Manuel Neuer was selected as Die Mannschaft Player of the Year 2020 by an overwhelming majority. The 34-year-old goalkeeper speaks to DFB.de editor Steffen Lüdeke to look back on an outstanding year. He also discusses Germany’s goalkeeping heritage and outlines his expectations for the German national team at this summer’s European Championship.
DFB.de: What are your new year’s resolutions heading into 2021, Mr. Neuer?
Manuel Neuer: The break around the turn of the year didn’t mean an awful lot to me, definitely not in the sense of using it to think about and change my behaviour or my attitude. So I don’t have any new year's resolutions. I want to live cleanly, I want to give everything for my sport, I want to take on my job as a role model and I want to be there for my friends and family. But those are my lifelong expectations and they have nothing do with the new year.
DFB.de: What are your hopes for 2021?
Neuer: My first hope is probably the same as everyone else’s all around the world – that we successfully make it through this pandemic and return to our old lives that we were so used to. If that happens, then I hope that people have learned to value that regular old life a bit more and that they are aware of what a privilege life is. Personally, I hope that I can stay healthy and injury-free and that I can keep enjoying football games so much.
DFB.de: 2021 has started very well for you; you have been named Die Mannschaft Player of the Year 2020 by our fan club members and DFB.de. You came out on top with over 50% of the votes. Were you surprised that the voters picked you?
Neuer: I didn’t think about it too much beforehand. But the fact is that you are always a national team player, as Oliver Bierhoff often says. You are a Germany international when you’re with the DFB, at your club and even in your private life. He’s right about that. I think that the fans aren’t watching just the international matches, but the performances of the German players overall. That made it very likely that the voters would choose a German player from FC Bayern.
DFB.de: Your list of awards was already extremely long and now you can add another title to the list. Which individual prize means the most to you? The Best FIFA Goalkeeper, perhaps?
Neuer: Recognition for my charity work means an incredible amount to me as well, but in terms of football then yes, nothing beats the title of world’s best goalkeeper. To be recognised as the best in the world at my position – that’s a big deal. DFB.de: At the end of 2020, you were named as the world’s best goalkeeper for the fifth time. Is it your goal to win it for a sixth time and with that become the sole record holder for most titles?
Neuer: Winning these awards is never my direct goal, but they come as a consequence of performances and successes. My aim is always to improve my performances and to play successful football with my teams. I can only think about another award for world’s best ‘keeper if we have a good Euros as a national side and if we achieve similar success to last year at Bayern. Success and good performances with both the national team and your club side – those things always have to come hand-in-hand, especially in a tournament year.
DFB.de: The best in the world – do titles like that have any effect on your game? How much bigger does something like that make you in the eyes of the strikers you face?
Neuer: I don’t know how relevant an individual award is, but it’s clear that the battle between striker and goalkeeper is always a mental game. I can’t look inside the heads of other players to know what they are thinking, but it’s often said that players think they have to do something special against me. Whether that’s true or not, I have no idea.
DFB.de: Does that thinking work the other way around? What’s going through your head when Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi appear before you? Do you think that you have to do something special to stop the best in the world? Or do goalkeepers have the advantage in this situation, since you don’t have to make the first move and can only react to your opponent?
Neuer: The person who can make the first move basically always has the advantage. That’s also the approach that I try to take. My offensive game is based on being the one to act, the one to determine things. It’s different in a one-on-one. If Cristiano Ronaldo is running at me then I obviously know of his ability and everything that he is capable of. His titles and awards don’t change what I do, though – it’s his ability that I am aware of and that I prepare myself for.
DFB.de: You are the world’s best goalkeeper, and your Bayern teammate Robert Lewandowski is the world’s best player. Are these two titles linked to one another?
Neuer: Why should they be?
DFB.de: Because in training you learn how to stop the world’s best player, and he learns how to get past the world’s best goalkeeper.
Neuer: It’s true that it helps to be able mix it with the best in the world at training, and we are always pretty well-placed to do that at FC Bayern. Lewi and I don’t give each other anything. I’m really happy that he is a part of our team and that we can battle it out in training. It’s good when you are challenged at the highest level in training. One thing is clear to me – how you train is how you will play as well.
DFB.de: You didn’t just win titles in 2020, but you were also showered with compliments. Former PSG head coach Thomas Tuchel spoke after the Champions League final and said that your performance made the competition unfair, and that’s just one example. Do you take praise like that seriously?
Neuer: I’m happiest when praise comes from people who really know their stuff – that means players or coaches. In respect to your example, it was nice to hear that Thomas Tuchel has such a high opinion of me, but even dearer to me is the appreciation I get from my inner circle of teammates and coaches. That doesn’t always have to be in the form of words. It does me a lot of good to feel the satisfaction of my coaches and teammates. My play is risky and offensive, it lives off trust in my own abilities. My teammates’ trust is a big help with that.
DFB.de: On the internet there are numerous videos of your 2020 highlights, some of them astoundingly long. Do you have a favourite moment from the year?
Neuer: We played a lot of knock-out matches as a club in 2020, as well as plenty of finals and close games that hung right in the balance. I managed to be there for the team at those times, sometimes in direct battles with an opponent. I like to remember those situations, but there isn’t one special moment that I place above the others.
DFB.de: In the DFB-Pokal final against Bayer Leverkusen you deliberately assisted Robert Lewandowski with a clearance to make it 3-0. Does that assist not have a special place in your heart?
Neuer: Moments like that are on top, I would say, but their success depends on what others do with the ball. In terms of specific goalkeeping stuff, it’s more about the saves or the one-on-ones. Among those, there are a few that mean more due to the significance of the situation. My stops against Neymar and Mbappé in the Champions League final belong in that category, but so do a few from the semi-final against Lyon, for example.
DFB.de: In 2020, there were four international matches for which you didn’t feature in the Germany squad. How did you find it having to follow the matches as a spectator?
Neuer: Anyone who knows me knows that I always want to play. But it was a correct and important decision made by the national team coach with consideration to individual workload at the end of the Champions League tournament. It was still a weird feeling not to be there. I know how it feels to miss an international game through injury, but it was unusual to actually be fit and still not play. You feel a certain responsibility, especially as captain.
DFB.de: If you ignore the match in Spain, would you support the view that the international matches generally went well in 2020, that results improved and Germany’s development continued?
Neuer: I have issues ignoring the Spain game. But in hindsight I would agree that our biggest difficulty in 2020 was sealing results. We conceded late goals that tarnished the picture too often. It wasn’t an easy year for the national team, basically. Firstly, we went a long time without any matches at all and then we played lots of games in a short span. We had very few training sessions as a result and we used lots of young players, so the inconsistency isn’t surprising. But you can also look at the whole thing more positively – it’s lucky that it wasn’t a tournament year. With all due respect, the Nations League isn’t as significant in comparison with other competitions. The Germany coach had the chance to test lots of different players and formations, which could be really important for 2021 and further into the future.
DFB.de: Plenty has been said about the Spain game already. The match was a special one for you, though, as it was your 96th cap and moved you ahead of Sepp Maier as the most-capped German goalkeeper. What does it mean to you to be the goalkeeper who has played the most matches for Germany?
Neuer: It feels a bit strange to me to have overtaken Sepp Maier. For me, he is a legend and an unbelievably positive figure both on and off the pitch. I have a good relationship with him, we are in regular contact and spoke with one another before that game. It just makes me proud to have been on the pitch for Germany so often. That’s a big deal. It also shows a certain consistency in my career. I also feel grateful to everyone who has accompanied me on my journey and helped me to become the goalkeeper I am today.
DFB.de: More than 10 years have passed since your first cap; your debut was back on 2nd June 2009 against the UAE in Dubai. If somebody had told you back then that you would become a world champion, five-time world goalkeeper of the year and Germany's most-capped goalkeeper over the next decade, would you have thought it was realistic?
Neuer: I would have said “I’ll take that.” (laughs) Whether I’d have thought it was realistic, I have no idea. That would have been a bit cocky back then.
DFB.de: What value do you put on that first international game in terms of your development? How strong are your memories from that day?
Neuer: I still remember pretty much exactly how things went. For example, it was the only one of my international games where there was no national anthem played before the match. A sheikh came onto the pitch and shook everyone’s hand, and then we were underway. There was plenty happening in the game itself. We won 7-2 and I had quite a lot to do. My international debut was obviously a big step for me. I was caught between worlds back then; after my senior debut I went to play for the U21 team as soon after we were playing at the Euros in Sweden, which we won. It’s often said that all my titles can be traced back to that win, and I don’t think that’s too unfair to say.
DFB.de: You are the most capped goalkeeper for a country that produces goalkeepers like no other. Can you explain why Germany has such a great history of ‘keepers?
Neuer: For me, the explanation is in our tradition. Germany were world champions in 1954, and goalkeeper Toni Turek was an outstanding part of that team. There were always role models to emulate and look up to. The way that they trained, the way that they played. That was all right on your doorstep in years gone by – there were no videos and no social media where you could see goalkeepers from around the world. There were only role models at home. That made it an even bigger advantage to have such good goalkeepers as role models.
DFB.de: Role models inspire successors. Does that mean that you are currently laying the foundations for Germany to have the next great goalkeeper?
Neuer: Times have changed. If a young goalkeeper in South America loves my play then he can also find ways to watch me with very little effort. How I train, how I behave during games, how I take care of my body – that information isn’t exclusive to Germans anymore. That is also evident in the way that countries used to all have certain styles of goalkeeping; that variation doesn’t exist anymore, or it is at least far less obvious. I don’t see that as a bad thing. Everyone can learn from everyone, meaning that all goalkeepers around the world can benefit – including myself.
DFB.de: How much potential for improvement is there in your game? Or is it about just maintaining your level now?
Neuer: Obviously I’m trying to improve. Every training session I fight with ambition to become a better player. I am ambitious, I’m a perfectionist, I am never satisfied. Even if it’s just small details, I still see lots of areas in which I can improve. I used to like tuning in to “Eurogoals” to analyse the other goalkeepers, but nowadays I do that mostly with my own game. How is my footwork when I’m coming out of goal? How have I positioned myself against the opponent? For me it’s about questioning every single thing and coming up with solutions to prevent potential mistakes in the future.
DFB.de: The national team has games in March against Iceland, Romania and North Macedonia in qualifying for the 2022 World Cup. Do you agree that these games are already significant in the build-up for Euro 2021?
Neuer: Definitely, but tournament years are always like that. We have to take these games seriously, but we also have to use them to gel ahead of the Euros in summer. We don’t have a lot of other opportunities due to the compact schedule. We can’t afford to waste any time. We have to be wide-awake and use every training session well.
DFB.de: What has to happen in those games to be able to forget the 6-0 defeat to Spain?
Neuer: That’s quite simple; we have to play well and be successful. Even if it’s a cliche, we have to look to the future. We can’t change the past, we can’t change that game. With the World Cup qualifiers and the Euros we are entering new competitions. We have some big tasks coming up and I’m really looking forward to overcoming those challenges with the team.
DFB.de: What are your aims for the Euros? What trust do you have in the team?
Neuer: I have full faith in us. I’m a positive guy. I believe in us and I believe that we have the chance to play a big part in the Euros.
DFB.de: What factors have to come together for you to have a successful tournament?
Neuer: We know how important your mentality and togetherness are for a team in a tournament. My job, along with the other senior players, is to be sensible and work to prevent any possible discontent from developing early. Becoming European champions is a big goal, an outstanding target. Every one of us is responsible for giving everything and contributing the most we possibly can in summer.
DFB.de: The mentality has got to be right. What else is necessary for the team to have a successful Euros?
Neuer: We have to be more stable at the back. It’s public knowledge that we have conceded too many goals recently. That can’t happen at a tournament. We have to be more compact as a team, we have to reduce the distances between individual players. Overall it’s also important for us to communicate better and help each other out more. That’s not just the leaders’ responsibility. The less experienced players have got to take on that responsibility too and point out when another player is in the wrong position or when something is developing that another player hasn’t seen. If we improve in those areas then we have reason to be optimistic going into the Euros.
DFB.de: What does the team have to achieve for the tournament to be talked of as a success?
Neuer: For me, our end result isn’t the only deciding factor. I will be pleased if we reach our full potential, if we play with passion, discipline, fun and enthusiasm for football. I am sure of one thing; if we do all of that then we can go far. We must not hide.