Up until Tuesday, I hadn’t had an in-depth look at the keeper who, for quite a while, has been a heavy topic of conversation among Manchester United fans, including several who share their opinions on a regular basis on Red Rants.
Quite often, when it comes to an up-and-coming young stud, Mr. Next Big Thing, hype and potential can outweigh talent and present and future production.
However, it took me all of 45 minutes to see that Manuel Neuer is as good as advertised, and that if he isn’t already, he has every chance to be the best keeper in the world sooner rather than later. To a certain someone who knows who he is (or should, at least), take a bow and bask in your rightness.
As I mentioned in the Schalke match report, it’s rare for me to pay close attention to a keeper’s performance, but I couldn’t help but do so on Tuesday. Part of it certainly can be attributed to the fact that Neuer has been so heavily linked with United and I wanted to make the most of the opportunity to see why, but even if that wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t have been able to help but take notice, because he commanded my attention like he commanded his area.
Fergie doesn’t dish out the highest of praise unless it’s truly merited, and his comments alone say plenty about just how stellar Neuer was in keeping United from completely running riot against Schalke in earning only their third win in their last ten away matches against German opposition.
But in case you need a little video evidence to back it up, here it is:
Only naturally, the speculation linking Neuer with United has only picked up after his dazzling display, and you can expect plenty more between now and next Wednesday, when Schalke visit Old Trafford for the second leg.
But that brings us to the multi-million dollar question: Is there a legitimate possibility that the next time we see Neuer at Old Trafford after Wednesday, it’ll be in a United shirt?
As it stands now, all signs point the answer to that question being a resounding no, and it would seem that it would take a great, great, great deal for that to change.
True enough, Neuer has already stated his intent to turn down a new deal at Schalke and seek pastures anew after this season. But while that would normally open up a laundry list of possibilities for most in his position, it appears that the race is Bayern Munich’s to lose, by a wide, wide margin.
Last month, Neuer intimated that he was certainly comfortable in Germany and that playing abroad doesn’t have the same lure for him as it does many other top young footballers. While those comments didn’t necessarily tip his hand definitively, Neuer seemed to slam the door shut on a United move as soon as Tuesday’s heroics started the firestorm of speculation and hope, saying that United were never an option for him.
Despite the fact that negotiations haven’t officially opened up between the two fierce Bundesliga rivals, and despite the ‘resistance’ of some of the Bayern faithful to the idea of Neuer joining the club, most seem to think that any ‘i’ dotting and ‘t’ crossing is merely a formality. That includes Fergie, who inferred as much after lauding Neuer’s one-man show.
However, it ain’t over ’til it’s over, right?
It’s no secret to any astute football fan how adept Bayern Munich are when it comes to landing the majority of the top German or German-based talents who aren’t in their ranks already. If Bayern truly want their man, they more often than not get him, simple as that, and the opposition of a portion of fans hasn’t served to dim Bayern’s interest in Neuer the least bit.
So, it really goes without saying that the last thing that this needs to be is a head-to-head Bayern vs. United debate, with the past, present, and future in mind, and with Neuer’s comments about his ambitions and the comforts of home also in consideration.
But can the idea of playing at United be sold to Neuer to the point where, at the very least, puts some serious consideration into the possibility of a United move before signing with Bayern as most expect him to eventually?
Some might point to his ‘lack of desire’ to move abroad as not having enough ambition, but it’s clear that the man does want to win trophies. With all due respect to Schalke, if Neuer didn’t want to win the highest honors, he would continue to remain with his first and only love to date. At United, he would be in position to compete for the Premier League title and the Champions League crown year in, year out, barring a tremendous drop-off for United in the near future. Not too many clubs can offer up such close opportunities for domestic and continental success on that regular of a basis.
Playing for United requires a great amount of confidence and the ability to deal well with pressure, and Neuer certainly appears to have the mental fortitude to succeed at United, given the experience he’s earned in the Champions League with Schalke and internationally with the German team.
And there’s no understating the honor that it is to be a German playing for Germany’s most successful and well-known club, to follow in the footsteps of legends you’ve grown up either watching or learning about. But United certainly aren’t short on history and tradition when it comes to trophies, legendary players, developing young talent, and last but not least, keepers.
Could next week’s visit to Old Trafford make a big difference? Could being well-received by the tens of thousands of United fans and experiencing a European night at the Theatre of Dreams first-hand set the gears turning? Not only will next Wednesday’s second leg be an opportunity to replicate this week’s performance, it’ll be an opportunity to get an insight into United that he hasn’t received in such a way before.
In the end, it’s a long shot that Neuer will end up at United this summer, even if we do make a concerted attempt to woo him. According to recent comments by Neuer, it’d appear that such an attempt hasn’t been made as of yet, but it could well be that this is the window of opportunity the United hierarchy could have been waiting for. Or on the other end of the spectrum, it could be that they have already concluded that their best efforts would be wasted on attempting to make him Edwin van der Sar’s successor.
That honor could well be bestowed on a number of other possibilities, including Neuer’s compatriot and closest rival for Germany’s #1 jersey, known United fanatic Rene Adler, whose wishes for a United move are well known and is quite the top-notch (and young, at least in keeper years) talent in his own right.
Based on comments from EVDS himself, the decision’s on his replacement has already been made (1 + 1 = Maarten Stekelenburg?), but until it’s actually revealed, all we can do is continue to speculate and look at all possible potential candidates.
If Neuer does make a summer switch to Bayern, you certainly can’t disparage him for it. There’s a lot to be said for familiarity and comfort, and a move to Bayern would afford him both of those, and at the same time, allow him to compete at the highest level like he wants to. And if he doesn’t want to play for United, he just doesn’t want to play for United. Where he might not feel it’s the right fit for him, someone else will, and given the kind of investment we look set to make when it comes to a new #1, it will be someone who has the talent and potential to hold that jersey for some time.
But it’s only natural to want the world’s best, and after seeing how good the standout shot-stopper looked against United, it’s hard not to wonder how good he’d look playing for United and hope until you can’t hope anymore.
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