“So many people have said by now that I’m competent and that I play as if I’ve been to many World Cup championships. But that’s simply what I consider my responsibility; it’s what a goalkeeper has to be like”

–Manuel Neuer

Manuel Neuer, previously of Schalke 04 and currently Bayern Munich’s number 1 goalkeeper, has certainly enjoyed his spotlight since last year’s brilliant performances for his club and country. Much is expected of this young German shot stopper since taking up the number 1 role in the 2010 World Cup. Dubbed as the “German Casillas”, Neuer was a contender for the Golden Glove award along with Netherland’s Stekelenburg and the eventual winner, Casillas of Spain. He played for only 540 minutes yet made 22 impressive saves, more than the other two goalkeepers and conceded just 2 goals.

England may well remember Neuer as the goalkeeper who was involved in Lampard’s shot on goal which was not credited by the referee even if the ball was already inside the net, his quick reaction of saving the ball may have helped solidify the referee’s decision that the ball never went in the net. Admitting as much during the post match conference, Neuer stated, “I realised it was over the line and I think the way I carried on so quickly fooled the referee into thinking it was not over.” Regardless of that mishap, Neuer continued to impress the world during his world cup campaign as Number 1 goalkeeper.

Returning from the world cup, Schalke’s Felix Magath awarded the Captain’s armband to Neuer. It was a great choice that proved beneficial in two ways; one was to reward Neuer for his performances and second was to entice him to remain at the club when other big clubs have started courting him. Neuer has been a fan of his homegrown club since he was a young kid, watching from the stands as his idols play. Schalke had its share of difficulties during the 2010-11 season after the fans protested against coach Felix Magath who splurged during the transfer window, the club’s Bundesliga campaign was hindered by erratic performances from a team who have yet to find their pace with the addition of new players. Neuer proved to be the rock for the team, he remained consistent in his performances and sometimes single handedly saved the team from defeat.

Schalke may not have the best in defense during that period but Neuer was there to keep the balls away from the net. Schalke struggled in the 2010-11 Bundesliga, gaining 14th spot from last season’s (2009-10) second place, but managed to push through the champion’s league semi finals, the only German club to do so. Of course, having the likes of Raul, Huntelaar, Howedes and Neuer made them the unlikely heroes during the competition.

Perhaps the most memorable game so far in Neuer’s champion’s league career was the game against Manchester United. Everyone believed they would be easily defeated but Neuer proved them wrogn when he denied every goal scoring opportunity from Rooney and Chicharito during the first half. It was a terribly exciting game for Schalke fans because the only one standing against Manchester United from scoring is Neuer and it seemed as if he was undaunted.

The Red Devils eventually won both games in the semi’s and went on to the finals but it certainly left a lasting impression on Sir Alex Ferguson who personally congratulated Neuer and lauded him saying, “Manuel Neuer was incredible. In my time at United it is probably the finest display of goalkeeping against us.” This statement prompted rumors that Ferguson wanted to sign him as replacement for retiring goalkeeper, Edwin van der Sar.

Schalke fans urge Neuer to stay

The transfer drama unfolded when news of big clubs wanting to sign Neuer spread to the grapevine. Manchester United and Bayern Munich were two contenders. Ferguson denied the rumors saying that they already know where he is going and Neuer also said that he wanted to remain in Germany. He has been playing at Schalke for 20 years, an amazing feat for any German player, and he is the only one who currently holds that record.

He wanted to play champion’s league football and staying in Schalke would not make it possible. The transfer drama was the German equivalent of the Cesc Fabregas saga, it dragged on and dampened the fans’ spirits while Neuer remained quiet on the issue while the season was ongoing. The Schalke captain officially expressed his desire to move on to Bayern Munich in a press conference where he was tearful and emotional. The club’s officials are already aware of this move and the fans were left heartbroken.

Bayern fans protest against Neuer

Neuer’s transition to Bayern Munich was not a happy one. The fans of the club were angered by the acquisition of a player from a rival club when they have a promising home grown keeper, Thomas Kraft, who eventually left the club. Schickeria, an FCB Ultra Group, informed Neuer of a Code of Conduct which he must follow to avoid organized protests against him. The Code of Conduct is as follows:

1.) Neuer must never simulate or initiate the team’s megaphone chants.

2) Neuer must not kneel before the team and sing the ‘Humba’ song.

3) Prohibited from approaching the South Stand fence where the fans are staying.

4) Should not throw his shirt into the South Stand.

5) Neuer may not kiss the Bavarian crest

However, the atmosphere in the locker room was welcoming as some of the Bayern Munich players were his teammates in the national team. Bayern Munich captain Phillip Lahm has shown his disapproval of the fans’ behaviour saying, “The fans should offer their unconditional support to their own players…by protesting against Manuel Neuer they are really protesting against the team as a whole.” Thomas Muller was also quoted, “He knows that 98 or 99 percent of the Bayern fans are behind him, and secondly, the team is the most important thing, and because he has the full support.” Ribery has also stated his support for Neuer and claimed that the protests were also affecting the whole team.

The club has released a statement; “Bayern Munich distanced them from both the banner displayed against Manuel Neuer, as well as those who were part of this small group. Due to the events in Arco (Trentino), the people in this group are now ‘persona non grata’ with Bayern Munich.” These declarations may go a long way in preventing more fan outbursts but it certainly not changes the fans’ minds about Neuer.

Fan protests aside, the German Number 1 has a new cause for celebration. He won Kicker magazine’s poll for German Football Player of the year which is voted by the German Sports Media. He has been the first goalkeeper to win the award 10 years since Oliver Kahn. His outstanding performances for his club kept him ahead of the other nominees; Mario Gomez, Bundesliga’s top scorer and Nuri Sahin who was instrumental in helping Borussia Dortmund win the title. Neuer stated, “I’m totally surprised, because it also not every day that a goalie is elected. It is a great honor for me.” He will be awarded before the start of Bayern’s first home game of the season against Borussia Moenchengladbach.

 This was a post by Carma Alicaya - you can follow Carma on twitter

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