EXCLUSIVE THORSTEN STUCKMANN COLUMN

Ballon d'Or nominee and fellow German Manuel Neuer
Ballon d'Or nominee and fellow German Manuel Neuer
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There is no better goalkeeper in the world than Manuel Neuer at the moment.

Neuer has been nominated for the FIFA Ballon d’Or award and I think he deserves to win it – in my view it would be embarrassing if he did not.

He has won everything with Bayern Munich and the World Cup with Germany in the summer.

In my view, he was one of the main reasons why Germany triumphed in Brazil and him lifting the Ballon d’Or would be fitting.

In Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Neuer has stern competition but it should be his name on it come January when the winner is announced.

My favourite goalkeeper in my time growing up and playing football is Oliver Kahn.

When I was younger and developing as a keeper, Kahn was at his best.

I grew up watching him and in many ways, he was a role model for me.

Kahn showed that you could get somewhere if you worked hard and kept focused.

That is what I have tried to do in my career and why I have got to where I am now.

It is a little over three years since I first signed for Preston and a bit longer since I initially came here on trial.

I have seen plenty in my time at Deepdale and I’m among the longest-serving players.

When I first arrived the atmosphere was good but then it changed quite a lot when Graham Westley came in.

Since the gaffer has been here, there has been a great feeling around the club and the squad we have now has quality and depth.

Everyone is together and it is a great bunch of lads, so hopefully that can get us to where we want to be.

My move to Preston in 2011 came about when I was out of contract in Germany.

I was 30 and fancied a new challenge. There was an offer from a club in Greece but my little boy had just been born and I did not want to go to Greece because the Euro crisis was just starting.

When I sat down with my agent he suggested we try England and Wales.

I was keen to give that a go and I had trials at Swansea, Leeds and a club just down the road who I won’t say the name of!

Then the chance to come and train with Preston came up – my agent told me they had just been relegated from the Championship to League One.

Out of all the clubs I had been on trial at, this was the best in terms of making me welcome – everyone was friendly.

I played in a friendly game at Morecambe, David Lucas did the first half and me the second half. Five minutes after I came on, we conceded a penalty. I saved it and thought I had a decent game, so it was disappointing when they sent me home and signed Iain Turner instead.

Back I went to Germany and trained with Werder Bremen because I knew their goalkeeping coach. Three months later I got a call from my agent asking if I still fancied Preston because the chance had come up to return there.

That call came on a Thursday morning. I jumped on a flight from Dusslesdorf that night and trained with Preston on the Friday.

I did not have the necessary clearance to play at Charlton that weekend but that came through in time for me to make my debut at Rochdale on the Tuesday night. I saved three penalties, which was not a bad start! I was talking about that game with my wife last week after we had beaten Oldham. Three years on from saving those penalties on my debut, there I was scoring the winning penalty at Boundary Park!

There were some very good penalties taken by both sides and at 7-7 or 8-8 I asked the linesman how many more until to the keepers had to take one – when he said how close it was, I thought, ‘Oh no’.

I was glad that it was the Oldham keeper going first and the pressure was off me when he put his over the bar.

If I missed, it would just mean that we stayed level and I would have another penalty to face. Their keeper made it a bit easier by going early and I just put it in the other corner.

My celebration was not very good because it was my first ever goal – so apologies if I looked a bit surprised.