The Academy of the German Football Association (DFB) has been working on a project called N28 for some time.
This is not a secret code, behind which files with the blocking note "Top Secret" would be: N stands for national goalkeepers, the 28 for the year 2028, and to reassure the foreign secret services of other football nations it is also not the case that research is being carried out on ways and means, stop the aging process at Manuel Neuer or equip him with bionic powers.
It is, to the chagrin of German football, a reaction to the fact that behind Neuer and Marc-André ter Stegen a “small gap” has opened up, as the academy director Tobias Haupt says - an unheard-of situation in the land of poets, thinkers and goalkeepers .
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But there is still something that could worry the scouts of other nations (even if it can be seen by everyone): Manuel Neuer looks in his 36th year of life and 16 as a professional as if he had overridden aging, and before the European championship, which begins for the German national team with the duel against France in Munich this Tuesday (9 p.m. in the FAZ live ticker for the European Football Championship, on ZDF and on MagentaTV), he shines with every fiber of his 1.93 meters long body that there is something to be done - and to straighten out. Nobody is newer who needs extra motivation. The unconditional will to win is part of his basic equipment, but he has revealed so much these days: that the sting of 2018 is still there, that the failure at the World Cup in Russia is something,that he wanted to "make good".
At that time, after his third metatarsal fracture and a month-long break, he only returned to the team at the last moment, and even if he was not accused after the preliminary round: Neuer belonged to a too large group of players who was more than good with him were busy themselves.
The captain held the balls in Russia, but the centrifugal forces that were working in the German team did not catch him.
At the time, it was primarily a matter of “becoming fit to play”, he said on the Monday before the final training session in Munich, “Now I'm going into the tournament with a good feeling.
Because I got through the whole season in good shape and because I was able to accompany the team and, as captain, I could take care of their concerns. "
The conviction: "I am the best"
If you watch him now, on the goalkeeper training field that was put on the running track in the Adi Dassler Stadium in Herzogenaurach, then from a German point of view you can get a good feeling: it won't fail because of him. Neuer leads the way, sometimes quite literally, when he leaves his colleagues Bernd Leno and Kevin Trapp as well as his trainer Andreas Köpke behind on the way to the field. And even if for some reason you didn't know who the number one in the German goal is, you would only recognize it from the way Neuer moves in his territory: the chest forward, the chin a bit up, slightly springy, the typical Neuer-Gang, which combines joy and determination and has retained something boyish even in the advanced athlete - but in a formwhich radiates a deep inner conviction: "I am the best."
A presence that dominates the room, especially since it has also grown athletically. Timo Werner, who often comes a little closer to him as a striker, put it this way: “When you stand in front of him, it's really impressive. What kind of personality he is and that aura he has. If you shoot at him during training and the ball does not go exactly into the corner, the probability is very high that he will catch it safely. "
The game against France would have been Neuer's one hundredth international match, if Trapp and Leno had, as usual, divided the last test match before the tournament, against Latvia, for the purpose of match practice and possibly also to clarify the further ranking behind Neuer. There could hardly have been a better setting: the first European Championship game, against the world champions, in addition to that in the “own” stadium in Munich. But there were some arguments in favor of keeping the charisma of this topic out of the tournament: The EM should be about the team and not about an individual, even if that is the captain.