When Pepe Reina joined Bayern Munich earlier this month, his acquisition was by no means a threat to Manuel Neuer. The Germany No. 1 and reigning German Footballer of the Year is assured of his starting role for now and the long-term future, provided he's fit and eligible to play. Reina will not play all that often, but he can help the Bayern team by making Neuer a better goalkeeper.
Neuer is, at 28 years of age and having won the Champions League and the World Cup, no longer a young prospect who can be taken under Reina's wing. The Spaniard may be just under four years Neuer's senior, but Bayern's No. 1 is a hugely experienced and fully mature footballer.
What Reina can do, however, is help keep Neuer sharp. Tom Starke hasn't exactly been a pillar between the posts in recent years, and Neuer has rarely had more than a moment's rest. He played in 51 of a possible 56 competitive games for Bayern last season, plus the entire World Cup. The season before, he played in 50 out of Bayern's 54 games in all competitions. The year before that, it was 52 out of 55 games, plus all of Euro 2012.
Even at Schalke, Neuer hardly ever got a break. He played in every minute of every game for Schalke in his last two seasons at the Veltins-Arena, including all 4,800 possible minutes over 53 appearances in his final season before transferring to Bayern.
He really is an iron man.
The problem with playing so many minutes, especially for a team like Bayern, which often doesn't need to defend for long periods of time, is that it can be difficult to maintain focus. On several occasions, Neuer has found ways outside the normal confines of the game to keep himself amused while his goal has come under no threat.
In February 2013, he turned his back to the game and fielded headers from Thomas Muller, who was warming up behind his goal at the time. Perhaps that, in part, explains his propensity to come out of his goal and venture even close to the halfway line in many cases.
Neuer himself admitted not long after the Muller incident, via Mike Norrish of the Daily Telegraph, that he often found his job occasionally "boring" and that sometimes he didn't even need a postgame shower. There really are some games in which his presence is unnecessary.
Although he has yet to be caught out, it's only a matter of time before Neuer makes a big blunder. It will probably come against substantially lesser opposition and may well have no effect on the final result, let alone the season.
But it could come in a big game. And in any case, that kind of predictable mistake should absolutely be avoided by a top player like Neuer at a top club like Bayern, which can and must demand full focus from every player in every game. Anything less cannot be regarded as acceptable.
Having Reina as an option between the posts will give Pep Guardiola confidence that he can rest Neuer more often, saving the No. 1 for the matches in which a world-class shot-stopper is really needed. The bottom line is, Reina gives the trainer options. And the presence of another highly qualified custodian will help keep Neuer motivated, fresh and focused for the telling games.
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