The incredible rise of Ron-Robert Zieler

The Germans are renown for being pretty darn good at everything. And we all know they are. One of the many things on their “the things we’re better than you at” list, just below “penalties”, is “producing world-class goalkeepers“. You’ve just got to look at past players such as Oliver Kahn, Andreas Kopke or Sepp Maier to justify this point. Now, Germany is welcoming the next generation of shot-stoppers — along with Manuel Neuer and Rene Adler, they have the likes of Marc-Andre ter Stegen of Mönchengladbach and Freiburg’s Oliver Baumann. And, in the mix, a certain Ron-Robert Zieler. As of Saturday, the former Manchester United-man is an international goalkeeper.

What will almost certainly take away from what ought to be a special moment for any player in his position — considering the impact his predecessors had on the game — is that he struggled to make the sort of impression he would have wished; or rather he wasn’t able to. In the end, he conceded three goals (in a 3-3 draw with Ukraine) and — regardless of how they came — in an increasingly competitive team, there may not be many other chances. Certainly, though, there is plenty of reason to suggest that this is just the start for him.

When you put things into context, his rise to the top is just remarkable. Only 18 months ago, he was out-of-favour at United, playing second fiddle to Ben Amos. This was just the Reserves. And so you would be forgiven for thinking United didn’t see a future in him. But this was the man who Sir Alex once described as “excellent” and were “fortunate” to have him yet, at the very same, he was also talking about Amos. And that’s the important part of his story; it was a case of choice, keeping one and letting the other go. Zieler might well have still been a United player had he not suffered an arm break in a Reserve game against Newcastle United. With Zieler absent, Amos could make the most of the opportunity and with no sign of a way back in, Zieler had left the club.

Presently, there are no such problems for Zieler. His call-up to the national side is made all the more remarkable for the fact that he had only made his club debut earlier this year; and hasn’t looked back. “Zieler was pretty much thrown into the deep end last season at Hannover by coach Mirko Slomka,” says Quazi Zulquar of Bundesliga Fanatic. “For a young keeper, he did extremely well and his call-up to the national team was no surprise at all.” Zieler was promoted ahead of Florian Fromlowitz, another young ‘keeper, and harsh as it might seem, Zulquar’s colleague, Niklas Wildhagen, points out that Slomka also did the same with “a certain Manuel Neuer when he was coach at Schalke, where he elevated him ahead of Frank Rost.” Zieler’s immediate impact was enough justification to make him first choice, and meant Fromlowitz looked elsewhere for game-time.

However, progression has stalled of late for the ex-United player. “Zieler’s form has tapered off a bit this season,” says Zulquar. “He has looked a little bit shaky over the last month, the match against Bayern Munich an exception, so much so that a certain segment believed that him being capped against Ukraine was undeserved.” And although Wildhagen agrees with his point, he says that “there isn’t any danger of him losing his spot on the team.” Both of them firmly believe that Ron-Robert Zieler has a bright future ahead of him. “Generally he has been sparkling for Hannover and they really have made some giant strides with him in the team. I think he is a genuine long term candidate for the national team,” adds Zulquar. Opta Sports note that Zieler has the third best shots-to-saves ratio in Bundesliga with 78% since joining.

So what does the future hold? “I think he will travel with Germany to the Euros as the third goalkeeper,” predicts Zulquar. “He won’t grab the gloves away from Neuer in the near future, though. As far as club football goes, Hannover, I feel, is just a stepping stone in his career.” His colleague agrees. “If he keeps at it, I won’t be surprised if Hannover cash in on him in the near future, and sell him for a price between 10 and 15 million euros,” says Wildhagen. And, just like all of us, Wildhagen seems a man truly immersed by transfer gossip: “a return to Old Trafford might be a possibility in the future!”

Regarding Manchester United and their goalkeepers, it’s a similar story to Germany. There is plenty of competition right now; David de Gea has made a competent start to life at Old Trafford so far, whilst Anders Lindegaard looks too good to be second choice. Amos, too, mustn’t be discounted. And so it’s unlikely that Zieler would ever return to the club but, nevertheless, his experience as a Manchester United player is one he looks back on fondly and cites former stopper Edwin van der Sar as an important figure in his career. When asked what he learned at his former club, he replied (this is a direct translation, so along the lines of…): “A lot. Everything that happens around such a huge club. Tactical teamwork with world stars like Cristiano Ronaldo or Wayne Rooney or in my case, of course, Edwin Van der Sar. I learned a lot by watching him.” It figures.

With thanks to: 1) Opta Sports for the data 2) Quazi Zulquarnain and Niklas Wildhagen from Bundesliga Fanatic for the help and 3) @d_cantona7 for the German-to-English translation.

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7 responses to “The incredible rise of Ron-Robert Zieler”

  1. phil croughan says :

    Being a L’pool fan, I wasn’t aware of Zieler. Clearly a broken arm restricted his opportunities at United, but his progress since and his first international cap suggest Fergie’s instinct about him was correct. The Germans are good at promoting their youngsters, not unlike United, so I hope he does well. I’ll be keeping an eye on him as Fergie will be as well, I’m sure. … Maybe one that got away .. time will tell.

  2. Philip Gatt says :

    Excellent post, as it’s always nice to catch up with former United players, even the ones who didn’t make the step up to the first team.

    Well done on a very good article, and keep the good work up.

  3. Musa Okwonga says :

    Really enjoyed this piece. Great mix of analysis and anecdote. It seems like a Gerard Pique-style case – in that leaving United was the making of him; I doubt he’d have risen to these heights if still at Old Trafford. It makes you wonder how many other great talents never reach the greatest stages because they’re afraid to leave the shelter of big clubs.

  4. The Gaffer says :

    Appreciate the comments, all.

    Musa, thanks for dropping by — very good point regarding the similarity of Pique’s case and this one; it seems rather obvious now, but it didn’t enter my mind at the time of writing. For both, an unfortunate moment (arguably) decided their fate. Like Zieler’s career was put on the racks when he suffered an arm break, a defensive lapse might have done the same for Pique: http://manutd24.wordpress.com/2011/05/24/the-defensive-lapse-that-led-pique-on-the-road-to-stardom/

    I love me a good parallel!

  5. CanTheyScore says :

    It’s amazing to see how he has progressed since he left United, I always heard good things about him but I don’t think anyone knew he was ‘this’ good.

    As you say, another loss like Pique. However, in both cases, I can’t believe either would have developed the way they have if they’d stayed at United, shame.

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