Manuel Neuer's performances were instrumental in helping Bayern Munich to five titles in 2013, a haul that included the Bundesliga, the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup. Coming on the back of such a trophy-laden year, the German's inclusion in the 2013 FIFA/FIFPro World XI was no great surprise.
But the 27-year-old has no intention of resting on his laurels after Bayern's quintuple success, citing the defence of last year's titles with his club and a fourth FIFA World Cup™ triumph for his country as his main objectives for 2014.
FIFA.com caught up Neuer to discuss Jupp Heynckes, his own development and the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil.
FIFA.com: How much of an honour was it to be selected for the FIFA/FIFPro World XI?
Manuel Neuer: Your first dream as a young player is to make it as a professional. Then you have to take things step by step, ensuring that you continue to develop and play regularly. The next stage is representing your country and you can't go much higher than that. Beyond that, you have things like the World XI. And it's a real honour for me to be mentioned in the same breath as some truly great goalkeepers. I'm absolutely delighted.
Last year Bayern Munich won everything that club football has to offer. Why is the club so strong at the moment?
I think it's down to the team. We have a great team with many world-class players. The fact that three of our players were selected for the World XI attests to this. Our team has really fallen into place now, and getting to that stage is a long process. It's not that we played badly beforehand; we were always there or thereabouts. Last season we managed to win the treble, also lifting the Super Cup and the Club World Cup. Both the management and the players clearly got a lot of things right.
Can Bayern’s winning mentality be carried over into the World Cup?
Absolutely! We have had success in the past and hopefully we will do in the future too. Plus, it is not just Bayern Munich that have been playing good football. Borussia Dortmund played brilliantly last season too. The presence of two German teams in the Champions League final is proof of the good work we have done in Germany in recent years. It also goes to show that we are capable of beating other countries and that we can go to the World Cup full of self-belief.
You are up against Ghana, Portugal and USA in the group stage. What do you think of your opponents?
It’s a very strong group; we are well aware of that. But we also know that beating them is within our grasp. They're not exactly unknown quantities. We're familiar with the teams and we've faced each of them on at least one occasion. This enables you to prepare well for the games and that's exactly what we'll do.
If there is one position that has never caused the German national team any problems, it's the goalkeeper. Why is this and why are there so many fantastic German goalkeepers?
Goalkeepers in Germany are trained very well. We have never been limited to just a good first choice goalkeeper in Germany. The second, third or fourth choice are all more than capable of stepping in. That is the advantage we have always had in Germany, and I hope that remains the case.
Why did you want to be a goalkeeper?
I was put in goal. I actually wanted to play outfield. I was just four-years old when I joined my first club, and we trained on ash. Nobody wanted to go in goal on that surface.
Who is the best goalkeeper of all time in your opinion?
That’s a tough one. Certain goalkeepers define an era, players who are voted world goalkeeper of the year and are the best of their generation. The game has changed. I would say that Edwin van der Sar was my idol when I was young because he was a very modern goalkeeper at that time and helped to make goalkeeping what it is today.
Which coach has been the most important for your career? Which coach played the biggest role?
That's a difficult question. In recent times, I would say Jupp Heynckes, who coached me for two years. We were successful together and it was a wonderful time in my career. He is a very experienced coach who has been at the helm of a whole host of teams and clubs. I learnt a great deal from him, as I did from others who were also very important.
Jupp Heynckes was voted FIFA World Coach of the Year…
And he deserves it. I think that if there was a trophy awarded for lifetime achievement, it would be given to Jupp Heynckes. It's particularly fitting given that he retired last summer after such great success with us and is now the deserved winner of this award.
Is there a goal you have conceded in your career that still annoys you now?
I guess you could say the header that Didier Drogba scored two years ago in the Champions League final in Munich. If his header hadn't gone in, we would have also won the Champions League in 2012.
Second at the World Cup in 2002, third in 2006 and 2010; is 2014 going to be Germany’s year?
I hope so. We know that we're in with a shout and that we're among the favourites. That goes without saying. All the usual suspects have a chance - the teams that always do well in the big tournaments. The South Americans definitely fall into this bracket, with Brazil one of the real favourites. I think Uruguay are also a force to be reckoned with, I think they are dark horses. And Argentina too of course. The South Americans will be playing on familiar territory.
What are you expecting from the World Cup in Brazil, a notoriously football-mad country?
When I travel to countries I’ve never visited before, I generally try to go there with virtually no expectations. You get more out of the experience that way. That’s how I approached the World Cup in South Africa, and Brazilians live for football. Both the men and the women there are football-crazy. I’m looking forward to it. No doubt it will be one the highlights of my career.