In an interview with Raphael Honigstein of The Athletic, Bayern Munich and Germany captain Manuel Neuer touched on a number of topics from the last few weeks, including the surprise sacking of longtime goalkeeping coach Toni Tapalovic (which made up the bulk of the interview).
The other major topic was Germany’s failure at the FIFA World Cup, and the factors that lead to it. Asked specifically about the OneLove armband and it’s banning, Neuer spoke frankly about the failings on the part of the German side and how it might have cost them support.
“FIFA’s decision to ban the OneLove armband came as a surprise,” said the 36-year-old. “A clear message would have helped us, in retrospect, we might have done with a bit more support.”
The timing of the ban did not help either, according to Neuer. “We had to think about what we do next,” he said. “We talked a lot to the people in charge. Ahead of the tournament, critics said the OneLove armband was a worthless gesture, that we were hiding behind it. After the FIFA ban, it suddenly became the most important symbol in world football. It felt like no matter what choice you made, it was the wrong one. We were under a lot of pressure. It was all a bit much for us.”
When it’s pointed out that the players simply could’ve done nothing, Neuer rejects that attitude. “We are mature, responsible players and stand up for our values,” he said. “That’s an attitude we’ve always represented. We had the feeling that FIFA were silencing us. We wanted to make a statement with that gesture and then focus on the games.”
As far as the decision on the gesture goes, Neuer explains that it was a collective decision by the squad.
“We discussed (the gesture) in the players’ council meeting and made a decision,” said. “And that was it. After that, we put our attention to football. It wasn’t as if we only dealt with that specific topic. It was a normal meeting. We got off to a great start against Japan and were in control of the first half. On the pitch, nobody had that topic in their minds. We felt, ‘If this keeps going on like this, we’ll win 2-0 or 3-0.’
This contradicts reports after the game, which said that the dressing room was divided on the issue. Neuer addresses those rumors directly.
“Some may have liked the idea more, others less. We’ve all known each other for a long time. Growing up in the Ruhr area, a very diverse region, I am the first to see things differently and understand other views. No one was pushed, no one was forced. We decided together.”
Notably, the other German player said to be pushing hard for a gesture was Leon Goretzka, who also hails from the Ruhr region. Altogether though, the captain admitted that the decision was tough to make.
“As the German national team, we were in the spotlight, all by ourselves, because people expected a reaction,” he said. “You don’t want to make a wrong decision. A few European nations had agreed to wear the armband, but we were on our own as far as that gesture was concerned. Nobody else did something like that.”
Importantly, he stressed that the gesture that was eventually chosen — the “hand over mouth” team photo, was targeted solely at FIFA’s attempts at silencing the Germans, rather than a shot at the Arab world or Muslims in General. FIFA threatened the German team with player bans and points deductions if they wore the armband.
“It was all about FIFA, it was in no way directed against the Arab world or Islam. We have Muslim players in our ranks, there is huge respect for them. We live and breathe diversity, it’s a natural state of affairs for us. To repeat: I’m from Gelsenkirchen. The entire Ruhr area was economically dependent on Polish, Turkish and Italian immigrants, it was only thanks to them that we had a prosperous life. I’m grateful that I grew up like that.”
This was just a small excerpt. You can find the full interview on The Athletic.