info from the dressing room. This was one of the reasons cited by Bild for the sacking taking place.
Family and professionalism
Finally, Neuer ended this section of the interview by talking about how he felt after being treated this way. Asked about what this story left him with, the 36-year-old said it was “a big disappointment.”
“This is about the human side of things, the way a valued employee was treated. At Bayern Munich, we want to be different — a family. And then something happens that I have never experienced before. It’s a sad thing for everyone: for the club, for Tapa, the staff and all of the goalkeepers, including me. Nevertheless, I want to say: I’m a human being on one hand, and I’m a professional on the other.
As for what this meant for his future relationship with the coach, Neuer did not seem to hold any grudges.
“It means I talk things through with Julian and that I work with him in a professional manner. We were very straight with each other. He knows where I stand. I fight for the club’s well-being and I will never be an obstacle. I am a team player, and as captain, I have special responsibilities.”
We can only hope that he will get the chance.
This was just a small excerpt. You can find the full interview on The Athletic.