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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
While England’s footballers sulk in their sun-loungers, the rest of the continent will be contesting the 2008 European Championships. Iain Macintosh, who still won’t allow the word ‘McClaren’ to be uttered in his home, runs the rule over some of the potential stars of the summer. This week, it’s the turn of Schalke and Germany goalkeeper, Manuel Neuer

I don't know about you, but I expect certain things of a goalkeeper. I want them to be built like a heavyweight boxer, to look like a bulldog that's run into a wall and to generally give off the impression that they've tried eating with cutlery, but they didn't like it one little bit. In other words, I want Brad Friedel. I'm not sure about these squeaky clean young goalkeepers like Kasper Schmeichel or Joe Hart, they just don't seem nasty enough.

I had a similar distrust of Schalke's young custodian Manuel Neuer and it doesn't help that he looks about 12 years old. He's a local boy, born and bred in Gelsenkirchin and he used to stand on the terraces and watch a certain Jens Lehman play for his local team. Interestingly, Lehman is now Neuer's loudest cheerleader and has reportedly recommended him to Arsene Wenger. The blonde-haired stopper has also been linked with Barcelona, who are thought to be finally running out of patience with Victor Valdes this summer. Joachim Low is likely to take him to Euro 2008 and with Neuer's hero stuck on the bench at The Emirates, it's not inconceivable that he could play a part.

He was certainly in fantastic form against Porto in the first knock-out round of the Champions League. He made a series of crucial saves during the game and then went on to make a superb one-handed penalty stop in the resulting shoot-out. From the highlights package, he looked very good indeed, but I couldn't quite reconcile this green-shirted hero with the flappy-handed child that I saw let the ball squirm under his legs at Stamford Bridge earlier this season.

If Schalke were to take anything from their first leg encounter with Barcelona, Neuer would have to have worked on his handling, but sadly, that doesn't seem to have been the case. With 12 minutes on the clock, Thierry Henry burst in on the left flank and fired a shot straight at the near post. Neuer went to grab it out of the air, but only succeeded in flapping it straight back out to the Frenchman. Henry may not be in vintage form, but he doesn't turn his nose up at opportunities like that. He twisted in mid-air and poked the ball along the goal-line for a gleeful Bojan to convert. And it was all so avoidable.

He's not a bad goalkeeper, by any stretch of the imagination. Unfortunately, Barcelona didn't offer very much at all after the first goal and opportunities for redemption were limited, but there are signs of certain strengths there. In the opening stages of the game, he charged off his line to block Xavi from point-blank range. There's nothing wrong with his reactions or his reading of the game, it's just his handling. I've seen him play three times this season and he's been at fault for two critical goals.

Expect to see Neuer's name all over the newspapers this summer as the speculation over his future rumbles on. He's certainly got potential, but at the moment he's not a top flight goalkeeper. The similarities between Neuer and Manchester City's Joe Hart are not limited to their blonde hair. Both goalkeepers need a few more years yet before their skills are honed. Come back to me before the 2010 World Cup and I'll wager that Neuer won't be a bit part of the international squad, he'll be the first part.

STAR PLAYER - Manuel Neuer (Germany)
Reactions - 9
Handling - 5
Composure - 7
Total - 21