The 2022 World Cup is getting closer. After the many Qatar discussions, German captain Manuel Neuer now says in the tz interview that they will “show the flag”.
Frankfurt – On Monday, the German national team left Frankfurt to prepare for the World Cup from Qatar to Oman. Of course Captain Manuel Neuer was also on board. the tz spoke to the 36-year-old before leaving.
Mr. Neuer, why is it important for the national team that FC Bayern players travel to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup as leaders?
Manuel Neuer: Definitely for the self-confidence. That documents the point of view: where do I stand personally – and where do the players who now also play together in the DFB shirt stand. Now let’s take the 2014 World Cup: our confidence as a Bayern bloc was high leading up to it. It is important to have a good feeling beforehand. Especially for me personally, because I come from an injury.
Were there times during this time when you thought, oh, that could still be close with the World Cup?
Neuer: It wasn’t easy, especially in the beginning. For me, in my role as a patient, it meant: we look from day to day. And that’s such a dirty feeling. You’re waiting for it: when will it get better? When will this turning point finally come? In that sense, there was no real plan that said to me: Watch out, it’s still two weeks away and then you can train this and that load again. It would have been easier for me and my head to get my bearings on it. Still, I didn’t doubt myself. I was sure that I would be ready for the World Cup and that I would play matches before.
Your role as the undisputed number one during your injury was never questioned by the DFB side. Does that help?
Neuer: That just wasn’t a problem. The coaching team made it clear from the start that I am the clear number one. We know we have world class goalkeepers in our ranks. But the positioning has been clearly communicated to both Marc-André ter Stegen and Kevin Trapp. We all get along very well within our goalkeeper team. That is why it went without saying that nothing ever came from the goalkeeper colleagues.
Do you feel a special urge in the 95 generation around Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka to make them forget their past tournament experiences with the national team with a sense of achievement?
Neuer: Yes, the will is great with them! But I wouldn’t just highlight these two. Take Leroy Sané, Serge Gnabry and Jamal Musiala, they are also ambitious players. With Leon and Jo you see more of the combative situations because of their position, and the other three are more responsible for the offensive actions. For example, Leroy sprints 50 meters behind an opponent and then grabs the ball away from him. We are all very hungry and we ourselves know that we have not impressed the tournaments lately. That is why we will do everything we can to get as far as possible and seize the opportunity to play this title.
Although Niklas Süle is now in Dortmund, he also belongs to this generation. How do you like him as a right back?
Neuer: He certainly does that very well. Niki is a fast player, especially when he gets going. We have already experienced that here at FC Bayern. He’s a great option for us in the back right. In a similar way in 2014 we played with trained central defender Benedikt Höwedes as left back. It is important to have a good defense. Being firmly in a tournament from the start is almost half the battle. That’s why I trust Niki to hold this position.
The DFB in Qatar also has high expectations of the national coach: why is Hansi Flick so good at binding a team to tournaments?
Neuer: He’s so good at it because he knows people! Hansi knows how to handle every player. He is also very communicative and talks a lot with the players. And he has a clear goal. Let me take the 2020 Lisbon Champions League tournament as an example.
Neuer: It was important that we had some degree of preparation for this unprecedented tournament. It was not that we galloped away from the front after the Corona break in the Bundesliga. Hansi made it clear to us: we have to fight, work and concentrate on the matches. I like to compare it to the Olympic Games.
Neuer: In Lisbon we were able to concentrate on this one tournament. As athletes always do at the Olympics. They design their entire workout over a long period of time to be successful at the moment. In a similar way, the national coach is trying to swear us into the World Cup, which is admittedly a small experiment for all of us. Because nobody has tournament experience in winter in the middle of the season.
The Champions League tournament in Lisbon was a similar unknown.
Neuer: Which ended positively for us, exactly. We Bayern players are now all in a good mood and back on track. At least that’s my feeling. We just have to take this feeling to Qatar, bring it into the team and transfer it to the other players. I look forward to when we all meet.
The discussions about and about the controversial host country do not stop shortly before the start of the tournament – on the contrary. They are fueled by homophobic statements by World Cup ambassador Khalid Salman.
Neuer (shakes his head): This statement is simply unbelievable.
How do you manage to focus on the sporting events – and be a responsible national player at the same time?
Neuer: It’s definitely a balancing act for us. And that’s not easy either. In the past there were subjects at major events besides sports: the townships in South Africa, the favelas in Brazil, Russia, the Winter Olympics in Beijing. As we get closer and closer to the tournament, one of Qatar’s World Cup ambassadors suddenly speaks in this absolutely unacceptable way. Of course, as football players, we want to focus on sport, namely on a World Cup. This is the biggest thing you can play!
What does that mean concretely?
Neuer: We will fly the flag in Qatar! We will represent our values there. The question is: what are the consequences if we adopt a very offensive attitude there? You don’t know that either. No one can see into the future. Therefore, I firmly believe that we will position ourselves as the German national team and DFB. We have done that in the past as well. But how that will be the case, none of us know yet.
Does the remote location of the DFB team quarters help you focus more on sporting events?
Neuer: The situation was similar in South Africa: we were a bit further away from the action in Pretoria and we were on our own. It was the same in Campo Bahia. We were not among the people of Brazil. For us it is never a cultural journey. Of course you take some with you on the trips – in Doha you have the city – but the focus, as always, is on football.
How crucial is the first group match against Japan?
Neuer: We should have been warned. For me personally, the first game in a tournament is always the most important. Japan is an awkward team that plays very disciplined. At the same time, she is unpredictable due to the skills of her individual players. We have a few Japanese players in the Bundesliga. I find it difficult to play against such teams. I prefer to play against teams like Spain – you know them. Then you know who is in front of you. You better prepare yourself for such opponents. Therefore, it will be a difficult task for us. But then we know where we stand.
When will the DFB team play at the 2022 World Cup? The schedule with all dates and times – and of course the German matches at a glance.