Is Germany ready for a Nubel #1?
Background image: Tilo Gallasch, CC BY-SA 2.0
Germany’s goalkeeping feud is escalating to a point where it could lead to distractions for Die Mannschaft. To ease tensions, Joachim Low offers ample opportunities to Barcelona's Marc-Andre Ter Stegen while still touting Bayern's Manuel Neuer as his number one. If the boss thinks he has a delicate situation now, he knows it will soon worsen. Alexander Nubel’s heroics with a rejuvenated Schalke 04 cannot be overlooked.
After emerging from their reserves last season, the 23-year-old is an immovable object in manager David Wagner's goal. Nubel made his Bundesliga debut at 19. Now he's the man and the captain's armband wrapped around his bicep proves it.
If you're feeling a sense of deja vu, no wonder. Seeing a 6'4" blond tank wearing the armband in the home goal at the VELTINS-Arena, no one would blame you for checking your calendar to be sure you hadn't been transported backwards a decade or so. Only when you see the letters N•U•B•E•L running across the keeper's shoulders can you relax, knowing you aren't trapped in the Twilight Zone.
You might want to double-check, though, watching Nubel's distribution or his composure with the ball at his feet. The current Schalke keeper was a midfielder in the Paderborn academy. Sleek long-balls and clever passes to find space for his outfield players allow the Gelsenkirchen side to transition into attack from their defensive third.
He’s also averaged more saves per game than both Neuer and Ter Stegen, making his defenders look like those at the Allianz Arena and Camp Nou. His knack for acrobatic saves only fuels his confidence. Not always a good thing, he occasionally makes daring charges that turn into rash mistakes. Wisdom comes with age, however. The Royal Blues’ triumphant start relies heavily on his work. He's constantly saving defenders' blushes. A reactive double save against RB Leipzig exemplified his influence and contributed to Julian Nagelsmann's first defeat at the helm of die Rotenbullen.
Nubel's biggest attribute is leadership. A young keeper chosen over veteran players might have caused unrest in die Konigsblauen's dressing room but he has coped, his competitive fire resonating with teammates.
Wagner is moulding Schalke into a compact unit but the job isn't done. Nubel’s been forced to bail his side out of danger often. While Armine Harit, Winston McKennie, Jonjoe Kenny and Suat Serdar bask in the media spotlight for their success at the other end, it is only noticed because the captain continually stymies opponents.
Royal Blues supporters should enjoy Nubel while they can. As injuries and age slow Neuer, influential figures at the Allianz Arena have begun slipping Nubel's name into conversations with the media. Why wouldn't Nubel be interested? Playing for Bayern all but guarantees trophies. The club is as direct a path into the national team as a player will find. In the final year of his contract, the young stopper can be had on a free transfer.
Concern over playing time might give Nubel pause. Neuer has publicly stated his intent to compete at club and international level for several more years but his Bayern deal concludes in 2021. He is from Gelsenkirchen. Can the Bavarians engineer a swap that keeps all parties satisfied? Surely Schalke would welcome back a native son.
One thing is certain. As Neuer attempts to hang onto his career, his aggressive young doppelganger isn't one to wait for things to come to him. Alexander Nubel is a name that will be on the lips of Germany fans sooner rather than later.