LISBON – Much has been made of Bayern Munich’s young stars who could go on to dominate Europe – but the old guard, led by captain Manuel Neuer, were just as crucial in Sunday’s 1-0 Champions League final win over Paris Saint-Germain.
“Manuel Neuer made two crucial saves,” said board member Oliver Kahn – himself a goalkeeping great who lifted the Champions League in 2001.
“That’s what a Bayern goalkeeper must be able to do, he isn’t busy all the time but he must be on hand in these moments.”
Neuer’s first stop kept the game goalless in Lisbon when he somehow adjusted his leg to block Neymar’s goalbound shot. And he reacted immediately to stop the Brazilian setting up Angel di Maria for a tap-in.
Then, after Kingsley Coman gave Bayern the lead, Neuer produced a point-blank save on Marquinhos after Di Maria split the defence with sublime pass.
There was even one more for the highlight reel, a late one-on-one block on Kylian Mbappe – the forward was offside but Neuer just refused to be beaten.
“Manuel Neuer has been in top form for weeks at the wrong time for us,” said PSG coach Thomas Tuchel, who engaged in a long conversation with the keeper at full time.
“He’s taken goalkeeping to a new level, that’s for sure. He played at his very highest level – unfortunately for us.”
Neuer was part of Bayern’s first treble side in 2013 and seven years later, as captain, had the honour of collecting the trophy at Benfica’s Stadium of Light.
The 34-year-old Neuer has now played two Champions League finals and a World Cup final which went to extra-time. He won all three and in five hours play at the biggest possible games, has been beaten only by an Ilkay Guendogan penalty.
“It’s hard to compute everything so soon after the game,” said Neuer. “The joy at the final whistle was of course huge, it was a relief.
“There were another five minutes of stoppage time. We were all waiting for the referee to blow the whistle. We worked hard for it and we deserved it. It’s a dream for all of us.”
Neuer struggled with injury in advance of the 2018 World Cup, which holders Germany exited at the group stage.
But he is now back to his best. A new contract with Bayern, to 2023, suggests Alexander Nuebel – who joins from Schalke this summer – will at best fight with Sven Ulreich to be back-up.
“If a goalkeeper gets older he does not get worse. Manuel Neuer is 34 now – and Gianluigi Buffon almost 50,” Kahn joked. “He can still play many years at a high level.”
Thomas Mueller, who along with David Alaba, Javi Martinez and Jerome Boateng was also part of the 2013 side, said of the victory: “The mentality is brutal, the quality is superb – and we have Manu in goal.”
Mueller, expectedly joyous at full time, will no doubt find a quiet moment to reflect on his change of fortune in the last 10 months under coach Hansi Flick.
The forward had already been dropped by national coach Joachim Loew and seemed on the way out at Bayern too under Niko Kovac at the start of the season.
Instead Kovac paid the price for poor results, Flick reinstated Mueller as a regular and the 30-year-old responded with his best form in years.
“Of course I’m happy that I could show again that I don’t belong in the recycling container but rather still have a little in the tank,” he said.
The future may belong to 25-year-olds Joshua Kimmich, Serge Gnabry, Leon Goretzka along with Coman, Niklas Suele and new signing Leroy Sane who are all a year younger.
But the 30-something Neuer and Mueller are very much part of the present.