Let the Right (Number) One In: Neuer or Nübel for Bayern in 2020-21?

In some vampire lore, a vampire cannot enter a home without having been invited by the homeowner to do so. Obviously, one would not knowingly extend an invitation to a creature intent on a meal of human blood, yet vampires have always found ways to get around that barrier.

And then, by the time the homeowner realizes the consequences of their actions, it is too late.

To be clear, nobody is going to assert that Alexander Nübel is a vampire. Most of his matches are played in daylight, after all. However, it is fair to wonder whether Bayern invited chaos into their home by signing the Schalke keeper and (former) team captain? 

On the surface, Bayern signing an emerging young German talent away from its competition is simply classic “Bayern being Bayern”. Getting Germany’s U21 keeper, who has emerged as one of the Bundesliga’s top goalkeepers, is a good bit of business. To have landed a player set to be your long-term solution at the position on a free transfer seems almost supernaturally unbelievable, similar to how the Bavarians were able to get a proven Robert Lewandowski without paying a transfer fee. 

So what’s the problem?

Manuel Neuer still wears the number one for Bayern and is not too far removed from being mentioned in discussions of being the best in the world.

Not best keeper, by the way. Best player

Whatever you think of trying to insert a keeper, any keeper, into the “Messi or Ronaldo” battle, the fact is that many people did start to bring Neuer’s into that debate, which shows just how dominant he has been at times, while also bringing the phrase “sweeper keeper” into fashion.

Neuer will turn 34 in March, and his current contract expires next summer, but if you think that means he is ready to start ceding playing time to allow Bayern to prepare for the future . . .

“I am an athlete and a professional and always want to play, I am ambitious and I love being on the pitch,” Neuer has been quoted as saying since news of the Nübel signing emerged.

“I am not an extra, rather a protagonist.”

There has been no indication that Bayern is prepared to move on from Neuer, but Neuer has said the coaching situation will play a role in his own approach to a new deal. Unless he is told that he will have to split time with Nübel, however, it’s hard to imagine Neuer deciding to leave just yet. And barring a bizarre rules change, only one of Bayern’s 2020-21 keepers can be on the pitch at any given time. 

So, while Nübel will be under contract to Bayern when the 2020-21 season starts, what is his status? As hard as it is to imagine Neuer backing off his territory, it’s equally difficult to see Nübel spending significant time as a backup getting nearly no playing time. Keepers don’t develop into top professionals on the training pitch nearly as much as they do from facing strong competition. 

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Does Bayern have an idea to loan Nübel out somewhere he will be the starter at a competitive-level that he’ll be ready to fill Neuer’s giant boots when the time comes? For that matter, how much longer do they play to keep Neuer in his current role? If it’s more than a few seasons, why not let Nübel continue at Schalke and just buy him later? Obviously, they saved money by getting him on this particular deal, but did they buy themselves a headache with the inopportune timing? Without another party involved, it’s not possible for Neuer to get what he wants while Nübel also gets what he needs.

It all seems like Bayern has manufactured an issue they now need to navigate where none threatened to exist until Nübel was signed. Unless they believe Neuer is seriously considering leaving or they genuinely want to transition to a younger keeper now rather than finding a replacement for Neuer only once he’s shown he is no longer elite, there is no compelling reason for them to have brought Nübel into the club at this time.

In another wrinkle, Neuer’s refusal to surrender matches for Nübel’s development was apparently said in confidence in discussions with Hasan Salihamidzic. The fact that his comments have become public threatens to complicate his relationship with the sporting director heading into contract talks.

“Nobody should say anything about discussions that take place behind closed doors,” says Neuer. “Nothing comes from me, and everyone else can do what they like.”

While has Neuer dismissed Nübel’s acquisition as “irrelevant” to his own contract situation, he clearly wants more than to be happy with the new trainer.

“Of course, I determine the prerequisites for (a contract extension),” says Neuer. I have thoughts in my head. I will not disclose them, but there are a few you can imagine. I have outlined the factors that are important to me.”

And to be clear, there is ZERO chance those factors don’t involve assurances that Neuer plays as much as he wants to play, just as he would be able to demand from nearly any club in the world. 

Maybe even his own former club, which suddenly will have an opening in goal? A Neuer return to Schalke would be an enormous story, but if Bayern made the decision to pivot to Nübel . . . well, it would be fun.

Assuming Schalke would invite their former “footballer of the year” back into Veltins Arena. 

There is one major factor that renders the entire premise of this post nearly moot, however. Whatever the antagonist, Bayern is nearly ALWAYS the character who happens to own a garlic necklace and ultimately stakes the vampire in the climactic scene. No matter how dire the situation may seem during any battle, you know that the Record Champion will come out on top at the end.

Neuer or Nübel? At some point, it won’t matter, and all parties involved are aware of that.

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Randall Hauk is a freelance writer living in the United States while covering German football. He is currently the publisher of Planet Effzeh, an English-language site covering 1. FC Köln. He wrote about the German national team for the Telegraph as part of their World Cup Nation coverage.

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