Before the World Cup I posed the question of who should be the starting goalkeeper for Germany in the tournament. Marc Andre Ter Stegen certainly had a compelling argument in his favor to be considered the first choice goalkeeper in Qatar. Ultimately, Neuer’s experience and his abilities as a sweeper keeper made him not only the first choice goalkeeper for the German side, but the team’s captain. Unfortunately for Manuel he had a less than stellar tournament with the German squad who were eliminated in the first round of the tournament. Although it may be too harsh to say that Neuer was the main culprit behind the early elimination he certainly had a hand in it.
This is the second time in a row that Germany got eliminated in the first round of a World Cup. For a second tournament in a row as well, there were doubts about Neuer being the starter leading up to the World Cup. Once again, he didn’t do much on the field to silence the critics. At this point at age 36 it’s probably right to assume that Manuel Neuer has played his last World Cup match for Germany. With the way that he looked in the tournament though should he be thinking about hanging up the gloves altogether? I’m going to explore some of the shortcomings of his World Cup performance!
Manuel Neuer Got Caught Out Of Position In Goal Against Japan
The second Japanese goal is one of the plays during the World Cup in which people who have seen Neuer play for a long time started to worry. I recently talked about Neuer, and how he was clearly the best goalkeeper of his generation. The argument was that he was pretty much in a generation with himself. Being younger than Buffon and Casillas, but older than Courtois, Oblak, and Ter Stegen. In any case, the key to Neuer’s game has always been timing. Particularly in those plays where he would leave the box to intercept a ball with his feet. Also he was a master at forcing a 1v1 situation where he would have the upper hand being such a large guy at such close range from the shooter.
Simply put, in the second Japan goal he’s caught out of position. The issue is that he was too far back between the sticks. The Japanese player was then able to get a shot off before Neuer was in the right position to be able to affect the play. Let’s not get this twisted, this is a mistake that we can all make. I would actually argue that most goals that we all concede from the pro level all the way down to the youth ranks have to do with improper positioning on a given play. The problem with this situation is that it happened to Manuel Neuer in a key moment within a World Cup!
Ball Security Issues?
This was perhaps the most surprising situation that we saw from Neuer. At one point we’re all going to lose a step and with someone like him where his entire game is so predicated on timing it’s not necessarily too surprising that he’s losing some of that perfect timing. Ball security issues though are not something that you expect to see from an experienced keeper. Particularly someone like him who has never had these problems in the past. For example, seeing Keylor Navas struggle with ball security wouldn’t be so odd because he’s always had an awkward catching motion. He kind of stabs at the ball at times. With Neuer, ball security was one of his main calling cards. Particularly earlier in his career when he wasn’t the sweeper keeper that he became.
In the game against Japan he wasn’t able to effectively deflect two shots coming in from an angle. What ended up happening is that he gave up at least two second chances opportunities with an open goal. Only one was converted. The first Costa Rica goal he wasn’t able to hold on to a header in the box. In each of these plays we could argue that the shots came in from very close range. Again the big issue is that we’re judging Manuel Neuer. I was judging one of the kids that I coach. We could talk about certain things that they could do better, but I would say ultimately with shots coming in at such close range there’s only so much you can do. With a player of this caliber we expect more!
Why Hasn’t Neuer Looked Dominant With The National Team In 4 or 5 Years?
This is something that I’ve actually spent time discussing with other goalkeepers. It’s something similar to what we’re seeing from Cristiano Ronaldo as a field player. If you saw Neuer or Cristiano without any type of context as to who they were. You see them play today and by no means do you feel that they are bad players. The problem is both of these guys reached such a high level in their careers that right now that they are closer to an average player it’s hard to wrap your head around this. The reason that I chose a 4-year span for Neuer is because he had back to back World Cups where he wasn’t dominant. In between though there are certainly good years for Bayern Munich.
Ultimately much of Neuer’s game in his prime was based on timing. It seems that Neuer may have lost a step. Now, you could make the argument that we’re seeing other goalkeepers at around the same age keep a steady string of performances even through the late years of their career. Edwin Van de Sarr for example was in the last stages of his career when he arrived at Manchester United, and he arguably had some of the best years of his entire career there. The simple answer to this is that we don’t all age the same. Plus, Neuer’s game requires him to navigate the box, and leave the box much more often than other goalkeepers. That makes timing more important for him than others.
Is His Inclusion In This World Cup Squad A Step Back For German Goalkeeping?
Before the World Cup I wrote an article about Germany’s goalkeeper situation coming into the tournament. Ultimately I acknowledged that I understood why Neuer was still the first choice goalkeeper for Germany. There was a simple reason for this. Neuer’s abilities are not shared by any of the other options on the squad. Ter Stegen is one of the most talented goalkeepers with the ball at his feet. That doesn’t mean though that he feels comfortable going out and getting too many balls outside the box. In fact, he’s more of a between the sticks than many people want to realize. So what the coach was trying to do is to use Manuel Neuer’s sweeper keeper style to the team’s advantage.
From what we’ve seen now though, it’s fair to wonder what could’ve been if Ter Stegen was between the sticks. He very well could’ve been playing in his second World Cup. Instead, he’ll likely head to Mexico, the US and Canada as a veteran goalkeeper who for his sake hopefully gets the chance to start at the tournament. With that in mind though, it does feel like Ter Stegen has been left in the dark too much. He may even decide that he doesn’t want to go with the national team anymore if he keeps getting skipped over. That could certainly be a step back because none of the current German goalkeepers are at his level. Even if Trapp or whoever could replace him could do a good job.
Manuel Neuer’s Current Form At Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich is not the dominant force that we saw for example in that COVID year when they won the Champions League in the bubble. They’ve had a lot more trouble getting past even some of the teams that we don’t think are that competitive in the Bundesliga. There’s still some of Neuer’s brilliance in a few games here and there. Ultimately, it does seem like he’s going through that phase where he’s turning into a mortal goalkeeper. It’s tough to see that for many of us who have admired him for a while. It is a fact of life though. Furthermore, we could argue that there are two events that ended Neuer’s prime and both of them are rather unfortunate.
One was the injury that he suffered before the 2018 World Cup. He got over that, and was able to be a decent contributor in that 2020 Bayern team that we were talking about. The other thing that kind of killed his prime was the departure of Pep Guardiola from Bayern to Man City. Since then, he hasn’t had such an open option to just play as a literal sweeper who can use his hands inside the box. He’s been forced a bit in towards goal and let’s be honest he’s not the best between the sticks keeper that we’ve ever seen. He has a lot of skills that he can use between the sticks for sure. That’s not necessarily the best part of his game.
Is Manuel Neuer Done? – Conclusion
Other than this conclusion the entire article was written before Manuel Neuer broke his leg in a skiing accident. Taking that into account it doesn’t make a lot of sense for Neuer to come back and play. He’ll probably want to. The fact for example that he still wanted to be a part of the German national team at this point in his career speaks to his willingness to compete even in the later stages of his career. So there’s a chance that he’ll want to find a way back from the leg injury. The biggest problem that he was right now is that he’d essentially lost a step already. That’s what I’ve been essentially alluding to in the entire article. After not being able to get out there and run or even walk for months it’s highly likely that he’ll lose even yet another step.
Ultimately if he does decide to come back we could be looking at a completely different player. Timing was so much a part of his game, particularly at the peak of his powers. He’s still talented enough to probably make a comeback if he wanted to. It would be similar though to the Cristiano Ronaldo current reality. In which as I mentioned if you see him play you won’t necessarily be at awe with how awful he is as a player. He’s Cristiano Ronaldo though, and you expect more from him. Neuer coming back particularly from this leg injury seems like a scenario that would be very similar to what I just described. I wish him the best, but yeah Manuel Neuer is likely done!