Coming in at Number Three on our countdown is a player already touted by many to be the best in Europe. Tabloid speculation was rampant surrounding his transfer from Schalke to Bayern Munich and it caused its’ share of controversy amongst various supporter groups. That said, none of it overshadowed his qualities as a player.
Here is a closer look at the league’s best goalkeepers and one of the biggest talents in world football, Manuel Neuer.
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3. Manuel Neuer
Coming up with superlatives for Manuel Neuer is like shooting fish in a barrel. Not since Oliver Kahn traipsed his arrogant strut across the lands in the Far East has there been such humdrum over the talents of a goalkeeper. Neuer may not yet have reached the heights that Kahn touched during those immortal years for Germany and Bayern Munich but there is already enough evidence to suggest that the now ex-Schalke keeper will hit those heights soon enough. Statistics do not do Neuer justice, one simply has to watch him play to witness his overbearing presence and influence in a match, a presence that spans the entirety of the pitch despite his role being confined to the sixteen yard box. Perhaps what attests to Neuer’s abilities more than anything is the number of times this season where an opposing coach or player voiced the frustration of “what could have been” had it not been for the brilliance of Neuer.
As a goalkeeper, Neuer has it all. He is physically imposing, a veritable giant at 6 feet 4 inches with a presence that is sure to overwhelm even the bravest attackers bearing down on goal. But size alone does not even begin to describe it. At his best, Neuer is sensational, almost unbeatable, and as Manchester United’s players and Ferguson would tell you after their first half encounter with Schalke in this year’s Champions League semi final, he has single handedly kept Schalke in games this season. Against United, Neuer was the difference between a cricket and a football score and even a seasoned manager like Ferguson who has been in the game for over 50 years marveled at his performance, stating, “In my time at United, it is probably the finest display of goalkeeping against us.” Such praise has come from every corner and Mario Basler, never one to shy away from bold statements, eulogized him as the “Lionel Messi in goal.” That analogy is not lost on anyone and player and coach testimonials like it could stretch the length of this entire article.
What distinguishes Neuer from many other goalkeepers his age is his calmness and composure, resembling that of a veteran rather than a 25 year old with just 20 caps under his belt. His poise and command of his area is second to none and teams hoping to cross the ball successfully to their striker almost always end up disappointed. Neuer possesses a rare big-game mentality that few young players share and his performances seem to improve the bigger the occasion becomes. Case in point, his stellar performance against local rivals and champions Borussia Dortmund this season where Neuer pulled off save after save to deny Klopp’s high flying team what seemed like a sure win. It was only the third time that season that a keeper managed to shut out Dortmund.
What is even more remarkable is the fact that Neuer has performed at such a high level throughout a very difficult season for Schalke, telling of his character. Amidst changes in personnel and coaching, boardroom turmoil and inconsistent on field performances, Neuer was one of the few redeeming factors for Die Knappen. He was the most significant reason for Schalke’s defensive turnaround, finishing with the league’s fourth best defense and keeping an impressive 11 clean sheets, second to only to rivals Dortmund. Neuer has had to make 114 saves this season and only Mainz gave away fewer points after leading than Schalke, a testament to Neuer’s importance and discipline. Goalkeepers are often thought to be sitting participants in a match but Neuer’s influence stretches beyond that of just an observer in goal. One of his best qualities is his distribution and ability to initiate attacks from the back. Schalke had the league’s third best passing % partially due to Neuer’s accurate distribution and ability to communicate effectively with his backline.
At just 25 Neuer has already written himself in Schalke’s folklore. An icon across Gelsenkirchen it is easy to understand the reaction of supporters when he announced that he would not extend his contract. Neuer seems to have been around forever and after playing the full 90 minutes for 78 consecutive matches in the league has been the league’s most consistent player. He made his debut in 2006 for Schalke and immediately displaced then first choice Frank Rost. After brilliant performances in the Champions League with Scahlke in 2008 and a championship winning run with the U-21’s at the EUROs in 2009 as well as an impressive World Cup last year in South Africa Neuer is now a firm staple in German football. In fact, of keepers who have at least 100 games under their belt, Neuer conceded the least amount of goals per game (0.99), ahead of keepers like Oliver Kahn (1.04) and Jean-Marie Pfaff (1.06).
Neuer’s ascent has been nothing short of astronomical. He has taken every opportunity by the scruff of its’ neck and propelled himself to an elite group of players. The sky is the limit for talents like Neuer but what is there beyond the sky for a player whose potential is seemingly infinite?