Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer's 2018 World Cup participation is becoming more and more unlikely as the Bayern Munich captain will not return for the last games of the club football season.
According to Bayern Munich coach Jupp Heynckes, who celebrated his 73rd birthday Wednesday, Neuer will not be ready for league action against VfB Stuttgart this Saturday nor will he take part in the Cup final against Eintracht Frankfurt on May 19, reports Xinhua news agency.
"He won't play in either of our last Bundesliga games nor in the Cup final," Heynckes told the Nuremberg-based football magazine Kicker. Sven Ulreich will be between the posts in both matches.
Neuer has been sidelined since his operation on September 19 last year. It was the third time that the injury to his left foot has occurred. Recently, the Bayern coach indicated that mistakes had been made in his treatment and therapy.
Neuer has always made it clear that playing in a major tournament like the 2018 World Cup in Russia without match practice is impossible. "I can't tell you at the moment whether I can make it back in time for the World Cup," Neuer commented.
Now, German national team coach Joachim Loew will have to decide if it is enough for Neuer to get match practice in the last pre-tournament friendlies against Austria (June 2) and Saudi Arabia (June 8).
Until now, Loew has confirmed that Neuer will be part of the preliminary squad at the pre-World Cup training camp in northern Italy from May 23 to June 9.
Loew is set to announce his squad on May 15 in Dortmund and wants to wait as long as possible for Neuer. The German coach is now expected to announce four goalkeepers for the training camp.
While Neuer has been involved in team training sessions in Munich, plans of him appearing in the final two league matches against Cologne and Stuttgart had to be abandoned.
The 2014 World Cup winner recently indicated that he is making steady progress but is still not ready to make a return. "I feel good with the work I'm doing but I still have to be careful," Neuer commented. So far, he has not been able to practice in competitive situations.
Last week, Neuer had to interrupt his rehab work due to a slight problem with his right foot.
Former national team fitness coach Oliver Schmidtlein indicated that Neuer could return to action for the German national team at the earliest in the knockout games. "Manuel has to be careful increasing the load in training, otherwise he could risk his health," Schmidtlein told the Hamburg-based sports-magazine Sport-Bild.
Neuer underlined he would have to make the right decision for himself and the football nation: "It does not help to panic. We'll see what the right decision will be." He added that he does not intend risking his future career to attend the 2018 World Cup.
Several pundits have suggested that Neuer should skip the World Cup to secure his future career. "What is a World Cup compared to three to four more years in professional football," former German international Lothar Matthaeus said before adding, "there will be a next World Cup for him."
Former German national keeper Oliver Kahn said it is unlikely that Neuer will regain his full fitness in time for the World Cup. "Practising is one thing, playing games another. Things are getting tight now," Kahn commented.
Several other pundits and former German internationals expect Neuer will not make the trip to Russia.