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May 4, 2011

'We are capable of punishing them'

His stunning display in the Champions League semi-final against Manchester United last Tuesday night ensured Manuel Neuer became one of the most talked about footballers in the world game, yet the Schalke 'keeper insists he is not allowing the transfer speculation circling around him to affect his mindset ahead of his date at Old Trafford on Wednesday night. • Man Utd v Schalke preview Manchester United, Bayern Munich and Arsenal have been among the European giants linked with a summer move for Schalke and Germany's No.1, but he has told ESPNsoccernet's Nick Bidwell that his stunning rise to the top table of world football is not distracting him from his final few games with hometown club Schalke. Why have you decided to leave Schalke at the end of this season? My contract runs out in 2012 and the club know that I won't be renewing, but this was not an easy decision for me. It's been a time for soul-searching as Schalke is my club and it's thanks to them that I'm Germany's goalkeeper at the moment. I know some Schalke fans will not accept my decision, but when I weighed everything up, I couldn't escape the need I have to try something else in my career, to test the water somewhere else. The news that you are leaving Schalke has started transfer speculation aplenty, so has this been distracting with a Champions League semi-final on your agenda? Not at all. We are in the middle of one of the biggest European matches of the season and there is no time to consider my future when you are playing two games against Manchester United. Also, I never saw this tie as a shop window for me because it is a vital game in Schalke's history and that's all I'm thinking about. Manchester United are one of the teams interested in signing you, so you must be eager to impress against them? United scouts have come to Germany to watch me in the past and I'm absolutely flattered, but a move to England was not an option for me at this stage. Anyway, I want to forget about this transfer story for now as we have a big game at Old Trafford to look forward to and I know what this game means to our brilliant supporters. Final question on your future: is it true that you have already agreed a deal to join Bayern Munich? At this moment, I cannot say for sure where I will be next season because I leave that to other people, but I don't expect it will be in England even though I respect the football and culture of that great football country. How surprised are you that Schalke have managed against all the odds to reach the Champions League semi-finals? Overall, we've had a disappointing campaign in the Bundesliga, but the Champions League has been different. Our team have proved they are fighters and that may be why the one-off cup games have gone well for us. While we have been inconsistent in the league games, we are always capable of raising our game on the big occasion and that's been the story of our season. With the German Cup final on the horizon, can you identify why Schalke have been so formidable in knock-out football this season? We have an unbreakable belief and are not easily discouraged and that 5-2 win at Inter proves it. We were a goal down in 26 seconds, but didn't panic and later turned the game around with some attacking fireworks. It was a magical experience. We were playing football in heaven, right in the zone and nothing could go wrong. Both Valencia and Inter were favourites to beat Schalke in the Champions League knock-out stages, so how did you manage to turn the form book upside down? In both ties we were very solid as a unit, weathered some storms and scored at decisive moments. The top end of the Champions League is all about making the most of your chances and in Europe we've succeeded in that mission. We are not a Hollywood team and you could look at our squad and say we are a bunch of nobodies, but we are nobodies playing in the Champions League semi-finals. This shows that anything is possible. Schalke sacked coach Felix Magath during this Champions League run, replacing him with Ralf Rangnick. Is it true that the atmosphere around the club has greatly improved because of this change? It would be wrong not to acknowledge the part Magath played in our European journey. He's a winning coach with a super record and I had a good relationship with him, but there is no point denying that some of our players were unhappy under Magath. Rangnick is his own man and obviously has different methods and ideas. He is a thoughtful and clever coach and with him in charge, we are enjoying our football. I think everyone can see this. Do Schalke have a realistic chance of overturning the 2-0 first-leg deficit against United to make it through to the Champions League final? I think Valencia and Inter underestimated us and naturally it will be to our advantage if United do the same. If they don't, we are capable of punishing them, that's for sure. A Champions League semi-final means playing for high stakes and this means nerves can play a part. We have to be focused, keep a cool head and play with high energy. Which aspect of United's game do you admire the most? From the point of view of a goalkeeper, I'd have to concentrate on their ability up front. In Rooney, Hernandez and Berbatov they have one of the most explosive set of goal-takers in Europe. They are fantastic in their movement, awareness and technique and if we are to progress, we have to find a way to neutralise them. The other feature I like about United is their work-rate and their ability to suddenly go from quick pace to supersonic.

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