Bayern's Neuer feels the love after Madrid magic
Manuel Neuer's key saves in Madrid helped put Bayern Munich into the Champions League final, inspiring words of love from his chairman amidst signs he may have begun to win over the club's hard-core fans.
Gelsenkirchen-born Neuer proved he was worth every cent of the 22 million euros Bayern paid Schalke 04 for him in July when he stopped Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka's spot-kicks as Munich won the penalty shoot-out 3-1 against Real Madrid.
On a tense night at Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, Neuer held his nerve after the scores were level 3-3 on aggregate following 120 minutes of football on Wednesday night.
His heroics had Germany coach Joachim Loew enthusing: "Outstanding! During the penalty shoot-out, you had the feeling he was huge between the posts. It was a world-class performance."
Vice-captain Bastian Schweinsteiger hit the winning penalty to send his team into the final against Chelsea on May 19 at Bayern's Allianz Arena to complete the fairytale for Munich fans.
"I love Manuel Neuer!", beamed Bayern president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, as some 4,000 Bayern fans chanted Neuer's name at the Bernabeu.
But it was a long way from the 'No Neuer!' signs thousands of angry Bayern fans displayed en masse at Munich's Allianz Arena prior to his arrival last summer.
At the Bernabeu, Neuer was called over by Bayern's fans to lead the singing, but wisely stepped aside to allow Schweinsteiger to start the chants.
The supporters' gesture was redemption for Neuer for whom Bayern's fans wrote a strict code of conduct last July insisting he never kissed the Bayern badge, threw his shirt into the crowd or led the fans' chants, a tradition in Germany.
Having declared his love for local club Schalke, whom he joined as a junior, Neuer incurred the wrath of Bayern's fans when he first moved to Munich.
The level of hatred from the terraces forced Bayern to reinstall fences behind the goals to protect their star signing from his own fans.
Even though he set a new club record of 1147 minutes without conceding a goal from August to October last year, the fans refused to accept him.
"I hope that now the last few now understood why we signed Manuel Neuer," said Bayern president Uli Hoeness in Madrid.
"He is a world-class goalkeeper and has again proven it."
But Hoeness, Neuer's biggest supporter at Bayern, admitted Thursday morning that "a small group of 20 to 40 people" will need many more heroic nights from Bayern's Number One before they fully accept Neuer.
However, any more hostility hurled Neuer's way will not be accepted and "we will talk about the consequences", said Hoeness.
Bayern captain Philipp Lahm insisted Neuer is a firm part of the squad.
"Manu is fully integrated and always leads from the front," said Lahm.
"He is one of the best, if not the best, in the world.
"He is still young and can be our number one for years to come.
"His saves were sensational."
Neuer's heroics brought comparisons with ex-Bayern goalkeeper Oliver Kahn, whose penalty shoot-out heroics helped Munich win the 2001 Champions League against Valencia, something Neuer rejects.
"I don't like that," he said, before brushing off the label of 'hero' many reporters were quick to pin on him.
"We're all heros," he insisted.
"I was determined to save those penalties, although obviously luck plays its part."
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