Manuel Neuer has been quite the issue at Bayern Munich in the past few months, despite him not playing a single second of football. For one, an ill-timed ski trip ended up breaking his leg and ruling him out for the rest of the season. If that wasn’t enough, the club decided to sack his old friend and confidant Toni Tapalović, a move that Neuer vehemently spoke out against.
With so many incidents surrounding Neuer and none of them good, many have given up on him coming back to the goal for both club and country. Yann Sommer has filled the Neuer shaped hole in the Bayern goal quite well thus far, and Marc-Andre ter Stegen is expected to do the same for Germany for the time being. The majority of fans think Neuer’s days are over.
However, Neuer’s days are not over. Far from it. Here is why.
1. He is still the best with the ball at his feet
Neuer has been credited with revolutionizing the goalkeeper position by introducing the “sweeper-keeper” style, emphasizing the need for keepers to be just as good with their feet as they are with their hands. Since around 2013-14, when he really started venturing further upfield, many good ball-playing goalkeepers have emerged, but none can hold a candle to the mighty Neuer. Take the aforementioned Sommer, for example. His shot stopping ability is among the best in the Bundesliga, and his footwork isn’t too bad, but he does not give the security that Neuer does. With Bayern unlikely to change their dominant playstyle, a keeper who commands the back line and the space within is absolutely necessary, and there still is no better player to rely on than Neuer. This is not to say Sommer has done a bad job so far, but there is just no replacing Neuer’s presence at the moment, and I have no doubt that he will slot right back into the goal once he returns.
2. He is a big game player like no other
Neuer has tons of experience and success behind him, more than any other goalkeeper in the world. He played a major role in Bayern’s record breaking ten consecutive Bundesliga wins, their two trebles and sextuple, and Germany’s World Cup triumph. Rarely has Neuer ever faced major defeats for club or country. Neuer has the necessary experience to instill his teammates with confidence, something that Bayern and Germany sorely need. Both teams do not have that many veterans who can lead the team at the moment, and none have the pedigree that Neuer has (except Thomas Müller). Neuer is thus still the right candidate to lead his club and country into battle, especially the latter as they host a do-or-die Euro tournament that could shape the foreseeable future of German football.
3. He already has experience coming back from a major injury
But Maverick you baffling and blindly optimistic buffoon, I hear you say, what good is experience going to do if he’s coming back from such a devastating injury? Well, dear reader, the good(?) news is that this is not Neuer’s first rodeo. He already has experience with a bad injury, not to mention dealing with the doubts of the fans and the media and having to prove them wrong. Let’s wind the clocks back a few years to 2017. A twice-broken metatarsal forced Neuer out of action for an entire year. Naturally, there was little hope that he could ever be the same player again, and a catastrophic World Cup and a topsy turvy Bayern season did little to settle the nerves. However, Neuer’s form had never left him, and it didn’t take long at all for people to see that he was still the one to beat. Fast forward a few years and Neuer had led Bayern to a historic sextuple, while he was also keeping a languishing Germany from embarrassing themselves too much. Likewise, Neuer came back after one bad injury, and he has the knowledge to do it again. Mark my words, he will do it again.
4. He believes in himself, and so do the people around him
Perhaps the most important thing about recovering from injury and rediscovering your form is believing in yourself. This is not for the faint of heart. In fact, even some of the toughest people are hard-pressed to recover from devastating situations. However, despite the doubts, Neuer is still in good spirits. Ever since his injury, Neuer has constantly emphasized that he is not thinking of hanging his boots up, and that his plan is to return to being Bayern and Germany’s No. 1. Bold statements that show an elite mentality, a hungry one at that. Neuer is not willing to give up at all. The signs are promising – as of now, the healing process is going very well, and Neuer is set to return to the team by the start of next season’s preparations. Germany coach Hansi Flick has already reaffirmed his confidence in his captain, saying that he knows how high Neuer’s ceiling is, and that he knows he can reach it again once back on the pitch. Bayern honorary president Uli Hoeneß has also voiced his full confidence in Neuer. If the people in charge believe in him, and he himself strongly believes in him, what’s stopping fans from doing so too? Neuer will be back in a few months, and while it might take him a bit of time to shake off the rust, it won’t be too long before he’s back to doing what he does best.
Now of course, Neuer’s age is the one thing that many are citing as the big stumbling block between him and his comeback. Neuer just celebrated his 37th birthday, which even for goalkeeper standards is a pretty ripe one. But even at 36, Neuer showed very few signs of slowing down, so what’s one more year going to do for him? If anything, he will be even more motivated to make his career’s twilight years into ones to remember. Neuer’s last dances with Bayern and Germany will be glorious, and we should be there to witness it.
Truthfully, it doesn’t look too likely that Neuer will follow in Gianluigi Buffon’s footsteps and play well past 40. Even after his recovery, the end of his career will come sooner rather than later. But, as Captain Pete “Maverick” Mitchell said in Top Gun: Maverick…
…”Maybe so, sir. But not today.”