What Makes Manuel Neuer An All-Time Great Goalkeeper?

What Makes Manuel Neuer An All-Time Great Goalkeeper?

Manuel Neuer may not be the hands down best goalkeeper in the world at this point in his career. There’s an argument to be made though that he dominated an era of goalkeeping. I like to think that he took the baton from Iker Casillas, and even though Gigi Buffon was and still is around he was the man right in the mid 2010s or so. What was always fascinating to me about Neuer is that he had a skill set that was really hard to replicate. No offense to someone like Casillas for example, but we’d seen great shot stoppers before. With Neuer he brought back the sweeper keeper style, and he did it at his 6’3 or 6’4 height. 

Most of the sweeper keepers that we’d seen to that point had been the shorter guys. Goalkeepers like Campos and Higuita who are at best 5’7. It’s more natural for a short goalkeeper to adopt the sweeper keeper style because you have to be closer to the action anyway. Since you don’t have a big frame you need to make sure that the shots that are taken on you are done so at a shorter distance, so you can cover a larger angle. We’d never really seen, at least in the modern game, a 6’3 goalkeeper play off his line so much, and effect the game in so many ways. While keeping the mistakes to a minimum. That last bit is a key element that I’m going to get to a bit. Let’s look deeply in what Makes Manuel Neuer an all-time great.   

What Makes Manuel Neuer An All-Time Great Goalkeeper? – The Unique Play Style

Manuel Neuer Save
@manuelneuer / Instagram

If there’s one thing that’s going to allow Manuel Neuer to stand out in a crowd is his play style. This is something that can’t be understated when it comes to goalkeepers. There are a lot of talented guys out there that end up being lost to history because they either were not on winning teams or did not have anything about them that stood out. Neuer is certainly not going to be hurt by that because of what I already mentioned. He’s a modern day sweeper keeper when we thought that we had left the sweeper keepers back in the early 2000s. Other than the size, and the other things that we talked about the effectiveness of his game is what really stands out. Let’s just face it Campos, and Higuita whom we referenced played to the crowd, and had a sense of showmanship.  

I’m not out here saying that Neuer didn’t enjoy playing off his line like the other two. He realized though at a certain point in his career that it was really effective to play the way that he was playing. You’re able to effect goal scoring chances and in many squash them before they actually have a chance to affect you. The fact that he was paired with Pep Guardiola in part of his prime really helped him. Because Pep understood that the play style was actually beneficial to the team. Staying on that line of what Makes Manuel Neuer we have to mention that perhaps the biggest example of his greatness is that Pep is still trying to find a keeper that can execute Neuer’s play style effectively. Let’s not get it twisted Ederson may kick further, but he’s not Manuel Neuer.    

Not Necessarily Forgoing Traditional Goalkeeper Technique

Manuel Neuer making a diving save to the top corner
@manuelneuer / Instagram

It’s a bit of a shame that we have to go back to Manuel Neuer’s Schalke 04 days to be able to see some of the most amazing acrobatic saves of his career. There is a reason for that though. Earlier in his career he wasn’t the sweeper keeper that he became later on. He was already trending in that direction, and then he was paired with Pep Guardiola, and things just took off. From time to time though you can still spot one of those vintage Manuel Neuer saves. Some of his most amazing moments at Schalke 04 are of him navigating the goal to dive at the perfect moment and make an amazing save. 

Another thing that he does really well is hold onto the ball making clean catches. He’s not a goalkeeper that’s going to be giving up second chance opportunities to the other team. He maybe won’t make that signature Ter Stegen save in which he really makes us wonder if he’s spider-man. Neuer ends the play with a clean catch. That’s proper goalkeeper technique. In fact, a lot of the modern goalkeepers lack this ability to make clean catches and end plays right then and there. Neuer is one of those guys that you can see was really brought up in a very traditional German school of goalkeeping. Some of those old school fundamentals are still very much present in him.    

He Won It’s Simple

Lifting a trophy with Bayern Munich
@manuelneuer / Instagram

What makes Manuel Neuer an all-time great goalkeeper? Certainly one of the things that makes him an all-time great is the fact that he’s been a part of winning teams. Now, let’s be clear on this one. There are goalkeepers out there that have been a part of winning teams. We certainly remember as goalkeepers on winning teams, but not necessarily great goalkeepers in their own right. Victor Valdes comes to mind or someone like Fabien Barthez as well. That’s not to say that these two did nothing for the teams that they were successful with. In the grand scheme of things though they were not necessarily great all around goalkeepers. They were more guys that were in the right place at the right time.    

In Neuer’s case there’s little argument against the fact that he was a key element to Germany’s World Cup win. Just ask Gonzalo Higuain if Neuer’s presence in goal wasn’t scary. When it comes to the club level some of those Bayern Munich teams may have been able to be successful without him. That’s just how good some of those squads really were. Still, we do have to say that his presence in the back for those squads really gave them a lot of times that extra security blanket. A lot of times his presence allowed the team to feel more comfortable playing with such a higher pressure because he was standing back there, and he would make timely interceptions. 

How Has He Been Able To For The Most Part Avoid Mistakes? 

Manuel Neuer trying out catching techniques

One of the main reasons why coaches, in general, don’t love sweeper keepers is because they tend to be mistake prone. This is where I actually want to make sure we’re able to differentiate some of the things that Campos, and Higuita mostly did. Compared to how Neuer plays. Higuita and Campos a lot of times were doing it for show and not efficiency. That’s the best way to put it. Particularly in Higuita’s case. We love the scorpion kick save that’s awesome. The fact of the matter is, that type of save is 100% for show. There’s no reason why you should be doing something like that. Higuita taking the ball out of the box, and try to dribble past the entire opposing team is not effective either. Neuer is doing sweeper keeper things effectively. Never for show really.   

To me that’s one of the reasons why he’s been able to avoid some of the mistakes that are very typical of sweeper keepers. A lot of this certainly may have to do with the time spent working on his craft with Guardiola. I don’t necessarily want to give the Spaniard too much credit because some of the things Neuer did under him, he’d done before. In a sense though I do believe that the two must’ve had a ton of conversations on how to get this type of goalkeeping to work. We can’t overlook the fact that Neuer naturally talented with his feet. Whereas some of the other keepers in the modern like Donaruma, or Ederson are trying too hard. They don’t have Neuer’s talent or awareness on the ball.   

Is The Play Style Replicable? 

Manuel Neuer with the ball at his feet

I don’t want to say that we won’t see anything like Manuel Neuer any time soon because I do think that since his success we’re seeing at least a couple more goalkeepers try their hand at being that sweeper keeper. Donaruma is the one that comes to mind as someone who plays at a high level or at least competes with a top squad, and tries these kinds of things. As far as someone who is starting out in goalkeeping trying to decide whether he or she should try and play like this I would actually say go for it! Now, here’s the key to all of this.  

As a coach I would love my goalkeeper to try and train to be a sweeper keeper. That means that they are putting in as much effort into their goalkeeper training as they are into developing skills that a regular field player would have. There’s really no harm at all in being a more complete player. Even if your main objective is to play in goal. As a coach I would certainly encourage it in training, and allow goalkeepers to fail in training so that they can find their comfortable spots in games. The problem is we’re competing so hard even at young ages that kids are not encouraged to fail. At the same time they are not spending as much time out playing where they can develop a lot of these skills. The play style is replicable, and beneficial it’s really hard to master at Neuer’s level though.   

Can Manuel Neuer Be Considered The Best of His Era?

Gianluigi Buffon giving a funny look

That really depends on where you put Neuer in the history of the game. What I mean by that is which time frame we can consider his era. What I’ve always felt is that those late 2010s moving into the 2020s there’s about 4 years in which he was the best. Casillas had dipped by that point particularly heading into the 2014 World Cup. Casillas had already gone through the troubled Mourinho years that were really tough for him. Neuer had been to a couple of Champions League finals that span from 2012 through the 2014 World Cup he was the best goalkeeper. Gigi Buffon was still hanging around, but his Juve teams had a couple of down years at the European level. Until that 2016 through 2017 seasons when Buffon in old age becomes dominant again out of nowhere.   

Maybe what hurts him a bit is that he shared an era with the likes of Buffon who just was a presence that loomed over all goalkeepers in those years. Casillas for his part was really strong heading into the 2010, and in the early years of the decade. Even today though, how far is Neuer from the best goalkeepers in the world in 2022? The answer is he’s not far away at all. He’ll certainly be remembered as one of the best and one of the few goalkeepers in history who can boast being considered the undisputed best goalkeeper in the world within a set time frame. Even if some people want to argue that his tenure as the best was short.  

What Makes Manuel Neuer An All Time Great Goalkeeper – Conclusion

By this point I think pretty much covered everything that I wanted to talk about as it pertains to Manuel Neuer. Even if you’re not comfortable taking up that sweeper keeper role I do think that he’s a goalkeeper that we should all want to learn from. Especially how effective he was and is on his feet. The 1v1 plays that he makes are also still some of the best in the game. For taller goalkeepers who may be struggle keeping their feet under them in those 1v1 situations you have to study his technique, and maybe even his build. All things considered I would say that Manuel Neuer is one of the most unique goalkeepers that we’ve ever had. The fact that currently no other keeper has been able to fully replicate his style effectively is a testament to his greatness.