Manuel Neuer will be playing catch up if he starts for Germany in the World Cup
Earth's biggest sporting competition will explode into action within a fortnight. All intelligent life on the planet will be eagerly anticipating their favourite stars performing for their respective nations.
Thinking about the World Cup certainly brings back memories, especially the most recent ones surrounding Germany’s excellence in Brazil. Joachim Low’s team excelled in every aspect. Mario Goetze's chest-controlled volley might have grabbed the most headlines in 2014, but the most venturing display came from the man between the sticks behind him.
Manuel Neuer wasn’t just an exceptional goalkeeper; he was Germany’s 11th outfield player. He was so reliable with the ball at his feet; his presence in the build-up became ubiquitous. Neuer could launch long, accurate balls, intercept through balls, leave the box to make clearances. His proficiency as a ‘sweeper-keeper’ in Germany’s backline bagged him the Golden Glove. It should have earned him the Golden Boot, as well.
Some of his imposing stats included 25 saves overall with an 86% save rate of 86%, four clean sheets and only four goals conceded in seven matches, 38.5 km distance covered, and a little more than 30% of the pitch. Those numbers are astonishing for a goalkeeper.
His best performance frustrated Algeria in the round of 16. He seemed surrounded by an impenetrable shield.
Neuer’s performances ushered in a new generation of goalkeeping. The mistrusted oddballs in the big mittens have become more involved in the game.
Modern tactics and systems demand integrated cooperation from all 11 players. Everyone matters. Total Football's influence on that evolution relies on interchangeable skills. If a goalkeeper can do more than save, punch, catch, and punt, if he can play, it is a monumental difference. This is why Joe Hart is no longer at Manchester City and Ederson was so critical to Pep Guardiola's redemptive second season in the Premier League.
Because a modern goalkeeper can build play from the back, defenders can push forward. One who can patrol beyond the 18 provides his rearguard with an added passing option.
The role has its vulnerabilities. Even a small error, such as a mistimed clearance or errant pass can cost dearly as Claudio Bravo's disastrous 2016/17 season at the Etihad demonstrated. There is immense pressure on the no.1 to read the game and always make the correct decision.
If the 2014 World Cup was a movie, the goalkeepers were its Oscar winners. There were some outrageous displays. Memo Ochoa’s ostentatious performance in the group stage for Mexico was soon outdone by Tim Howard’s heroics against Belgium in the knockout round. Keylor Navas, Tim Krul and Sergi Romero amazed in penalty shootouts.
Again, there is no shortage of superstar goalkeepers heading to Russia. The current breed includes some of the best shot-stoppers: David de Gea, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Thibaut Courtois, as well as the Brazilian duo of Alisson Becker and Ederson.
Russia appears set to produce another stellar array of goalkeeping exploits. Neuer's influence is such that he has a lot of catching up to do.