Neuer favours Drogba duel over nerve-wracking television appearance
21:30 GMT, 18 May 2012
The thought of peering into the whites of Didier Drogba’s eyes may send a shudder through Manuel Neuer, but he’d take it any day over the question that loomed before him not long ago.
To Nurnberg’s Martin Behaim, we owe the oldest surviving what A compass, B slide rule, C globe, D magnetic compass. The Bayern keeper was on a roll, but this was the toughest so far. He could have guessed but thought better of it. There was one million euros riding on his answer.
Neuer may be competing for the most coveted prize in club football, in Saturday’s Champions’ League final, but playing for high stakes is nothing new to him after one of the performances of his life on a recent celebrity edition of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.
Safe hands: Manuel Neuer will keep goal for Bayern Munich on Saturday
The memory of sitting opposite Germany’s version of Chris Tarrant, who had the same deliberate style of staring intently before finally calling an answer correct or not, is burned on Neuer’s mind for all time.
He came up with 14 right answers, before admitting defeat over a final obscure question about 15th century philosopher and astronomer Behaim, but needed some assistance along the way. It took a nod from a fellow-contestant in the background, singer Maite Kelly, to convince him The Joker was a character from the Batman series, while he used up his 50-50 option for the 16,000 euro question, phone-a-friend for 125,000 and consult the audience for 500,000.
He outshone his two rivals – Kelly and comedian Michael Mittermeier each bailing out after winning 125,000 – but he still winced, at Bayern’s training ground, when Sportsmail asked him to relive his 40-minute appearance in German TV station RTL’s hot seat.
‘Honestly, it was an ordeal,’ he said. ‘Give me a penalty shoot-out in the Champions’ League final any day of the week. At least you have some idea of what is coming when you face someone from the penalty spot. I’d take that every time.
‘It was incredibly nerve-wracking. I was sitting there under the TV lights, in front of a studio audience, for well over half-an-hour, and the nearer I got to the million euros, the greater the pressure.
Main man: Didier Drobga (right) will be Chelsea's dangerman in Munich
‘Of course, the questions got more difficult, and while you’re trying to decide which answer to go for, you are conscious of how much is at stake for the charity you’ve chosen.
‘Football is my day-to-day job, not answering questions on so many different topics. It was like stepping into a different world. I can’t remember all the questions, but I’ll always remember the last one. I can recite it to you now, if you want.
‘I thought about it for a few seconds, then decided, as I’d never even heard of Martin Behaim, and had used up all my lives, I’d better not risk it. I just said “Now is the end of the gamble” and sat back, relieved it was over.
‘When I was asked what I would have gone for, I said A, so it’s as well I didn’t try and guess. The correct answer was C, globe. The money went to a charity tackling child poverty, so I was really pleased about that. I thought it might have impressed my team-mates, but when I got back to the training ground, all I got was: “I could have answered that.” I’d like to see them try!’
One-time Manchester United target Neuer might have fared better with a question on amateur psychology, judging by the way he solved the one problem that confronted him after joining Bayern.
Preparation: Bayern Munich's side train ahead of Saturday's showdown
‘At Schalke, I always had a lot to do in games, but here, I found there were long spells where I just didn’t see the ball,’ he said. ‘That can make it difficult maintaining concentration levels. You have to be ready if you are suddenly called into action, but it is not easy if you have been a virtual spectator.
‘It needed a change of mindset, and I came up with the idea of making use of any break in play. Now, if there is a stoppage of any kind, I walk into the back of my net, have a drink from my water bottle and just switch off for a few moments. Once play resumes, the switch goes back on again.
‘I have found that helps me stay focused. When you are not seeing much of the ball for long periods, you have to guard against your concentration wavering. It works, and it could be particularly important in the final.
‘Chelsea are very strong defensively, and as the opposition, you can be lulled into thinking you have an advantage, because they appear to be on the back foot. But that can be dangerous, because suddenly they land a punch on you, and it can leave you hurt and dazed. We saw that against Barcelona, and we have to be wary of it. I have to be alive to that threat.’
Asked if he may finally say sorry to Frank Lampard for the goal-that-never-was in the last World Cup, Neuer replied: ‘No, it is the referee who owes him an apology. I have not had the chance to speak to Frank about it. Perhaps if we are together in the doping control after the game, it might be a topic of conversation to help pass the time!’