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Don’t retire Neuer yet

Threatened by Ter Stegen in the national team and by Nübel in Bayern, the goalkeeper recovers the best numbers of his career at 34

He had been the goalkeeper of the team that had won the World Cup, the stripes were undoubtedly his, reinforced with the captain’s armband on his arm, but the evidence began to be clearer every day: there was a young and thriving goalkeeper who had proved to be better than him. No, this story is not about Iker Casillas and David de Gea, although the preamble also fits with the Spanish goalkeeper, but about Manuel Neuer and Marc-André Ter Stegen. The difference comes in the outcome. While Iker waned until his recent final retirement, Neuer has been able to reverse the situation to once again be the undisputed starting goalkeeper for Bayern and Germany.

The victory in the Champions League final against PSG served to reinforce the decisive recovery for the cause of a controversial character, haughty and proud like few others but also disciplined at work, defender of his plots of power, and extremely good at his own. No, this is not the story of Cristiano Ronaldo either, and here the difference is that the Portuguese still does not know the decline, while Neuer felt its threat and its possible consequences until recently.

Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Gelsenkirchen goalkeeper has returned by virtue of his rights just after Bayern announced, in January, the signing of the promising Alexander Nübel (23 years old), from Schalke 04 like him, for the next season. A clear symptom that the Bavarian club, despite its fiery and at times blackmailing defense of its prevalence in the national team ahead of Ter Stegen -the president Uli Hoeness came to threaten not to yield Bayern players if the relief was consummated-, began to prepare a future, in the short or medium term, without him, and for 34 years, defending the goal of the Allianz Arena.

What were reasonable doubts in January today are resounding certainties, since Bayern’s sixth European Cup cannot be understood without Neuer’s participation. The statistics account for three stops in the final against PSG, to which should be added one more against Mbappé in which the Frenchman was offside and an interception against Neymar when the Brazilian was looking for a death pass still with 0 -0 on the scoreboard. In short, an impeccable performance that allowed Kingsley Coman’s goal to be final for Bayern to rise to the title of European champions.

Now, was his superb performance in Lisbon the flower of a single day? Their numbers this season show that they don’t. Between the Bundesliga and the Champions League, Neuer has made 107 saves this season, the second-best record of his entire career after the 156 he made in his last season at Schalke 04, 2010/11, before signing for Bayern. In European competition, he has scored his best save percentage (78%) in the last five years, and in the Bundesliga, he has made more saves than ever in his decade at Bayern (2.5 per game). In total, he has left his goal intact 21 times, a record he had not reached since the 2015/16 season when he did so 24 times.

The comparison with last season is also eloquent: he has stopped 20% more shots and has managed to remain unbeaten in seven more games. The 34-year-old Neuer, in short, is better than the 33-year-old, than the 32-year-old, than the 31-year-old … Despite the fascination that the new always generates and the undoubted appeal of young athletes, Neuer continues to be the Bayern and Germany householder. So don’t retire it yet.

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