Some things change, but the majority stand still. Manuel Neuer, nine years and 400 appearances later, remains one of the very best goalkeepers on the planet.
A lot has happened since the big German controversially joined Bayern from bitter rivals Schalke, but the cruel and unstoppable passing of time has not lessened the abilities of one of football’s true legends. It’s barmy to think now, but back when he first signed for Die Roten, Neuer was far from a popular choice.
Bayern supporters were furious to be welcoming a man who had previously worn a Schalke jersey, and there were fears that he would never truly be accepted by a split fanbase. Those concerns soon evaporated however, when he kept a clean sheet for more than 1,000 consecutive minutes, breaking Bundesliga records and consistently demonstrating his match-winning talents.
Since then, the human equivalent of Stretch Armstrong has gone on to win everything on offer in the club game, as well as etching his name into German football history as a World Cup and Golden Glove winner.
It’s rare for a goalkeeper to sweep up the individual awards, but as a man who was voted L’Equipe’s ‘Player of the Year’ for 2014, it’s fair to say, he is a rare individual. And this skill will certainly stem from his ability to sweep on the pitch, too.
Neuer broke the mould as an offensive goalkeeper, playing the game several yards more advanced than any other shot-stopper, and becoming a real 11th outfield option for his teammates. His reading and understanding of the game has never left him, and even though he did suffer a minor dip in form in recent years, the German has adapted his game to become just as efficient and impactful as before.
And so, all of these achievements and all of this brilliance really came to the fore upon making the dreaded switch to Bavaria. He was handed the platform he required – and deserved – to stake his claim as the very best, and 400 matches later, his grip on that title is as tight as ever.
The 34-year-old was at his imperious best against Werder Bremen, and even if he couldn’t keep a clean sheet in a disappointing 1-1 draw, he did mark this special occasion with a double save that will go straight into his portfolio of greatest ever stops.
With the deadlock yet to be broken on the quarter-hour mark, Neuer was called into action – and emergency action, at that. An in-swinging, wicked cross curled in from the Bremen left, and as the ball hit the edge of the six-yard box, it was met by an onrushing Joshua Sargent. It was destined for the net.
But fate had other plans.
Or more accurately, the long, outstretched right leg of Neuer had other plans. Despite his body shifting to the left, he managed to stick out a foot and block the ball, showing stunning instinct and reactions.
The effort rebounded back into the danger zone, falling to the right foot of Ludwig Augustinsson. The wing-back struck his effort, firing and spinning the ball so it arced towards the far corner.
Now this one was in. That is, if anyone except Neuer was between the sticks. He regained his balance and threw himself down to his right, meeting the ball with a strong left hand to parry the strike out of danger. It was unbelievable – but it was vintage Neuer.
It was also a reminder of just how lucky we have been to watch him grow into the brilliant goalkeeper he is today, and how talented you have to be to stay at your peak for an entire career.
400 not out for Neuer and Bayern. Here’s to the next hundred!