New contract for Neuer till 2023
The farce surrounding Manuel Neuer’s contract extension has been a constant fixture in football media since the beginning of the year. In January, initial reports about the negotiations surfaced, and subsequently in March and April both Neuer’s supposed demands for duration and salary somehow transpired. In the midst of the coronavirus crisis, the figures mentioned seemed astronomical and presented the goalkeeper as the prototype of the unconscionable, avaricious footballer.
The publication of the demands was a tipping point for Neuer and his agent Thomas Kroth. The German international decided to express his frustration in the Springer press. In other words, the very paper that had made the contract details public in the first place.
In our blog in April, Jan quite rightly concluded that bickering over the contract in public would not produce a winner on either side.
“FC Bayern find themselves spread out all over the tabloid media and cannot make another important contract decision in peace. If you lead contract negotiations through the media, everybody loses.”Jan, about the contract extension of Manuel Neuer
According to the media, Neuer above all insisted on four points: A final decision on the position of head coach, the amount of game time guaranteed or promised to his heir apparent Alexander Nübel, the matter of Toni Tapalović, and last but not least the modalities of his contract. While FC Bayern had already made the appointment of Hansi Flick permanent at the beginning of April, thus tying the players’ preferred candidate to the club, the other points proved more difficult.
For Neuer, at the advanced age of 34 the contract negotiations also were a kind of gauge of his value. They were a test of how much backing he enjoyed within the club and how important he was to them. Because all the while the understanding was that Neuer wanted to stay. Speculation about a move never seriously gained any traction. There was a sense that Neuer wanted to test the water with what would probably be his last big contract.
The whole story almost inevitably reminds you of Michael Ballack, whose contract expired in the summer of 2006. Ballack was without doubt one of the two or three best players of Bayern at that time. Rummenigge withdrew an initial contract offer by the club with the “incredible” sum (quote Hoeneß) of €36m for four years at the 2005 annual general meeting, as the midfielder did not meet a deadline. Subsequently, although the talks between the parties continued, no agreement could be reached. In May 2006, Ballack announced his move to Chelsea FC. He stated to the “Kicker”:
“I did not accept FC Bayern’s new offer, which must have personally offended many in the club. […] The fact that the club made more and more populist statements about my contract situation over the months, that in the end they even tried to stir up the fans against me, is a message that was not lost on me.Michael Ballack, about his failed contract negotiations in 2005/06
The situation of Ballack and Neuer, however, differs in two crucial respects: Firstly, Bayern have much more potent squad now than in the early 2000s. The gap to the international elite seems to be much smaller. On the other hand, speculation about Neuer potentially joining another club has never been as rife as it was with Ballack from the very beginning. Real Madrid, Manchester United or Chelsea FC – Bayern’s midfield star was associated with another top European club almost on a weekly basis.
Which brings us to the most important point, Manuel Neuer the player. Why is it that no there are not any rumours about offers from other European clubs?
Neuer is 34 years old. At the end of his contract in 2023, he will be 37 years old. For goalkeepers, this is not yet ancient, just look at the eternal Buffon, who at 42 years of age still gets to tend Juventus’s goal every now and then. Even Oliver Kahn was 39 years old hen he ended his career. However, the jury is still out whether Neuers game ages so well. The four-time world goalkeeper has forever changed the role of the goalkeeper as an outfield player. There is no reference point in history as to how well this part of goalkeeping ages.
Will he at some point be forced to change his style of play and stay more within the confines of his penalty area as his athleticism diminishes? Or will he find it increasingly difficult to intercept crosses, as was the case with Kahn in his later years? Can Neuer remain the reliable stronghold in goal he has always been if he has to adapt his playing style?
Interestingly enough, Neuer in a sense has already given an answer to this question in recent years. His excursions have become fewer, his playing style more unspectacular, and yet Neuer has once again been a goalkeeper at the highest level this season. During build-up play he is still an important and safe passing option and in the classic goalkeeper game on the line he shines with great reflexes and saves. With a shot stopping rate of 71%, he ranks third in the Bundesliga among goalkeepers with at least 20 games.
Nevertheless, FC Bayern decided last winter to secure the services of goalkeeper talent Alexander Nübel from FC Schalke. In the wake of the deal, it was leaked that the promising young goalkeeper would be guaranteed a certain amount of game time. This was received by Neuer’s side with great astonishment. In the meantime apparently, the agreement has been withdrawn, not least under the influence of coach Hansi Flick.
Nevertheless, the whole story begs the question why such an important decision was not discussed with Neuer himself, who also happens to be the team captain and has been one of its top performers for many years. Football fans with a penchant for American football may find themselves reminded of Green Bay’s quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was joined by a younger, designated successor in the NFL Draft’s annual draft. A decision that probably took the sensitive Rodgers by surprise.
I do not question the decision to sign Nübel at this point. Although Schalke’s former number one had his fair share of unfortunate moments this season, he is rightly considered an extraordinary talent. However, great talent alone is not enough in the goalkeeping business, as Michael Rensing and Thomas Kraft will only be too happy tell you. If a player of Nübel’s caliber is available on a free, it is a matter of course for FC Bayern to court him.
However, the practice of not involving the captain in this decision, or at least inform him of the plans, seems questionable. It should be clear to everyone that Neuer always wants to play. Sven Ulreich knows that too. However, if he had been shown a sensible and convincing plan why it might be helpful for the team and the club in the future if he were concede his position as first goalkeeper to Nübel for just a few games, Neuer would certainly be the last person not to listen to this. Yet the club has missed out this chance big time.
To conclude, I would like to once again draw attention to the demands of Manuel Neuer. In the matter of head coach, the contract with Hansi Flick was extended. A decision that Neuer certainly appreciated. The same applies to goalkeeper coach Toni Tapalović, who has always been a confidant for the native Gelsenkirchener. However, this is not so much a concession to Neuer on the part of FC Bayern, but rather the best possible decision in both positions anyway at the moment.
Both sides have reached a compromise in terms of contract duration and salary. An outcome that would probably have resulted just the same without the public ballyhoo. An extension until 2023 was probably what the club wanted. That year has huge import with respect to the squad anyway, as many current contracts will expire at the end of that season. In terms of his salary, Neuer will ascend to the echelons of a Thomas Müller and Robert Lewandowski, deservedly and appropriately so. According to different media reports, the threshold of €20m p. a., however, has not been surpassed.
After all is said and done, the question remains why these contract negotiations had to be carried out in public. Because even if all sides have reached a satisfying outcome for themselves, it has certainly been no thanks to the circumstances.