The World is Blind - An Open Letter to Manuel Neuer
Dear Manuel Neuer,
The most emotionally crippling moment for any individual comes when one watches a situation helplessly and inevitably spiral towards painstaking consequences. A memory that comes to mind here is your silhouette standing inside the glorious Allianz Arena in 2012, in front of 62,500 people gathered to watch the Champions League final. That night, as the match went into a shootout, you saved Juan Mata’s penalty, and then went on to score one against one of the best keepers in the world. And yet, Chelsea stole the crown from right under your nose.
Even as this Chelsea fan rejoiced with tears in his eyes on that wonderful night, a certain part of me knew that you deserved better. It truly is a horrid feeling, seeing things unravel in front of your eyes even when you know you couldn’t have done any better.
Last night, I felt that same, dreadful feeling unfold as I saw Thierry Henry ruffling through that coveted envelope, at the Ballon d’Or ceremony in Zurich. A quiet feeling of impending dread, that the name on that card would be that of either the flamboyant Portuguese winger who had dazzled with his enchanting footwork or the Argentinean wizard whose mastery had left millions in awe.
As Cristiano Ronaldo’s name was announced, I could see you sportingly expressing applause, but I felt terrible in the knowledge that a man who helped a nation win the World Cup was only good enough for third place. If I could say one thing with regard to that, it would be that the decision was hard to digest. Yes, Ronaldo’s form in the past season was phenomenal, but that gleaming, golden trophy would have been equally well deserved in your hands too.
The world is indeed a very cruel place. The beautiful game is no different. The term ‘beautiful’ in itself is selectively applicable; people would rather watch a supremely crafted move, an ingenious pass or an astounding goal than appreciate a mind-crunching tackle or a glorious save. People will readily see and remember that James Rodriguez scored six times in the World Cup, Muller bagged five and Neymar, Messi and Van Persie bagged four each. What they will not easily see is that they collectively scored 23 goals in 30 games, and you singlehandedly made 23 saves in seven.
It is truly unfortunate that the world sees goal scoring as a more important parameter than goal saving, so it does not surprise me whatsoever that since the FIFA World Player of the Year award started in 1991, no goalkeeper has ever won the coveted prize. I hoped with all sincerity that this year, the man with the Golden Glove would win the Golden Ball.
I don’t blame you either actually. Goalkeepers have forever faced the brunt for being the most underrated superstars, performing the most important of duties in the most unattractive ways. What is firmly imprinted in the mind from the summer in Brazil are moments that sent a rush of blood to the head, like Robin van Persie’s terrific diving header or James Rodriguez’ impeccable swivel and shoot against Uruguay. Few remember you adventurously looming near the edge of the penalty box, guarding against Algeria’s speedy counter-attacks.
Very few remember and truly acknowledge Bayern and Germany’s 12th man, a man who revolutionized the very art of goalkeeping by showing the world that one individual could dynamically transform the last line of defense. Razor-sharp reflexes and remarkable aerial prowess make you a fantastic keeper, but a keen tactical acumen help you understand spaces and positions better than most.
Ask any goalkeeper and you will hear the same response – goalkeeping has never been made to look as exciting as Manuel Neuer has made it look. Finishing 0.04% behind Lionel is an outstanding achievement in itself and is testimony to your outstanding achievements in the past year.
So before I conclude, I would like to say one last thing. In a team of 10 outfield players and one goalkeeper, it was always likely that the majority would find a way for its voice to be heard. It was always an uphill task coming up against two other magnificent players who are in a league of their own; players who have arguably touched the pinnacle of their sporting careers. But you, Manuel Neuer, you have taken the art of goalkeeping itself to a whole new dimension.
The good thing though is that goalkeepers have always had the luxury of a prolonged career. At just 28 years of age, many will claim that your best is ahead of you, and playing for one of the best clubs and nations in Europe might bring several fruitful campaigns in the next decade or so. 13 clean sheets in 17 games this season is a superb record in itself, and a flawless second half of the season could possibly ensure that you find your place in the top 3 yet again.
I believe you will take this in your stride to push your art to be even more outrageous, to be more adventurous, because it will take something monumental to overhaul the achievements of the players of Ronaldo and Messi's calibre. I have no doubt that you are perfectly capable of that though, and I relish the chance to see just how you challenge and even surpass their dominance.
I wish you all the very best for the season ahead. I also hope that one day the world recognizes the enigma it failed to felicitate appropriately. Maybe one day, it’ll open its eyes and learn to give you the credit you deserve.