Not only did Manuel Neuer help Germany win their first World Cup since 1990, he was one of three goalkeepers to be nominated by FIFA for the honour of the Golden Glove award along with Keylor Navas of Costa Rica, and Sergio Romero of Argentina. It’s not often that a decision of this importance becomes so clear, so there were no surprises when Neuer scooped the coveted prize. Not only was Neuer undoubtedly the greatest keeper in this World Cup; he may well be its best single player. He is a rare talent, a man who can single-handedly change how his team plays the game.
The quarterfinal between France and Germany was not the most enthralling encounter we saw in Brazil; however, it did give us the chance to dissect Neuer’s game for 90 minutes and observe how he executes his skills.
Neuer’s influence starts about 25 yards from his goal line. The man occupying the French goal, Hugo Lloris, is another particularly accomplished goalkeeper, also renowned for pushing forward ambitiously to nullify any attacking threat. Lloris saw the top of the 18-yard box as his most forward boundary. For a considerable part of the game, that marked Neuer’s line of retreat. He regularly occupied the worn out patches of grass caused by the centre halves of a mediocre team.
Neuer shifts the weight of everybody in front him. At times, you think there is an extra player on the pitch such is his positional individuality. He has taken the art of goalkeeping to new heights.
“This is the class of Neuer,” said Joachim Low, his much approving manager. “He has the feeling for long passes, and he is where we need him. He is the perfect player. He has the same technical skills as everybody else. He could play in the midfield.”
Toni Kroos, one of Germany’s midfielders, was equally admiring of Germany’s number one. “We know Manuel Neuer is an extraordinary football player and there is nobody better in the world than him. Having someone like him behind you gives you a great feeling. We know that he’s there and we can rely on him 100 percent.”
Confidence is an important factor for the Germans, as it allows them to play so positively during crucial phases of the game. They are able to display their offensive talents like those seen against Portugal and Brazil, mostly because with Neuer’s presence, their attack already has a head start. They have the ability to close down games as well, such as the way they did against France and the United States by using Neuer to frustrate the opposition, giving the ball back to him, where he can hide it for a few seconds. Such is Neuer’s outstanding distribution and his players trust in him, the Germans know they can adopt this tactic when needed.
Low had a turn of translated phrase; “He has such a feel for distance” that encapsulates Neuer perfectly. He can shorten or lengthen the field with just a small change in his intentions.
Bizarrely, some may view Neuer as an underrated shot stopper despite the fact he conceded only four goals in seven games during the World Cup. Sure there were goalkeepers in the competition who have executed more extravagant saves or produced more noteworthy performances such as Costa Rica’s Navas. But it should be remembered that Neuer had his moments as well.
Due to Germany’s obliteration of Brazil, his second-half display, when he made several good saves was almost forgotten. His anger at the team for allowing Brazil’s single, mostly meaningless goal in the dying seconds of the game is yet another sign that he is a winner, and demands impeccable standards throughout.
It should be applauded how Neuer is able to thwart the attacking threat from developing in the first place. Whereas goalkeepers such as Ochoa or Romero, who are renowned for adopting a deep position in their goals and trust their reflexes to make some extraordinary saves, Neuer simply stops the shots before they become shots. And if that wasn’t enough, Neuer can even take credit for scoring a penalty during the shootout of the 2012 Champions League Final. He has created a style of goalkeeping that seems so effortless yet he is the only one that is capable of executing this approach effectively.