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Interview

Neuer: That can only be done with sensitivity

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As FC Bayern captain, Manuel Neuer represents the club’s present and its great past. Our goalkeeper talks ‘Bayern-luck’, half-time talks and opportunities during times of crisis.

Interview with Manuel Neuer

FC Bayern will be 120 years old in February. What effect does this glorious history have on new players in particular? Does it intimidate you or rather do you feel a duty to have success?
"You realize pretty quickly that things are different at FC Bayern compared to other clubs. Winning can soon become normal for the people here but for us, it’s hard work. I have a completely different view on what many people have regarded for decades as the legendary ‘Bayern-luck’. That for me is the unrelenting belief in being able to turn a game around right up until the final whistle – as we showed twice at the end of the first half of the season. That belief, that confidence, is ingrained in the club and its tradition."

The first half of the season didn’t go entirely smoothly for FC Bayern. The 5-1 defeat against Frankfurt, the dismissal of Niko Kovac – was that particularly challenging for you in your role as a leader?
"As captain, you’re always required to spot shifts early and react to them – not just during negative periods but also when things are going well. It’s particularly important after wins to draw attention to things which are a danger for the team. When we lose, our mistakes will be talked about anyway, internally and externally. But to keep improving, you also have to discuss uncomfortable details after wins. A good example of that is our 7-2 win at Tottenham. We spoke about the fact we could’ve just as easily been 3-0 down after half an hour – hardly anyone was talking or writing about that afterward."

In our captains’ history, there have been numerous leaders who have cultivated their public image as an alpha male. You’re regarded as more of a quiet, diplomatic captain. Has something changed in that regard?
"I haven’t changed myself but I’ve learned a lot over the years. What has changed is the team fabric in modern football. Previously there were very clear hierarchies but today they’re more flat hierarchies, in which everyone can express his opinion. I’ve gone along with that and try to take the team with me."

"We’re still in the mix for all three competitions" - goalkeeper Manuel Neuer still has big plans for this season with FC Bayern

Do you act differently internally than you do in public?
"No, I’m a matter-of-fact kind of person. Obviously I make my opinion clear, as is required in my position, but I never attack anyone or put them down. For example, when I’m talking at half-time about things I’ve noticed, it doesn’t help anyone if I heavily criticize someone. I try to keep everyone’s heads up so that when they go back out, they can keep playing freely. That can’t be done with a bludgeon, but only with sensitivity."

Have you ever read a guide for leaders?
"No, but I’m very interested in things like group management and team leadership. I always have my eyes open, I’ve learned a lot from older players at the club and in the national team." 

The new generation of players is almost half your age. How do you handle their opinions?
"I’m interested in how young players see football, what they expect from a captain, how they participate in the team. The best example here is Alphonso Davies. He’s very active within the team, mature, well-liked by all. It’s just nice to chat with him, and it would be a shame if he didn’t have his say, as would’ve been the case in the old days. But I stress again: it always comes down to the performance first, which has to be right."

What are you hoping for from the second half of the season? Is a year in which the captain of Bayern doesn’t lift a trophy a lost year?
"Essentially, any year without trophies for an ambitious club like FC Bayern would be a lost year, although there are exceptions. After finishing runners-up in all three competitions in 2012, we went into the following season hugely motivated and won the treble. But we’re still in the mix for all three competitions anyway, so I don’t think that question needs be asked."

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