Manuel Neuer: I dont feel the fear. Im always thinking positive

In an extract from Grant Wahls new volume, the Germany and Bayern Munich captain reveals his goalkeeping philosophy and explains his sweeper-keeper role

Modern football has a lot in common with the German autobahn. The velocity of video games has no restrictions these days and the players are like finely calibrated sports cars: faster, sleeker and more powerful than ever. Movement is constant, and yet there remains an order to things, a reminder that even on the leading edge, there are forces that avoid chaos. No player better represents this than Manuel Neuer, the world’s best goalkeeper, who has redefined his position.” I’m a little bit risky, but I’m standing for security and protection, and you have to give your team-mates that feeling as well ,” tells Neuer, captain of Bayern Munich and Germany.” In life, I’m a guy who likes to drive a car quite fast, but I wear a seat belt at the same day .”

Surrounded by Champions League trophies in the Bayern Munich boardroom, the 6ft 4in, 210 lb Neuer devotes off an aura of physical power, a combination of size, strength and the potential of motion at high speed. Neuer speaks better English than he lets on at first, and he depicts a special pleasure from discussing his ultimate fast-lane experience, even if that entails taking heart-stopping risks as the last line of defense.” It’s up to me to help my defenders and it’s better for me to get the ball before the striker than to[ just waiting] have a one-on-one situation in the box ,” he tells.” That’s more dangerous than to go out, because the striker has the chance to score a goal. If he can’t get the ball, he won’t get any possibility .”

The downside of Neuer’s approach is the football version of hara-kiri. If he miscalculates the velocity and trajectory of the ball or the striker and arrives too late, he may confess a aim and appear silly in the process.” I don’t feel the dread in my head in this moment ,” he says.” I am always guessing positive. It’s all about the first step. If I guess I will get the ball, I go out. I can’t stop halfway because the goal is empty and the player would have the opportunity to shoot. You make the reaction, and then, of course, you have to be sure to get the ball. But it’s years of practice. You can’t say from one day to the other:’ Now I will do it ,’ you know? You have to feel it .”

When Neuer speaks about his goalkeeping influences as a kid, one uncover aspect is his division between German and non-German keepers and his association of the word “modern” with those who hail from outside Germany.” In Germany, Jens Lehmann was a model style for a German goalkeeper ,” Neuer says of the player who expended 10 seasons at Schalke, the club that developed Neuer.” In the international style, my idol was[ the Netherlands ‘] Edwin van der Sar. He was so modern, much more modern than Lehmann. He had another level. He could play with his left and right foot and go out of the box and go out to get crosses. He was present as a personality. Then there was Oliver Kahn: his reflexes, his ambition. He developed hard, and in that sense he was my idol. So I have some different pieces put together. It’s like having a lot of coaches, and you save something from the coach that you think is good for you- and that becomes you .”

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Of all the goalkeeper coach-and-fours Neuer has had over the years, the one he idolizes the most is Toni Tapalovic, who was hired by Bayern Munich at Neuer’s request when he joined the club in 2011. Like Neuer, Tapalovic was born in Gelsenkirchen and played in goal for Schalke. The two men are merely five years apart in age, and they developed a connect during Neuer’s formative years with the club.” When he was the No 2 goalkeeper[ at Schalke ], I was very young ,” Neuer tells.” He knew that I was a little bit better than him, but he always told me that I had to do more. He remained outside and worked with me when the team was going into the dressing room. And he was my colleague, so we had friendship and cooperation processes on the pitching. After that, he had a lot of injuries- two shoulders, a knee, hip- and he stopped his[ playing] career and started at Schalke to help coach-and-four the goalkeepers. I recommended him to Bayern. I think he has brought me to my best level .”

A goalkeeper from the age of four, he detected early on that he had a leading foot and a stand leg, and for him it felt more comfortable to leap to his left than to his right in order to make a save. Dives to his right, he says, would often result in awkward landings that devoted him bruises on his right hip.

Manuel
Manuel Neuer lifts the World Cup in 2014. Photograph: Clive Rose/ Getty Images

Working with a coach-and-four, Neuer had to train himself to explode to his right more easily, just as a right-footed player would work on passing and shooting with his left. Even today, Neuer acknowledges that diving and widening his body to his right to stop a shot won’t look the same as when he does the same thing to his left.” It’s the same power, but it seems different because the body changes when you are up in the air ,” he tells.” When you are lying down on the grass and need to stand up, you stand up in a different way on both sides. It’s not symmetrical. The important thing is that you can jumping high and long and stand up promptly. It doesn’t have to look perfect, but it has to be quick .”

Yet shot stopping, which was once the hallmark of a proficient goalkeeper, is now a bare-minimum requirement. The 21 st-century keeper also needs to organise the back line and set-piece defence, command the box on cross, disrupt resisting assaults outside the box and initiate his team’s attack.

Comfort on the ball with both feet is mandatory, as is the ability to play passes to moving targets over short and long distances, with your feet and with an overhand hurl. What’s more, the strategic tendency of extreme defensive pressing all over the field entails goalkeepers often need to construct themselves available as pressure-release valves for defenders needing to get rid of the ball.

” To be a modern goalkeeper, I have to think offensively, to initiate our attacking moves safely and securely ,” Neuer says.” Both my squads, Bayern and Germany, usually have more than 60% possession. So I have to be outside the box and be involved in the passing game from the back to get the ball to the first, second and third row of players. All these things are incorporated in my game, but I can afford it because I’m in these strong teams .”

If you watch Bayern Munich regularly, it becomes clear that Neuer almost never boots the ball aimlessly downfield, like so many other goalkeepers do. Under Pep Guardiola, the word you heard most often from the Bayern players describing their attacking philosophy was ” control “. Why would you boom the ball downfield and hazard giving up control?” The passing game has become more important ,” Neuer says.” We rarely just hammer the ball forward. I probably have twice as many touches of the ball now than I used to have at Schalke .”

Bayern Munich’s and Germany’s stranglehold on possession often entails Neuer has fewer occasions to demonstrate some of the more traditional goalkeeping skills. But he still has to call upon them at times, knowing that one mistake can turn a game. How does he know when to come out for a cross? The thought process on whether to commit is not much different from deciding whether to leave his box to cut a through-ball- though there tends to be more human traffic in his path on traverses, involving him to read even more variables in a split second.” You have to know which players are in your area and whether you have a free style to get to the ball ,” he explains.” If I know I can’t get the ball, then I have to stay in .”

Television commentators sometimes say goalkeepers should always come out for any cross in their six-yard box. But Neuer argues that is not inevitably the occurrence.” It depends how high the ball is coming into the box ,” Neuer says.” If it’s a high ball they can’t reach, you know you can go out. But if it’s a very low ball and a striker is there, it’s very dangerous and you can’t go out .” Even today, there are enough variables that the same keeper who will venture 40 yards from his objective to pick off a through-ball will sometimes refuse to move even six yards, depending on the situation.

More usually, though, Bayern’s and Germany’s obsession with control entails the ball is at the other end of the field. Neuer tells one of the hardest parts of his task is when he hasn’t faced a shot from the opposition in 45 minutes, and then he’s abruptly called into action.” Sometimes in the winter it’s very cold, you know, especially in Bavaria ,” he says, half-smiling but fully serious.” It’s not easy in this moment, because you have to go from 0 to 100 .”

Such is life on the German autobahn.

This is an edited extract from Football 2.0: How the World’s Best Play the Modern Game by Grant Wahl. It is out now in paperback and ebook

Make sure to visit: CapGeneration.com

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