After his fateful skiing accident, Manuel Neuer went through many very difficult phases. The Bayern goalkeeper’s comeback is drawing ever closer. The nine months in fast motion.
It’s been almost nine months now. A long nine months. On 9 December 2022, Manuel Neuer suffered an open tibia and fibula fracture when the captain of FC Bayern and the national team went on a ski tour to clear his head after the botched World Cup in Qatar, which was extremely depressing for him, not least because of the eternal discussion about sanitary pads. This is nothing unusual for Neuer, who has already crossed the Alps. But only really.
His excursion last winter turned into a disaster and was viewed highly critically due to the poor snow conditions. Whether Neuer actually acted completely recklessly? It’s hard to say, since he had a mountain guide with him to avoid risks. In the end, however, that didn’t help either. End of season! At least. That is the prognosis. Neuer was even lucky in his misfortune and still thanks the mountain rescue service, which was on the scene in a flash and thus prevented more serious consequences. Who knows what would have happened to the 37-year-old and his career otherwise…
In the beginning patience was needed – Tapalovic out catches Neuer ice cold
The immediately following operation on this complicated fracture with top experts in the presence of a club doctor goes well. The day after, Neuer is already thinking about his comeback plans in order to be able to return and stand in goal again as soon as possible. He talks to those responsible for his club, to the medical staff, and sets himself well-dosed, short-term goals, which means: keeping patience, cautiously healing.
At the beginning of January, the number one showed himself on crutches, optimistically sharing a photo of it on social media, writing with a twinkle in his eye and with an eye on his colleagues’ departure for Qatar on 6 January: “It wasn’t quite enough for the training camp. But I continue to work on Säbener Straße. Step by step.” He also works on his recovery every day in his house at Tegernsee, which Neuer has prepared for his rehab, before news completely overwhelms him on 23 January. Goalkeeping coach Toni Tapalovic, his best man and closest confidant, has to go with immediate effect.
Why? Because there is said to have been dissonance between him and the coach at the time, Julian Nagelsmann. A farce that caught Neuer stone cold. Even members of the Munich coaching staff were completely taken aback by this decision at the time and can hardly understand it, if at all. Sven Ulreich feels the same way. “Of course it came as a surprise for Manu and for me,” says the current Neuer deputy: “It was not one hundred percent comprehensible in the form it took. Tapa is a fine guy and a super goalkeeping coach. “
Talk behind closed doors
It’s a move Nagelsmann pushed and sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic signed off on – for strange reasons. But it fits in with the overall picture of FC Bayern over the past two years, which is characterised by little sensitivity and no feeling for the team. The same goes for the whispering behind closed doors by some of the team’s employees, without being able to seriously assess it, that Neuer may never return to goal. This only spreads panic unnecessarily.
Salihamidzic’s statement in January, which leaves open the question of whether Neuer will be monetarily prosecuted for his accident, causes further head-shaking. When asked about this, he said that they would “also talk about it internally”. Honorary President Uli Hoeneß, on the other hand, defends Neuer: “First comes the person, then the money – and not the other way round.” It is therefore very surprising that Neuer is being accused internally of putting the club in financial and sporting difficulties because FCB now has to look for a replacement and sign Yann Sommer – with whom Neuer gets on very well – for around eight million euros. Are they accusing Neuer of gross negligence?
Neuer registered all these statements and assessments closely in the first weeks after his operation. And those who know him know that the goalkeeper, who is usually very diplomatic in public, can quickly become rigorous in personal matters. There is a ferment inside him. But the former Bayern management apparently does not recognise this. Naively, they think the goalkeeper will take all this in his stride and keep quiet in the background when he is constantly blamed and, of all things, his reference person has to leave in his absence.
New “retort interview “
It quickly becomes clear: the Neuer/Nagelsmann relationship and Neuer’s relationship with parts of the club’s management at the time is difficult if not impossible to repair. His trust is lost. Accordingly, the tit-for-tat interview that Neuer gave – without Bayern’s knowledge, of course – to the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” and “The Athletic” should have come as little surprise.
After all, things are looking up for him health-wise. On 24 February, he was seen without crutches for the first time at a team evening, and two weeks later, on 8 March, at the second leg of the Champions League round of 16 against Paris St. Germain (2:0), he was in the stadium as a guest of the stands, cheering for the team and raising his fists in the air during Matthijs de Ligt’s save on the line when Sommer was already beaten. The frustration and disappointment off the pitch are forgotten in this moment, have no effect on the rehabilitation process.
Tuchel takes over – Neuer’s first units on the pitch
With a plan agreed with the doctors, Neuer continues to work on his comeback. Water exercises, first gentle partial loads. If everything goes as expected and without complications, the goalkeeper could be back between the posts in time for the start of the 2023/24 season – or so he believes. For a long time it looked really good, the goal within reach. When Nagelsmann is relieved of his duties on 23 March and Thomas Tuchel takes over, the first talks with the new coach on his second day in charge support the captain. For Tuchel signals from the start that he is counting on Neuer, that he needs him as a leading player.
Even as the keeper continues to work individually, coach and player, who is also at Säbener Straße on a daily basis, exchange views regularly. Neuer appreciates these conversations – and is making progress. At the end of May, he is even ready to return to the pitch for the first sessions – and decides two days before the last match day to fly to Cologne with the team in any case, because he believes in the championship and would be allowed to receive the trophy as captain. It comes as expected – or at least as hoped. Bayern become champions, Neuer is the first to lift the silver trophy.
Arthroscopic surgery – pain while shooting
Two days later, on 29 May, his colleagues will either travel to the national teams or go on holiday. Neuer, on the other hand, has to have a screw removed as a matter of routine, this is done arthroscopically. Therefore, he can continue his programme after only one day’s rest. The optimism that things could work out by the start of the season remains unbroken. Even in Costa Rica, where Neuer is on holiday at the end of June/beginning of July, he is following his rehabilitation plan and is in good spirits.
But back at Säbener Straße, at the start of Bayern’s training, he feels pain in his right calf as the load and intensity increase. Not when jumping, not when running, only when shooting. He splits his two sessions, training in Munich in the morning and with the team at Lake Tegernsee in the afternoon. But the pain remains, the plate used to stabilise the bone is pressing. Neuer hopes that this will subside. But that is not the case. The plate has to come out, the schedule is postponed, the Asian tour is over and so is the start of the season.
Comeback plan postponed – Neuer appreciates exchange with Tuchel and Rechner
After this bad news, the FC Bayern squad planners are puzzling over how they should now proceed in the goalkeeper position. No one knows how long Neuer will be absent. Will Sommer have to stay after all? Difficult, also because a clause makes it easier for him to leave and the bosses don’t want to put any obstacles in his way. For Munich, that means they need a replacement. A potential, but only temporary number 1? There are supporters of this model in the club, as well as doubts as to whether the keeper will actually find his way back to his old strength.
Neuer, at any rate, is being informed about possible candidates. His exchange with coach Tuchel, the club bosses and goalkeeper coach Michael Rechner is good, the dealings with him very fair. The 2014 World Cup winner appreciates that. Names such as Giorgi Mamardashvili, David de Gea, Geronimo Rulli are being discussed; talks with David Raya are even well advanced in the meantime before he joins FC Arsenal; Bayern are also close to an agreement with Kepa before Real Madrid need a replacement for Thibaut Courtois after his cruciate ligament rupture and Kepa decides to join the royals.
Renewed intervention has a “very positive effect “
During this less-than-successful goalkeeper search by Bayern, doctors give Neuer the green light for surgery after a detailed examination. After all, the plate can only be removed if the rest of the values are right, if the potassium formation and the stability of the bone are good enough, if the tissue around it is okay. That is the case, otherwise the great uncertainty would have broken out.
The operation on 30 July cost Neuer a good week and also meant a setback in his rehabilitation training. But after the first exercises and a slight increase in intensity, the keeper notices that the plate has also eliminated the pain. The medical examinations deliver top results. New confidence, Neuer will probably be back soon. FC Bayern breathes a sigh of relief. Whereupon those responsible for the transfer rethink their direction.
“We basically have good news because the intervention on Manuel Neuer has a very positive effect,” says Tuchel: “The prognosis for the start of team training has shortened. What I have seen from Manu in the last few days was very impressive. And of course that has an impact on the planning.” He said there was no longer a need for a transitional number 1, just a replacement in case Ulreich was also out in Neuer’s not-so-long absence.
The signing of the young, talented Daniel Peretz, who is moving from Maccabi Tel Aviv to Munich for five million euros, underlines the fact that Neuer’s healing process is progressing positively and his comeback is drawing closer. The only question that remains in this whole issue is why the FCB does not manage to train a potential third goalkeeper, for just such cases, on campus …
Final return to team training and further progress
On Monday, 28 August, Neuer will actually enter team training. Partially integrated, they say. Even now, in the current international break, there is further progress: He trains with the team or individually, depending on the load control. No one wants to make an exact prognosis – understandably. Neuer should not be under any pressure. Because: As banal as it sounds, the development is being observed and the values measured from day to day.
The target for the comeback of the two-time triple winner is the end of September, beginning of October. Neuer has not lacked optimism for nine months. However, this time, so close to the goal, nothing will be rushed. Even if it drags on until the middle or end of October – for FC Bayern and Manuel Neuer, after a good ten months, only one thing counts: that, contrary to many doubters who already existed in 2019 when the deal with Alexander Nübel was negotiated, he will make it once again. And that the accident with all its consequences will remain a thing of the past.