Champions League Final 2013: Manuel Neuer Was Biggest Winner After Great Showing

Joseph ZuckerFeatured ColumnistMay 26, 2013

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 25:  Manuel Neuer of Bayern Muenchen holds a section of the goal netting as he celebrates victory after the UEFA Champions League final match between Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern Muenchen at Wembley Stadium on May 25, 2013 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images

Take a bow, Manuel Neuer.

Arjen Robben might have been named man of the match, but no player was more important than Manuel Neuer to Bayern Munich in its 2-1 win in the 2013 Champions League final.

Rarely have fans seen such a big match where the opposing goalkeepers were on such great form. Roman Weidenfeller had a great match as well, but it was Neuer who left you absolutely breathless at times.

Without him, Bayern Munich could have surrendered three or four goals and been out of it after about 40 minutes. Borussia Dortmund was constantly getting in the Munich third early on in the match and time and again, Neuer proved up to the task.

Neuer was almost never caught out of position. This was best exemplified by his save on Robert Lewandowski's shot early in the first half.

Some keepers might have been baffled by the shot trajectory or would have needed to make an acrobatic save in order to keep the shot out of the net. Instead, Neuer shifted himself only a little in order to palm the ball over the crossbar.

Dortmund found the majority of their shots dismissed with similar aplomb from Neuer.

ESPN's Paul Carr has a breakdown of Neuer's saves from the match:

Any debate as to whether Neuer is the best keeper in the world should be over. And it's not as if Neuer has just become a great keeper, either. He's been at this level for years. He was impressive during Schalke's run to the semifinals in 2011, but he's reached a different level since moving to Bayern Munich.

After a performance like this, the discussion can begin as to whether Neuer can be remembered as one of the best of his generation.

With Neuer between the sticks, Bayern conceded only 18 goals in the Bundesliga. Some might be of the opinion that Neuer only looked good because he had a good defense in front of him or that the Bundesliga doesn't offer the same quality of the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A or another European league.

Both of those arguments are null and void.

The goalkeeper is the leader of the back line. He can have great defenders in front of him, but if he doesn't communicate properly, the whole unit suffers. The centre-backs end up out of position and goals inevitably flow.

As far as the criticism of the Bundesliga goes, the league continues to grow, and despite the dominance of Bayern this season, continues to have a lot of talented players and top-quality football.

People also tend to forget about the pressure Neuer was under and continues to be under since moving to Bayern. The club's ultras gave him a strict set of rules for when he first arrived. It's not as if the fans were rolling out the red carpet for one of the best players in the world at his position.

Of course, Neuer is prone to make some silly mistakes. What player isn't?

The problem with being a goalkeeper is that each one of your failings is magnified. When Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi skies a shot yards off goal, people don't really care. Those players will do something incredible moments later to more than make up for any mistake.

Goalkeepers aren't given the same kind of luxury.

Neuer, like any elite keeper, has a short memory and limits the frequency of major errors.

The Champions League was a deserved showcase for the German shot-stopper. He's been the best there is for the past couple of seasons, and it's about time that every football fan understood why.