Bayern Munich sealed a good piece of business earlier this week, extending captain Manuel Neuer’s contract until 2023. The new deal will see the German goalkeeper stretch his Bayern career to 12 years, after joining Die Roten in 2011.
Neuer has long been one of the finest goalkeepers in world football, renowned for his (at one point) unique style of play in between the sticks. The 34-year-old has won it all with Bayern and Germany, reaching the pinnacle of the game with the silverware he has won en route to the top.
Quite simply, Neuer is one of the best goalkeepers of the modern generation.
His new contract extension should come at no real surprise, given his status and record at Bayern. Neuer has played 374 times for Die Roten and won 18 trophies, an incredible haul in a period of remarkable dominance from Bayern. He revolutionised the ‘sweeper keeper’ role, taking unbelievable risks at glorious expense out of his box.
Neuer was at the prime of his career during the previous decade, peaking when he helped Germany to their fourth World Cup in 2014 – their historic first as a reunified nation. Those few years before and after the World Cup victory were the finest of his career, where he was unstoppable for club and country.
But however hard it is to admit, Neuer is not the player he used to be.
He still remains one of the top goalkeepers in the game, but the German’s age – and a long-term foot injury – are beginning to get the better of him. He didn’t seem himself at the 2018 World Cup, where Germany crashed out at the group stage to continue the dreaded champions’ curse. Among a number of Die Mannschaft’s big names, Neuer was one who underperformed.
Four goals conceded in the three group stage games was problematic, equalling their tally from the entirety of the 2014 tournament. The final goal summed up Neuer’s decline from his once stunning peak, when he lost the ball in the final third on a classic sweeper keeper run, giving Son Heung-min an open goal to rubber-stamp Germany's exit from the tournament.
Neuer’s status in his homeland and at the Allianz Arena cannot be disputed, but his legacy could be tarnished.
Seven straight Bundesliga titles prove that he is still good enough to be Bayern’s number one, able to play week in week out in one of the best leagues in the world. But for the man who was indisputably the best goalkeeper in the German league for years, he has dropped down in many critics’ rankings of the Bundesliga’s best shot-stoppers.
While he leads the way with 11 clean sheets in 26 league appearances, Neuer is rarely regarded as the best goalkeeper in the league anymore. Younger talents such as Yann Sommer, Péter Gulácsi and incoming Bayern arrival Alexander Nübel are the ones earning the most plaudits, at the expense of Germany’s number one.
With 26 goals conceded in the Bundesliga this season, Neuer has never conceded more in one league campaign since arriving at Bayern. Only his early days as Schalke see a greater tally, with his last two seasons at Bayern seeing a significant increase in the number of goals he is letting in.
Neuer is definitely past his prime, and if current numbers are anything to go by, it may be the case that his performance quality continues to decrease over the next three years. The extension was a risk but an inevitable decision, with the goalkeeper more than content with the German champions.
The German will be 37 by the time his current contract expires, possibly the perfect time to hang up his gloves on an illustrious career. But these next three years could prove costly for Neuer, as we begin to see more and more of the mistakes and errors that we would never have dreamed of before slipping into his game.
Other top European clubs have experienced the same problem with long-serving goalkeepers, as club legends begin to show signs of truly passing their prime before being ousted to the sidelines.
Iker Casillas at Real Madrid is a proven example, when he lost his number one spot to Diego López following an injury before eventually leaving for Porto in 2015. Petr Čech experienced something similar at Chelsea when Thibaut Courtois was recalled from Atletico Madrid, leaving for Arsenal after one year on the bench.
A lacklustre three years for Neuer could be costly, providing the risk of potentially tarnishing his Bayern legacy as he is pushed out of favour. Nübel is his likely successor after he was signed from Schalke, but the transition from one German goalkeeper to another could come sooner than the end of Neuer’s contract.
Is Neuer’s legacy at risk? Possibly. But will it ruin it? Absolutely not.
Passing the peak of your career is something every footballer one will experience, something that is even harder for the very best in the game. Neuer will continue to make more and more mistakes, but that is the reality of being a player. It is the reality of getting older, one which the 34-year-old already understands.
Neuer will bow out in style at the end of his career, and when he does, he won’t be remembered for the final few years. He’ll be remembered for his sweeper keeper heroics, his unbelievable shotstopping and his memorable performances in between the sticks, ones that earned him praise as one of the best goalkeepers in the history of the game.
For all his newfound errors and decline in quality, Neuer remains a superb goalkeeper who has won it all. A World Cup with Germany, A Champions League with Bayern and 17 other major honours say all you need to know about the German number one: he is one of the finest of his generation.