Sentences like this one have been heard quite often: "Manu has special qualities," says Bernd Leno, substitute goalkeeper of the German national soccer team, about regular goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. "You can see that he plays regularly and I don't." The verdict is then new after all, and one would have to be properly surprised – if one did not know that Leno talks about playing tennis.
At the training camp in Seefeld, where the national team is preparing for the European Championship (11. June to 11. July) prepared, Leno, Neuer and a couple of teammates had hit a few little felt balls around their ears for a change. And Leno had to realize: "There's no way I can match Manu in tennis."
Manuel Neuer is already the record goalkeeper in the DFB team
On the soccer field, however, neither. Now 35, Neuer is still unchallenged in goal for the German national team. In Seefeld he also shone in training, regularly turned the sharpest shots still around the post. That's why he will be the German goalkeeper at the European Championships, that's why he will be in the last test match against Latvia this Monday night (20.45 pm/RTL) will stand between the posts in Dusseldorf – and his 100. Make international match.
German coach Low: Goretzka likely to miss European Championship openerWith 99 caps, the former Schalke player is already the record-holder among goalkeepers, ahead of legends Sepp Maier (95) and Oliver Kahn (86). But to make it 100 is something even more special. "Especially as a goalkeeper, it's not so easy to make so many international appearances," says Neuer himself. "That fills me with pride."
As an outfield player, it's easier: you can be used in different positions, you can be substituted in the closing stages and you have another call-up in your record. For goalkeepers, there are usually no short stints, certainly not different positions. So it's extraordinary when someone reaches 100 caps, even more so in goalkeeper country Germany.
Manuel Neuer has perfected the goalkeeping game
"From the moment he joined us, I had the feeling that he was going to be a great goalkeeper," says national coach Joachim Low. "Even then he had this immense charisma and presence."
Low was not deceived by the feeling, Neuer became World Champion, Champions League winner and has been considered one of the best in his field for many years – of whom even his competitors rave about. "For me, it's special to work with Manu because you can just see the class he has on and off the pitch," says Kevin Trapp, the third German goalkeeper in the European Championship squad. "He is captain of FC Bayern, one of the biggest clubs in the world – and the national team."
And he sets the standard: the modern goalkeeping game, playing in the build-up and intercepting balls far in front of the goal, was not invented by Neuer; but he has perfected it. "His whole goalkeeping game is special, and I make no secret of the fact that I also very much like to learn a little bit," says Trapp.
Neuer "the best I've ever seen. Point!"
It's almost been forgotten, but just three years ago people were talking very differently about the German number 1. After a metatarsal fracture, he went into the 2018 World Cup ailing, Low nevertheless preferred him to Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who was performing outstandingly at the time – and sent the fatal signal that past merits count more than current performances.
Today is different. Today, Low selects much more consistently according to form and fitness – and there is not the slightest doubt about Neuer's status anyway. "Manu is the best goalkeeper I have ever seen. Point!", says Mats Hummels. "He is the best who ever stood between the posts at some point in the world."
Euro 2021: DFB squad, groups, dates – everything on the tournamentAlso Leno, who faces other world-class goalkeepers every day at Arsenal FC in the Premier League, can't think of a better one. Not Ederson from Manchester City, not Alisson from Liverpool FC. "Manu is even a bit more complete," says Leno. "I would say that he is still the best."
Manuel Neuer does not think about ending his career
And even at 35, he's not thinking about quitting yet. "I always have a lot of fun and enjoy playing for the national team, and I'll be happy to put on the jersey in the future, too, if I'm doing well and my body says I can keep going," Neuer announces. "I still feel fit and capable, have a lot of fun on the pitch and have no plans to end my career."
Not a pretty outlook for those waiting for the place in goal to finally become free – but the 30-year-old Trapp has already come to terms with the thought of the eternal Neuer: "Of course, it's a shame for all the goalkeepers who are behind him," he says "But I hope for us that he still has a few successful years ahead of him." And Leno, who is still a year younger, still remembers that he is not without a chance in all respects: "I'm pretty sure I'd beat him at the Playstation."