Wuring the walk to the changing room, Manuel Neuer stopped for a moment. Not with the TV cameramen and not with the waiting reporters either, the FC Bayern captain took a moment to chat with a stadium chaplain who had apparently been waiting for him. There is a chapel down in the Olympic Stadium, heavenly support can’t hurt. It was not possible to find out what the conversation between Neuer and the priest was about and whether the goalkeeper might be asking for divine help for the coming weeks.
Apart from that, Neuer doesn’t need to trust in higher powers either. In the 3-2 draw against Hertha BSC, he made his comeback after a four-week injury break and immediately became one of the decisive protagonists on the Bavarian side. In the final phase, he saves acrobatically against the onrushing Wilfried Kanga from Berlin. Even Julian Nagelsmann was amazed, for whom Neuer’s sometimes supernatural powers are more normal than miraculous. “If you have such an action in the 82nd minute with a one-goal lead, then you can see that he’s back immediately,” said the Bayern coach.
And how Neuer was there! Right from the start. After a few minutes, he flew through the air with a shot from Berlin’s Dodi Lukebakio as if he had never done anything else in the past few weeks. Neuer was happy about the early test. “It was good that I was challenged from the start and didn’t have to wait long before I got the first ball. That’s how I was in the game and I had a good feeling straight away,” he said.
It then took much longer before he was called again. His teammates ensured a seemingly reassuring 3-0 lead. Jamal Musiala scored first, then Eric Maxim Choupo-Mouting, who scored again, made it 3-0 with two goals. However, Neuer was not granted a game without conceding a goal on his comeback.
Hertha made it 2-3 before the break through Dodi Lukebakio and a converted penalty by Davie Selke. “It looked very good for us at first, but the goals we conceded were a bit unnecessary. The first goal conceded reminded me a bit of what it was like against Dortmund when Modeste put the ball in at the second post,” said Neuer.
In the said game against BVB, which ended with Modeste’s late equalizer to make it 2-2, he had played for the last time. A painful bruise in the shoulder joint then forced him to take a break. Nothing dramatic, it said at first. Participation in the World Cup is not in danger. But then the comeback was delayed. In the final group game of the Champions League, Neuer was not in goal against Inter Milan (2-0) as planned.
The time until the World Cup, which starts in two weeks, was getting shorter, but from Neuer’s point of view there was no reason to be nervous. Rather, he wanted to avoid boarding too early, which was particularly important to him. Against Hertha it was “tweaked again here and there. But it’s not like I’m taking a big risk,” said Neuer. The 36-year-old goalkeeper spoke of a comfortable situation in which he found himself due to the good performance of his representative Sven Ulreich. “I have to say that Ulle held up great. That’s why we were able to choose the time of my return,” said Neuer. The ideal moment was now.
In the final two games on Tuesday (8.30 p.m. in the FAZ live ticker for the Bundesliga and on Sky) against Werder Bremen and on Saturday against Neuer’s youth club Schalke 04, he will be able to gain more practice before he goes to the tournament with the national team in Qatar . Until then, he would like to win the last two games with FC Bayern after four wins in a row and ideally go into the two-month break as the leader of the table. Neuer should be the usual secure support. “He is our captain and very important to us. Off the pitch and on the pitch. He’s still the best goalkeeper in the world,” says coach Nagelsmann. An opinion that national coach Hansi Flick fully shares. The sentence could also have come from him.
When it comes to the World Cup, Neuer is ready. Also from a historical point of view. He also injured his shoulder in Berlin in 2014 before the World Cup. A few weeks later he became world champion in Rio de Janeiro. Even Hertha’s stadium priest could hardly have conjured up a better omen.