Manuel Neuer: still the best sweeper-keeper in the world
Manuel Neuer can turn 35 in a month, but the Bayern Munich captain remains the best goalkeeper in the game - and not just when he fights off his line to eliminate the danger.
World champion with seven Bundesliga titles and a Champions League in his name, Neuer has long been considered the game's best goalkeeper and is rightly credited with perfecting the role of sweeper-goalkeeper - but less recognized is his unparalleled ability of Bayern Munich man on in building attacks.
Perplexed? Don't be. The term "sweeper-goalkeeper" became a valid entry in the world football dictionary after the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, where Neuer won praise for his performance defying the convention in loading from his penalty area to erase opposition attacks.
Germany's latest victory against Algeria is most often highlighted to highlight the point, the 6'4 "giant who regularly saved Joachim Löw's side with his perfectly timed interceptions," sweeping "the danger before he could develop further. .
Löw praised the new way of interpreting to be his goalkeeper, but for Schalke's fans it was old news. And far from simply being a destructive presence in racing on his line, the gelsenkirchen-born custodian would actively form part of his team's build-up game. So much so that in the 156 Bundesliga matches for the Royal Blues between 2006 and 2011, Neuer provided four assists.
With such a vision and precise distribution available from behind, Schalke was no longer just a team of 10 field players plus a goalkeeper, but a side with a full complement of 11 ball players. It is a subtle but significant distinction. It is certainly no coincidence that the last time Schalke won a major trophy, the 2011 DFB Cup, they did so with Neuer captains behind them.
The 34-year-old has perfected his craft over the years. Since before he might dash off his line to clear only a dangerous pass, now he quickly controls the ball and often outfoxes the opposing attackers with eye-catching skills and slots before playing it at a teammate.
Neuer is so successful in this regard that the completion rate of his passes from the open game is 86.3% (from 772 pass attempts). Compare it with his contemporaries from the other clubs currently in the top five and, well, there is no comparison: Yann Sommer (Borussia Mönchengladbach / 79.8%). Peter Gulacsi (RB Leipzig / 77.3); Roman Bürki (Borussia Dortmund / 74.4); and Lukas Hradecky (Bayer Leverkusen / 71.9).
He makes this aspect of the game as much a part of his training routine as other fundamental facets that make him such a phenomenal player. He is always involved when Bayern's outfield players perform their rounds: one-touch exercises with one or two players in the middle of a circle, trying to get the ball off their teammates around them. And during the goalkeeper's specific exercises, he crosses the balls in the box for his fellow guards to catch, doing so with inerring precision every time.
"I think he could easily play as an outfield player in the third division," said German goalkeeper Andreas Köpke. Bayern and Germany legend Miroslav Klose is equally convinced of his former team-mate's ability on the ball: "I think he will definitely get a few goals as a striker in the Bundesliga 2."
Neuer himself has a much more pragmatic view of his approach: "In modern football, it's about winning the ball back as quickly as possible and reaching the goal of the opposition as quickly as possible. To do that as a goalkeeper, obviously you have to I play a slightly bigger style of attack ".
And he does better than anyone else. According to the eighth, in the current season Neuer was involved in 49 passing sequences that led to Bayern having a shot on goal - the highest number of any goalkeeper in the top five leagues of Europe.
In this context, Pau Lopez from Rome is next on the list, with 41, ahead of Kepa Arrizabalaga (Chelsea, 40), Mat Ryan (Brighton & Hove Albion, 39) and Ederson (Manchester City, 37). Other goalkeepers who have adopted Neuer's strategy, such as Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Alisson Becker, do not even reach the top five.
And while imitation is said to be the highest form of flattery, it is not just what Neuer does, but how he does it. It is his sense of timing that comes from his line as the last man that Neuer was never sent off, all while conveying an air of ease and calm to teammates and spectators alike. "On the sidelines, you're calm and you don't get nervous because you always feel like he knows what he's doing," Köpke said.
It should come as no surprise, then, that even as the 35th anniversary approaches, Neuer remains the undisputed first choice for the club and the country. He has played in all of Bayern's 37 competitive matches this season, has kept 10 clean games, conceded just four goals in eight games in 2020 and is the only goalkeeper in Bundesliga history with more than 100 top appearances. on average less than one goal per match (0.78).
"Through my positional attacking game I want to help the team whenever I can," Neuer said. "As a goalkeeper you're often a lone wolf, but on the field I think I have some kind of relief syndrome." Sweeper, playmaker, helper; whatever the right term, it continues to be incredibly effective for the best goalkeeper in the world.