Why Joachim Low made a mistake on Manuel Neuer
Background image: Jason Paris, CC BY 2.0
Every professional football player dreams of a long, successful career at international level. As exciting as the first cap must be, the ultimate achievement is a send-off in which everyone, fans, teammates and opponents, pay tribute to your career. Earlier in the month, Germany manager Joachim Low denied that dream ending to Bayern and die Mannschaft stars Jerome Boateng, Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels. For them, retirement from the national setup came suddenly, unexpectedly, in a meeting room at the Allianz Arena, far from the spotlight.
The trio made their mark on the international stage, core members in the 2014 World Cup team. After a comprehensive disaster in Russia last summer, Low felt pressure to overhaul his squad. Such a cold approach only leaves a bitter taste in the mouth for Boateng, Muller and Hummels, however.
To be fair, something had to be done to remedy the situation. Hard decisions had to be taken. The manner in which those decisions effected chafes at sensibility, but it can be argued that Low didn't go far enough. He left one critical name off his hit list: Manuel Neuer.
Returning from a severe metatarsal injury too soon, the renowned sweeper keeper was the worst player in the World Cup squad. Slow to react, out of position, he fumbled his way through 270 forgettable minutes while Barcelona's impeccable Marc-Andre ter Stegen watched from the bench. At the end, Neuer's heavy touch just inside the opponent's half led to the quick Taeguk Warrior counterattack that terminated Germany's reign as world champion.
When a country like Germany exits the World cup at the group stage, there’s cause for concern. More so when the opponents were foes die Mannschaft usually take to the cleaners. South Korea, Sweden and Mexico traditionally do not trouble the four-time world champions.
Rebuilding a team can be a complicated undertaking, but when players past their prime underperform, it's a simple equation of subtraction by substitution. Now healthy after time to rediscover his timing and form for Bayern Munich, Neuer continues to underwhelm.
Starting the first half against Serbia in yesterday's friendly, he reacted too slowly to parry Luka Jovic's point-blank header. Ter Stegen played the second half. The Barca man looked a bit rusty on the one save he was called on to make with a few minutes remaining, awkwardly palming away a lob towards the far post he should have caught easily. On the other hand, his distribution when playing out from the back was masterful throughout, whereas Neuer still looked hesitant.
Starting his rebuild by choosing a new number one and captain would have shown Low's true commitment to a new order. Ter Stegen is ready to man the sticks. Marco Reus would make an excellent captain.
Ter Stegen's time is overdue. The Barcelona goalkeeper proves week in, week out that he ranks among the best in his position. Personally, I rank him number one in the world, ahead of David de Gea, Alisson, Ederson and Jan Oblak. Leaving Neuer to carry on as the first choice in goal is a poor decision. If Neuer is worthy of the captaincy, he can lead in the clubhouse without the armband. He will get the minutes at Bayern Munich to push Ter Stegen and perhaps reclaim his place through merit rather than seniority. As it stands, the choice to stick with Neuer is a disaster in the making.
At both junior and senior level, Neuer tasted gold. He won European Under-21 Championship in 2009 and the World Cup in 2014. He’s climbed the mountain. It’s better to come down when the ovations are loudest. He should know that. So should Low.