Manuel Neuer’s calm and controlled manner in Brazil meant handing him the Golden Glove Award was natural, writes Alasdair Mackenzie.
There were few complaints when Manuel Neuer ascended the Maracana stairs to collect his Golden Glove award at the close of the 2014 World Cup. Unlike the decision to gift the Golden Ball to Lionel Messi, few eyebrows were raised at FIFA’s recognition of Germany’s outstanding, imperious goalkeeper.
The 28-year-old is not short of honours - three Bundesliga titles, two German Cups and a Champions League were already in his cabinet before his country’s summer success. There was outrage amongst Schalke fans when Neuer left to rivals Bayern Munich in 2011 for €22m, but three years in Bavaria have helped him become widely considered as the world’s best goalkeeper.
Neuer’s role in Germany’s fourth World Cup win was vital, but the performance that may be most fondly remembered was in the Last 16 against Algeria. Germany were repeatedly exposed by long balls, as their insistence on playing a dangerously high line was made even more perilous by the sluggish Per Mertesacker and Jerome Boateng.
However, the 6’3” ‘keeper frequently rushed out of his box to make slide tackles and diving headers in a master class of ‘sweeper-keeping’. The effectiveness of this tactic is testament to Neuer’s flawless judgment and timing, as despite the chaotic defending in front of him, the Bayern man always looked to be in control of his decisions.
Another trait to be admired is his ability with the ball at his feet. A telling statistic is that Neuer completed more passes than Messi during the tournament, a total of 244. His technical prowess even encouraged Coach Joachim Low to say that he: “has the same technical skills as the others, he could play in the midfield...we are happy for him to take these risks and that’s why he is so valuable.”
Concentration is another essential attribute for a top-level goalkeeper and the Gelsenkirchen native is second to none in this regard. A relatively eventless quarter-final against France came to life in the final few minutes, with Karim Benzema finding himself in a great position only to be denied by a strong reflex stop by Neuer.
Even in the 7-1 drubbing of Brazil, the German No 1 was noticeably infuriated after conceding Oscar’s late consolation goal to sacrifice a clean sheet, despite his side’s emphatic win. Neuer had in fact faced eight shots on target during that match, more than any German World Cup side since 1974, and the custodian’s desire for perfection should be applauded.
In a tournament of so many goals, there were a surprising amount of impressive goalkeeping performances. The likes of Guillermo Ochoa, Rais M’Bolhi, Vincent Enyeama, David Ospina and Tim Howard lit up the early stages, but Neuer’s main challenger for the award was undoubtedly Keylor Navas.
The Costa Rican’s 91 per cent save ratio was the highest of all goalkeepers at the World Cup and his inspired form, particularly against Greece, helped his nation to their highest ever placing in the tournament. However, with his side exiting at the quarter-final stage, FIFA’s recognition of Neuer as the best goalkeeper at the tournament was never really in doubt. At 28, the German may still have his best years ahead of him. Quite a thought, given that in the summer of 2014 he has suggested that he is the complete package already.