Thibaut Courtois has spoken in glowing terms about Manuel Neuer, stating that the German has changed the way the position is played in the modern game.
Speaking to French publication L’Equipe, the highest-ranked goalkeeper for last season according to recently announced Ballon d’Or rankings credited Neuer for bringing the term ‘sweeper-keeper’ into the lexicon.
“It was with Neuer that there was the biggest change. What he did at the 2014 World Cup had a huge impact on what came next”, said the Belgian about Neuer’s contribution at the tournament for Germany as they went on to lift the trophy.
The Bayern Munich number 1 kept 4 clean sheets in 7 games and claimed the Golden Glove in Brazil.
Neuer’s physical stature and elite technique are known to provide him with the tools he needs to operate as a traditional goalkeeper, which includes dominating the area from set-pieces and stopping attempts on target.
His ability in one-on-ones also prevents many goals from situations where the opposition attack breaks free of the press and faces Neuer within the box.
His record from penalties is exceptional as well, with 22 saved out of 75 faced.
This roughly equates to a one-in-three ratio which he has managed to maintain throughout his long career in the Bundesliga with Schalke and Bayern Munich.
However, it is his revolutionary play beyond these classical goalkeeping attributes that caught Courtois’ eye.
At the World Cup in Brazil, the world saw him act as the 11th man, almost as if he was a deeper center-half and snuffing out any counter-attacking situations whenever Germany lost the ball in the opposition half.
The commanding of his own half allowed the German defense to push up the field and compress space which allowed the outfield players to press effectively and create counter-pressing situations near the opposition box.
This, in turn, brought the team’s technically superior players into play like Mesut Özil, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Toni Kroos, as they looked to work the ball through the tight spaces.
The 36-year-old’s quality when in possession also helped him find teammates as they played out of trouble when under intense pressure.
His eccentric play made for a few heart-stopping moments for Deutschland fans but 8 years on, the advantages of the ‘sweeper-keeper’ are well understood, as teams look to break away from the mold of the old-school shot-stopping keeper.
All elite sides in world football now demand that their number one be good at passing and anticipating when their teammates are likely to lose the ball and reacting to it early enough so that a one-on-one doesn’t develop in the box.
Goalkeepers like Alisson Becker, Ederson, and Courtois himself have carried on the mantle of the sweeper role and have brought it forward, but it was Manuel Neuer who got the ball rolling.
Adding to his appraisal of Neuer’s style of play and its impact, the 2022 Yashin Trophy winner said, “The goalkeeper was no longer just the guy who had to stop the ball”.
With 341 clean sheets in 744 competitive appearances to his name, Manuel Neuer’s contributions to reshaping the positional requirements of keepers are definitely there for all to see, as testified by the best goalkeeper in the world at the moment.