From the playground in Gelsenkirchen- Early life/Junior Career.
Manuel Never was born on 27th of March, 1986, in the city of Gelsenkirchen. He was football mad from birth and his favourite club was Schalke 04. He could see their old stadium, the Parkstadion, from his bedroom. It had to have made quite the impression.
He was given his first ball at the age of 2, and by the age of 4, he joined Schalke’s famed Knappenschmiede Academy. He was playing for their Bambinis group where he was put in goal, because he was the smallest player on the pitch.
He didn’t just play with Schalke, but also on the playground with his friends. On the playground, he never played in goal, only as an outfield player and it was perhaps there, he learned to be comfortable on the ball.
At Schalke, he was being developed at one of the best academies in Europe, one that produced Neuer himself, but also the likes of Benedikt Howedes, Mesut Ozil, Leroy Sane and Julian Draxler. He also had great goal keeping examples to look up to in those early years, including his idol, Jens Lehmann. Lehmann was crystallized as Neuer’s hero when he saved a penalty at the Parkstadion in the 1997 UEFA Cup Final. An 11-year old Manuel was there live to witness it.
From that young age, Neuer dedicated himself to learning all he could from Lehmann and the other goalkeepers in the Schalke senior setup. On matchdays, he would arrive early to watch the older keeper prepare and warm-up.
As time went by, he proceeded through Knappenshmiede’s various age groups. The journey was not without bumps in the road. At the age of 13, he was left out of a regional side because he was too small. The rejection made him consider quitting football, but his youth goalkeeping coach, Lothar Matuschak convinced both Manuel and Schalke to be patient.
It goes without saying that at 6-foot-4 inches, the idea of Manuel Neuer being too small for anything seems unbelievable, but so it was and football was this close to losing one of its brightest lights.
Matuschak’s prediction and belief in Neuer’s talent started to bear fruit. With Neuer in goal, the Schalke U-17s won the U-17 German cup in 2002, and then he’d follow it up a few years later with the U-19 German cup in 2005.
At his young age he was even attracting attention from all over Europe. His hero Jens Lehmann was playing at Arsenal at the time and remembers that he was made aware of Neuer’s burgeoning ability as early as 2004: “I saw an under-19 game and he was great. At the time I also had meetings with our chief scout once a week and he told me he had spotted a really good goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer. My goalkeeping coach had him watched and there was even talk about Arsenal trying to sign him.”
Despite this interest, Schalke were always going to be his first stop. He was promoted to the senior team in the Summer of 2005 as third goalkeeper.
Schalke 04 (first team) and Debut
Never quickly settled into the first team. Even back then his skills on the ball drew plaudits.
Early in his spell Neuer took part in a training session with some outfield players and impressed bystanders so much that the supporters came up for autographs wondering who the new player was.
“I am Manuel Neuer, your third-choice goalkeeper,” he replied deadpan.
He was also blessed with a fearsome long throw, a legacy of the youth training where Matuschack would have the goalkeepers in his care throw dozens of balls at small goals placed on the halfway line.
Despite these tools, the path to the number one shirt at Schalke was blocked by Frank Rost, himself a solid goalkeeper. After making the bench for the first couple of games in the 2005/06 season, he mostly played for the Schalke reserves.
In the Summer of 2006, Neuer’s shirt number changed from 29, to 12, which might have indicated a promotion of sorts. Still, he wasn’t expecting to see much playing time in the first team, after all Rost was still in situ.
However, in the second match of the season vs. Alemania Aachen, Neuer made his debut for the injured Rost. It capped a noteworthy week for Manuel as he had made his National U-21 debut earlier in the week.
Alemannia, despite going through a bit of a Golden age (they were Pokal runners-up in 2005, and had a creditable run in the UEFA Cup the following season) lacked the history of Schalke and many of the other big clubs, and it was in these rather inauspicious circumstances that Manuel Neuer made his first team football debut.
Against Aachen, he kept a clean sheet, in spite of Schalke being reduced to 10 men early in the match. A second clean sheet against title-favourites Werder Bremen followed in the next match.
Rost returned after that, but indifferent form meant that by November, 2006, he was dropped for Neuer, before a match against Bayern, no less.
Neuer conceded his first two goals in the seniors against Bayern, but ended up keeping the role for the rest of that season. He ended up conceding 21 goals and keeping 13 clean sheets as Schalke finished runners-up to the surprising VFB Stuttgart. For his efforts he was voted Goalkeeper Of The Year by Kicker magazine.
Rost, an experienced pro was not happy about this and was sold in the January transfer window to Hamburg. Neuer would remain number one for the rest of his time in Schalke.
Rise to Prominence
Neuer continued his consistency in the Bundesliga in Season 2007/08, and also made his first appearance in the Champions League. Schalke gave a good account of themselves, with Neuer only conceding 7 goals, as they reached the quarter finals.
Neuer’s stunning performance in the round of 16 versus Porto is still talked about till today. The match ended 1-1 on aggregate with both teams winning at home. After a tense extra time, they went to penalties and Neuer capped a heroic performance by saving 2 penalties in the shootout to send Schalke through the quarter final.
The next season was not as successful for Schalke or Neuer himself though he continued his record of conceding less than a goal a game. Neuer started the season injured after breaking his foot in a pre-season friendly. The injury kept him out till mid-September by which time Schalke had fallen out of the Champions League. They would also fail to progress in the UEFA Cup and falter in the league and DFB Pokal.
At the end of the season Schalke finished 8th in the Bundesliga, a disappointing position for a side that had expected to challenge for the championship.
Just a few weeks later, however, Neuer’s career would hit the next level.
European U-21 Champion
Germany’s performance and style of play in the 2010 World Cup was a breath of fresh air and a bit of a surprise, but not if one had been following the exploits of the Under-21s the previous summer, in 2009.
With names like Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Jerome Boateng and Manuel Neuer himself, the German U-21s made it to the final where they swept aside England 4-0. Neuer was immaculate conceding only one goal in the five matches. Scouts all over Europe were salivating over the young stars.
With the retirement of Jens Lehmann and his success at the U-21 Euros, Neuer could expect to be part of Senior team squads. Indeed, he had been called up for the Nationalmannschaft tour of Asia earlier in the summer of 2009 where he made his senior debut against the United Arab Emirates.
Neuer was promoted to Schalke vice-captain ahead of the 2009/10 season behind Heiko Westermann. When Westermann got injured in January and required surgery that would keep him out for a few weeks, Neuer got the armband. The few weeks he held the armband were a glimpse into Schalke’s future.
Neuer, with the confidence boost from the Under-21 Euros and the rise in status in the team had a strong season. He was ever present and had 15 clean sheets, conceding 31 goals in 34 games. With him as custodian, Schalke moved back up the table finishing runners-up again, this time to Bayern.
On the World Stage- 2010 World Cup.
At the start of the 2009/10 season, it was acknowledged that Germany already had two keepers ahead of Manuel Neuer in Robert Enke, and Rene Adler. Tragedy would soon change that.
In November 2009, the number 1 goalkeeper, Robert Enke took his own life. Enke’s tragic death meant that Neuer became the second choice, while Adler became first choice.
However an injury to Adler meant that he would miss the World cup and Neuer was installed as number 1- at 24, Germany’s third ever youngest keeper at a World Cup.
Neuer and Germany shone at the World Cup, playing some of the most scintillating football. Neuer conceded three goals in six matches.
In the Round of 16, Germany met England. A blockbuster tie that lived up to it’s billing. Neuer had a memorable game. First, his goal kick set up stalwart striker Miroslav Klose for the game’s opening goal, and then England’s Frank Lampard had a shot that cannoned off the crossbar and bounced over the line, but in those pre-Goal Line technology days, it was not spotted by the referee. Germany would go on to enjoy a 4-1 win.
A clean sheet against Argentina in the 1/4 final followed, before the thrilling run came to an end against eventual champions Spain. Germany played the match that no one wants to play- the 3rd/4th place playoff, and won 3-2 against Uruguay, but Neuer did not play in that match as usually these games aren’t usually played by the starters.
Ultimate Season with Schalke
After the World Cup, Neuer was in high demand particularly from England. Manchester United had long since held an interest in him, due to their keeper (and ironically Neuer’s other idol along with Jens Lehmann) Edwin Van Der Saar’s career coming to an end. Other clubs like Arsenal also looked covetously at the young German, while domestically it was well known that Bayern wanted to sign him.
2010/11 saw Neuer made Captain of Schalke, full time. However, the 10/11 Bundesliga season was a massive comedown from the highs of the previous season and the World Cup. For the first time in his Bundesliga career, Neuer’s goals conceded total exceeded 1 per game. It was a fraught season with a lot of churn in playing and coaching staff and Schalke finished 14th with only 40 points.
However, things were a lot more joyous in Europe and in the Cup. The defensive stability that eluded them in the Bundesliga was present in the cup. Neuer was ever present in the cup run, keeping 5 clean sheets in 6 games.
In Europe, he was again ever-present as Schalke made it to the semi-finals. Perhaps due to their league form, they were the underdogs during most of the run but the football world sat up and took notice when they beat defending Champions Internazionale 7-3 on aggregate, including a 5-2 shellacking in the San Siro, in front of Inter’s own fans.
The run came to an end in the semi-finals against an excellent Manchester United side, but even in defeat, Manuel managed to shine producing a heroic performance in the first leg in Gelsenkirchen to keep the scoreline respectable.
On that day, April 26, 2011, Schalke were blown away by the intensity of Manchester United’s attacks. In truth, the tie should have been over but for Neuer. For over an hour he was the only resistance to United’s attacking efforts making a series of stunning and miraculous saves until the English side broke the deadlock in the 67th minute. Another goal came two minutes later and Manchester United finished of the demolition 4-1 in Manchester a week later.
A week before this epic performance, Manuel Neuer had announced that he would not be extending his contract with the club. With the contract due to expire in June 2012, this meant that Schalke had two options. Either they sell him that summer, or see him leave for nothing in the next.
The Gelsenkirchen club were having serious financial issues, so elected to pursue the latter option.
A few weeks after the Champions League exit, Neuer signed off from Schalke when as Schalke captain, lifted the DFB Pokal after an emphatic 5-0 thrashing of MSV Duisburg. It was to be the first of many honors he would lift in his career.
His efforts that season saw him win the German Footballer of the Year for 2011.
On July 1, 2011, Neuer completed his move to Bayern Munich, for a fee of 30 million euros. His career was about to hit the stratosphere.
Record at Schalke
|Honours||DFB Pokal (German Cup) 2011|
Welcome to Bayern
The move to Bayern did not make Neuer an unpopular man. Fans of his beloved Schalke felt betrayed, while Bayern’s ultras had not forgotten some of his past antics when Schalke had won a game in Munich at the Allianz Arena, Bayern’s home stadium.
The Ultras went as far as writing out a Code of Conduct that Neuer was expected to follow.
To make things worse, his Bayern debut against Gladbach ended in a home defeat in front of those skeptical fans, and the goal came from Manuel’s error.
He quickly moved past that setback, going on a run of 8 successive clean sheets and seemingly started to settle in.
The Bridesmaid Season
Bayern performed well in his first season, and Neuer was a key component in that. The Champions League final that year was to be held at the Allianz Arena so there was added impetus to make it to the final and win it in front of Bayern’s own fans.
They did that after getting past a star-studded Real Madrid side in the semi-final. The Real Madrid of Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho that finally vanquished Barcelona on their way to a 100 point season in La Liga.
Neuer was key to Bayern triumphing in the semi-final. After the tie ended 3-3 on aggregate, Neuer saved two penalties in the shootout to send the Munich side through.
It meant that as the 2011/12 season drew to an end, Bayern had a chance at a treble. However, this was not to be; Dortmund won the league with a few games left to spare, and then blew them away in the DFB Pokal. Then came the Champions League final where despite dominating the game, Bayern lost to Chelsea on penalties.
It echoed the travails of Bayer Leverkusen a decade before in that Bayern were runners-up in all 3 major competitions.
A semi-final defeat against Italy at Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine adding up to an emotional but ultimately unsatisfying season for Neuer.
In the 2012-13 season, there seemed to be an unspoken pact by the Bayern Munich players that the heartache of Spring 2012 would never happen again. They were immense that year and Neuer was once again a big part. In the Bundesliga, he kept 18 clean sheets and only conceded 18 goals as Bayern won the league by 25 points.
The 2012-13 season is perhaps one of the greatest seasons by a team. 1 treble, only 3 defeats in over 50 games; almost 100 goals scored in the Bundesliga. Utterly dismantling Barcelona in a Champions League semi-final.
Neuer was ever present, only rested for three games in the Bundesliga. In the middle of all the success, fans saw a glimpse of the future with Neuer captaining the team in a league match against Borussia Dortmund.
His efforts that season saw him awarded the FIFA World’s Best Goalkeeper for 2013
The 2013/14 season continued Bayern’s success. Legendary manager Jupp Heynckes retired, and Bayern replaced him with Pep Guardiola.
Guardiola continued the success from the previous season. Bayern retained the Bundesliga and the Pokal but fell short at the semi-final stage in the Champions League being humbled by Real Madrid.
In the summer of 2014, however, Neuer won the ultimate prize with Germany. After many near misses, including semi-final defeats at the 2010 World Cup, and 2012 European Championships, the Nationalmannschaft finally tasted victory at an international tournament.
Neuer was ever present, but his magnum opus in the tournament was in the Round of 16 game against Algeria. The form book had an easy win for Germany but it would prove to be their most challenging match.
Germany played with a high defensive line as a result of their high pressing game. It is a risky strategy that requires the defense to be in sync so that they can play the offside trap.
Against Germany, Algeria repeatedly broke the offside trap, but Germany had a counter to that: Manuel Neuer.
Neuer had always been a great keeper, but a season under Guardiola had strengthened the other strings to his blow, namely his comfort with the ball at his feet. Guardiola had turned him from a goalkeeper to a footballer.
The Algeria game brought the term ‘sweeper-keeper’ back into the game’s popular lexicon. Each time the Algerians broke the offside trap, Neuer would be there to clear the ball away, hold up the Algerian attackers or even tackle them cleanly. He was able to do this because his starting position, higher up the pitch than a normal goalkeeper.
Football formations usually don’t include the goalkeeper, as the role is seen as a purely defensive, reactive role, but Neuer made a big case with his style of play to be included in any formation.
Had Germany not had Neuer, they would have been unable to execute the high press they did and would have been come to a sticky, ignoble end.
A routine win over France followed in the 1/4 final before an unforgettable semi-final against Brazil.
Lacking their talisman, Neymar and their leader and defensive lynchpin Thiago Silva, Brazil fell apart. They wilted in the face of the relentless German attacks as well as the pressure of being hosts. At the end of the match, the score was a scarcely believable 7-1 to Germany.
In the Final, Neuer kept his 4th clean sheet of the World Cup as Germany beat Argentina 1-0. Neuer had become a World Champion.
His efforts saw him nominated for the Ballon D’or, where he finished third. He also won his second German footballer of the year award.
As the qualification campaign for the 2016 European Championships (Euro 2016) began, Neuer captained the Nationalmannschaft for the first time.
Further success, and ups and downs.
Bayern have been machine-like since 2013, winning 11 Bundesligas in a row, multiple DFB Pokals and in 2020, during the strangeness of the COVID-19 pandemic, a sixth Champions League crown; Neuer’s second at the club, and his second Treble.
In that time he’s had his ups and downs. After the retirement of Phillip Lahm, Neuer became the new Bayern captain. What a difference from being banned from kissing the badge by the Bayern fans!
However injury wrecked his 2017-18 season after he suffered a broken foot and though he came back in time for the 2018 World Cup, his aura of invincibility seemed to have diminished a little. Germany failed to make it past the first round for the first time since 1938 in 2018, and repeated the ignominious feat again in 2022. Neuer was captain for both these campaigns and questions began to swirl about his place in the national team, especially with the rise of his would-be successor Marc-Andre ter Stegen.
Legacy and the future.
At the start of the 2023/24 season Manuel Neuer is in limbo. A broken leg while skiing in December 2022 ruled him out for most of the 2022/23 season and the start of the 2023/24 season. Will he return at a level close to his best? Only time will tell.
However, what can be said is that Manuel Neuer redefined goalkeeping. Just like the likes of Jens Lehmann and Edwin Van Der Sar were idols for Neuer, so will he be an idol for upcoming keepers not just for men, but for women as well.
Every decade, every generation has a keeper that was the prime example of a goalkeeper. Whether it was Gyula Grosics and Lev Yashin, or Gordon Banks, or Oliver Kahn and Iker Casillas. For a certain generation, the goalkeeper is Manuel Neuer.
Manuel Neuer Bayern Munich Stats
|Honours||2X UEFA Champions League (2013, 2020); 11X Bundesliga Champion (2013-2023); 5X DFB Pokal (2013, 2014, 2016, 2019, 2020); 2x FIFA World Club Cup (2013, 2020); 2X UEFA Super Cup (2013, 2020); 7X German Super Cup (2012, 2016-18, 2020-22)|
|Personal||2X German Footballer of the year (2011, 2014)|
Record with Germany
|Honours||FIFA World Cup 2014|