manuel neuer – a legend in the making

young manuel neuer, in 2006.

march 27, 1986, manuel neuer was born. in germany. in the city of gelsenkirchen. that’s where a special football club comes from, fc schalke 04, one of the two best supported teams in germany. at the age of four, neuer already started playing for his home town club; up to his teens, who would defend all the youth teams of the club, and watch the bundesliga matches from the stands. at the age of 20, already as a professional player, he finally made his debut for the first team, substituting the injured frank rost. when the experienced goalkeeper returned from injury right in time for the home match against bayern munich, neuer retained his position and was allowed to play. his brilliant performance guaranteed a 2×2 tie in that match, and neuer had just become the starting keeper. frank rost, widely considered one of the top five keepers in germany for many years, would leave the club, and neuer was already seen as a future number one for the german national team, since jens lehmann wasn’t getting any younger.

 

neuer in action, 2009

since then, manuel neuer has had a few weeks of bad form, but mostly memorable performances and important matches. it seems that when the pressure is the highest, neuer gives his best performances. in the champions league against fc porto, in a season when schalke reached the quarter finals (2008); for the sub-21 german national team during the euro 2009 won by germany and having neuer as their mvp; or, more recently, for schalke against bayern, holding the gelsenkirchen club in the match in a fantastic first half by bayern munich, and even assisting in the first goal. even in the recent world cup, manuel neuer, who inherited his deserved number one position from a rene adler injury and a tragic robert enke suicide, did a pretty good job; a little bit of a mistake against serbia, but some great performances against ghana, england (where he assisted to klose’s first goal), argentina and spain.

neuer is on the way to becoming the world’s best keeper – a title currently belonging to iker cassillas, but still somewhat up for grabs. the brazilian julio cesar has been outstanding for internazionale, another brazilian (gomes) was considered the best goalie in england, and the young lloris, goalkeeping for lyon and france, are in the running. but the now 24 year old manuel neuer has a great future. and he deserves to spend some time of his career outside of his hometown. in england, maybe? or in munich? the decision should be announced in the next few months.

but right now my advise is for you to watch the round of 16 match involving schalke, in february. it doesn’t matter against whom, but you’ll probably understand what i’m talking about when you see neuer at work. his great qualities, besides the obvious one-to-one situations and great reflexes, are his “footballer qualities”, his precise long passes and long throws, his calm personality and his increasingly good antecipation. he’ll be the german number one for at least another decade, and he will be the world’s best goalkeeper by the time the next world cup is played.

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germany’s football culture has changed

it was just germany x azerbaijan. a mere qualifier for euro 2012. but it was still a very important match for the fans of german football. and maybe, just maybe, for any football fan.

klinsmann is a symbol for the old germany: athletic, enthusiastic, soloist...

germany has been famous, over decades, for its efficiency. yes, there were some quite brilliant players, and some memorable teams; but it was the german physis, tactics, discipline and efficiency which took the national teams to 6 titles in euros and world cups, and inumerous 2nd, 3rd and 4th places in the biggest international tournaments.

in 2006, the german team showed first signs of a new, exciting way of playing the game; mostly, the round of 16 match against sweden comes to mind. but even the 2nd place in the euro 2008 couldn’t hide the fact that germany was playing like germany again… with a lots of will and strength, the final was reached; but netherlands, russia and spain were the teams getting the praise at the end. at the end, results count; but really memorable teams have a way of playing, a style that fascinates the world.

german teams are still united, but now they have a better playing philosophy...

i think it’s safe to say that spain did not fascinate the world in this world cup, and netherlands never really came close. actually, the dutch played quite a little like the germans. and the germans? they played… differently.

hungary in the 50ies, brasil in 58, 70 and 82; the netherlands in 1974. those teams played a special kind of football, each of them different from the other. 1986 is an exception, since it was maradona who was memorable, not the argentinian national team. and since that world cup in mexico, here has not been one team to really stand out and become memorable.

i can’t really say that this was the case for the first time in 24 years in “waka waka” land. it’s to early to judge. but a great team is developing, a team that might become as great as the spaniards are now – but even more admired and loved.

thomas müller is a symbol of the new germany...

the fact that i’m talking about the young german national squad seems surreal, but it is, nonetheless, true. beyond a doubt, the most exciting football in the last world cup was celebrated by the germans. it’s fast, vertical and risky on the attack, but envolves lots of running, positioning and discipline in the defense. “umschalten” is the word in german, to “change” the switch. when someone gets the ball, everyone else should be in offensive movement, and the ball should be played as fast and vertical as possible to the front. there is room for plenty of creativity and intelligent play, and there is room for mistakes; because of the organization and the traditional good goal keeping.

part of the new germany: now they have cacau, özil, khedira, boateng, podolski... so many nations into one!

even the germans were taken by surprise with the team. özil only really started to play for the team not even a year ago, müller played his first match in march of 2010, toni kroos had his debut the same day; schweinsteiger left the wings and only started to play in the central midfield position in the weeks before the world cup, and boateng had his first match october last year. everyone saw the potential, but no one could have dreamed of seeing it all really work well, at least in three memorable matches.

podolski is playing much better, with the company of özil and müller.

the victory against australia is underestimated. germany were the first team to shine in the world cup, and they completeley dominated australia; but not in a typical german way, but playfully, light, fast and dangerous. it could have been 8×0, easily. but even if it had been only 2×0, it was the way they played that was so different. by the way, australia beat serbia and tied against ghana… the germany game was their only loss. even in their loss to serbia, they played a breath-taking second half – with only 10 men; but no goals.

the matches against england and argentina are most likely the best a german team has ever played. spain plays the game of patience, of total ball control, of waiting and then scoring, of not letting the other team play. germany do not show such patience, they’re play is less mature, but more youthful – and nice to look at. in the old days, if you had one great combination of offensive passes, it was reason for great praise; now you can’t count them anymore, simply because it has become the philosophy to try, and try, and try.

klose scored two goals yesterday, one against belgium friday - he's playing much better football now, with the young fellows.

so yesterday’s match, the first one on home soil since the strange world cup events, was a looker. first of all, german teams have traditionally had problems against the so-called “smaller football nations”; a 1×0 or 2×1 was not a rare result, and the game was rarely interesting to watch. second, azerbaijan have shown that they are difficult to play, having tied in russia and even beaten the czech republic, all pretty recently. so normally there would be no reason to expect a goal festival. but this was the exact expectation, based on the world cup feeling.

and even under that pressure to perform, and even not at 100% after a short vacation: what we saw yesterday was a german team demonstrating that they will continue their path and have no intention to stop. many talented players are on the outside and want in. after the 3×0 half time lead, normally the second half would be a total bore, but the new germany attacks until he very last minute, no matter the score. klose scored the final goal in over time.

badstuber played a great game yesterday and looks like the future as a full back.

it is just good to know that something definetley is growing in german football. a team that has the potential to be memorable not for titles or dramas, but simply for a way of playing football. thomas müller, who didn’t have a good day yesterday, represents this new germany; only very few bayern fans knew him a year ago, and now he’s conquered the world. and: he is here to stay, for a long time.

talent, mentality, added to the team spirit, defensive discipline and the willingness to attack always, as much as possible, with everyone moving all the time and avoiding to commit fouls: this is the germany that might be considered memorable in years to come. the germany in 2010, and maybe the germany in 2014. the way is long, but yesterday proved that no one has the intention to change the direction.

germany and the world will be thankful. the 6×1 yesterday could only be the continuation of what started in the winter miracle of 2010…