There were plenty of great moments at the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ for adidas Golden Glove winner Manuel Neuer in Brazil, but Germany’s 2-1 win against Algeria stands out for the custodian. It was a crucial game in the Nationalmannschaft's campaign, thanks in no small part to Neuer, who admits: “I had to take risks.” The FIFA Weekly caught up with arguably the world’s best goalkeeper for an exclusive interview.
FIFA Weekly: Mr Neuer, as a world champion, do you still tremble with nerves before major football matches?
Manuel Neuer: No, and I didn’t before we won the World Cup either. I have to make it clear to my opponents that nobody’s getting past me. The calmness and confidence I take into matches has an effect not only on our rivals but also on my team-mates, who are counting on me.
Practically everything has been asked of you over the years: you are expected to be the best goalkeeper in the world as well as the perfect eleventh member of the team. Does it sometimes feel as if you are being asked to do too much?
It isn’t always easy to manage the range of responsibilities I have, but I don’t think too much about the demands placed upon me; instead I try to demand those things of myself. I also know that I can make mistakes every now and again. As for being the best goalkeeper in the world, it’s been written occasionally, but I’d never say it myself. For me, the main thing is that I continually improve my game and make sure I keep setting the bar high.
In contrast to previous great German goalkeepers like Oliver Kahn, you don’t seem to fit the profile of a ‘lone wolf’ or ‘solitary hero’. Why do you think that is?
Personal success means nothing if it isn’t aligned with the success of the team. I consider myself to be a team player more than anything else. I’m reliant on the guys playing in front of me. I have to take up my position in front of the goal depending on how high up the pitch they’re playing or where they’re attacking to make sure I can stay in the game. The whole thing is always a matter of teamwork that I can’t decide alone; luckily, it almost always comes together.
So what’s the most enjoyable thing about sport?
Just doing something together. Celebrating Christmas alone isn’t much fun either.
How do you influence your defensive team-mates when shouting instructions about how they should position themselves?
Sensible orders are part of a goalkeeper’s game. I can’t give my colleagues a dressing-down and unsettle them, nor would I want to, so I have to choose instructions that are short, accurate and easy to understand. That’s also why keepers today need to have such a thorough understanding of the game.
Your goalkeeping for the world and German champions has set a new benchmark. It has been hailed by many as a revolution and was praised by your national team coach Joachim Low as the goalkeeping of the future. Do you consider yourself to be an international trendsetter?
For years, I’ve understood that my goalkeeping style is the one I employ today. My game hasn’t fundamentally changed; it was just that the global attention that comes with the World Cup gave it a completely different platform. Our Round of 16 match against Algeria [which Germany won 2-1 after extra-time] sticks in the memory because I had to come out of my area to act like an outfield player so many times, and that caught the attention of people who didn’t know that much about me before. Anybody who watches the Bundesliga will have been aware for some time of the various ways I interpret my role. I had to take risks against Algeria because it suited a match in which our team were playing high up the pitch and Algeria were using the pace of their players to counterattack strongly.
A goalkeeper in a match like that who is required to make plenty of tackles outside the penalty box has to have incredibly good timing.
You’ve certainly got to make the right decisions and stick by them 100 per cent. I know there’s a risk that my decision could lead to a goal, a penalty or a dismissal, but I’d have no chance to make the save if I was indecisive about it – I’d be too easy to beat.
You can never switch off. It’s like a university lecture; if you don’t hear something properly the first time around, then tough luck.
Do you occasionally play outfield in training at Bayern?
Yes, we sometimes practise our positional play with seven against three, so I occasionally play an outfield role then. That’s important too, because it gives me a chance to improve my technique, my passing skills and quick ball distribution. Previously, outfield players hardly played the ball backwards because they didn’t know what the goalkeeper would do with it. Nowadays it’s perfectly normal for us to act as another passing option.
During a match, do you touch the ball more with your hands or your feet?
I think I make more contact with my feet.
What kind of level do you think you would be able to reach if you were an outfield player?
Probably the fourth tier, so the Regionalliga in Germany. That’s about where I could realistically see myself playing anyway. But I don’t know what position I’d play in.
Unlike many of your contemporaries and despite your talent, you’re not a showman in goal.
That’s because I’m always trying to do the obvious thing and just play.
What do you remember more readily: your fantastic saves or your occasional blunders?
I’m not somebody who watches my top ten saves on YouTube; I don’t have any interest in that. What’s more interesting are the situations where I can ask myself, “What did you do right?” and above all, “What did you do wrong?” I think it’s necessary to analyse that and then to improve. As a young goalkeeper, I watched the Eurogoals programme; everyone watched it for the players’ fantastic strikes, but I kept an eye on the goalies and how they behaved in those moments.
Given that the dynamics of modern goalkeeping are split between classic responsibilities on the goal line and in the penalty area with additional jobs as an eleventh outfield player, is there ever any time to relax during a match?
To be honest, I’m never out of the game as a goalkeeper, not even in matches where I don’t have to actively intervene very often. It’s exactly those games with just two or three testing moments that can be very stressful mentally because you have to be on top of things the whole time. You can never switch off. It’s like a university lecture; if you don’t hear something properly the first time around, then tough luck.
Are there also matches where you feel at an early stage: “Nothing’s going to go wrong today”?
I’ve had umpteen different feelings before matches, and most of them are wrong. I’ve thought, “Nothing can get in my way today,” often enough in the warm-up, and then you get out on the pitch and think again. Having a good feeling about a game can be very deceptive. As a goalkeeper, I always start from scratch even if I’ve made a mistake; that’s how I deal with it. Referees wouldn’t be able to even get a match underway without the same kind of mentality.
Although you’re one of football’s international stars, does it help that you never act like a star and instead always remain grounded and sensible?
Behaving like a star doesn’t achieve anything. I can stay in a five-star hotel, but I can also go camping.
How long does the elation of being a world champion really last?
It stays with you forever. That said, I don’t walk around like a world champion; it’s not appropriate and, besides, life goes on in football. World champions get nothing for free.