German goalkeeper has yet to agree new deal at Bundesliga champions and finds his place under threat for club and country.
In the quiet of an empty stadium, you can learn a little more about leaders. Who shouts the loudest in moments of urgency? Who, when he raises his voice, gets listened to the most?
Among the intriguing aspects of the return of elite European football this weekend, with a full Bundesliga schedule of matches all played behind closed doors because of the coronavirus threat, is how audible the players will be for television viewers.
The most conspicuous leader in German football, the one who wears the armband for champions Bayern Munich and for the national team, has lately been choosing carefully when and how he makes himself heard.
The months of shutdown have been personally challenging to Manuel Neuer, beyond having to take a responsible, spokesman’s role for the national sport through the unprecedented public health crisis.
He has reached a junction in his career, with contract renewal talks with Bayern starting and then stalling.
His private life has also been prominent on German front pages, his marriage having ended and a younger partner having come into Neuer’s life.
At 34, he remains the standard-bearer of German football’s so-called ‘golden generation’.
Of the players who won the 2014 World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro and are currently playing in the Bundesliga, Neuer alone is still first choice for the national team.
To Bayern – some of whose veterans, such as Thomas Muller and Jerome Boateng, are no longer a presence in the national team – he is still regarded as the “much the best goalkeeper in the world”.
Or so said the club’s manager, Hansi Flick, in March, as Bayern and Neuer found themselves moving apart in talks over extending a contract that expires in June 2021.
The player is understood to want to commit to Bayern, but with a place at the very top of their salary scale.
There is some hesitancy from Bayern over the salary demands, and over how many more years he can maintain his excellence.
In January, Bayern agreed a deal with Alexander Nubel, the highly-rated, 23-year-old Schalke keeper, for Nubel to join them for the beginning of next season, by which time his contract at Schalke will have come to an end.
The swoop, a free transfer, made business sense. But it creates a potential logjam.
Nubel is too ambitious to look at the role of understudy to Neuer as anything other than a short-term arrangement.
Besides, Bayern already have a trusted and respected back-up goalkeeper to Neuer in Sven Ulreich.
There is no strong suggestion Neuer is inclined to move, nor Bayern to try to fetch a large transfer fee for him, especially in the uncertain market caused by the Covid-19 shutdown and the likely recession to follow.
But the imminent arrival of Nubel – whose career trajectory, from Schalke to Bayern, echoes Neuer’s own path to the top – puts the senior gloveman under some extra pressure.
Or at least it will have him looking more vigilantly over his shoulder, as Neuer has had to over the last 12 months with the national team, where Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen does little to disguise his ambitions for Germany’s No 1 jersey.