‘I haven’t booked a holiday yet,’ was Bernd Leno’s response in March when asked about his chances of making Germany’s World Cup squad.
The Bayer Leverkusen goalkeeper, close to becoming Arsenal’s latest summer recruit, did make Joachim Low’s provisional squad for Russia this summer but instead will be watching on from afar.
A blessing in disguise, some Gunners fans might think.
His omission should in theory make the process of wrapping up negotiations all the straighter forward for Sven Mislintat and co, with his schedule over the coming weeks slightly emptier than had he made the final 23.
During a summer of transition at Arsenal, replacing 36-year-old Petr Cech is among the most important items awaiting Unai Emery and head of recruitment Mislinstat.
But Arsenal fans may be wondering why they are opting for someone only considered to be the fourth best in his country.
The Manuel Neuer factor
Being left out of the current German squad shouldn’t be reason for condemnation – just ask Leroy Sane.
Leno has been capped six times for Die Mannschaft having also represented them at every youth level. He was also named in last summer’s Confederations Cup squad – albeit one that didn’t include a handful of heavyweight names.
But his inclusion this summer was always going to rest on the fitness of Manuel Neuer.
The Bayern Munich custodian marked his return from a near-nine month layoff after suffering a foot injury in September in a defeat to Austria on 3 June – just two weeks before their Group F curtain-raiser against Mexico.
While Low insisted throughout Neuer’s rehabilitation his captain would only be selected if he could prove his fitness, the Germany head coach had no doubts over the goalkeeper’s condition when it came to making the final calls.
His inclusion pushed Leno down the pecking out and out of the squad.
Why is he behind Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Kevin Trapp?
Unfortunately for Leno, there is no shortage of goalkeeping talent.
Barcelona No.1 Marc-Andre ter Stegen is Neuer’s undisputed understudy for the national team, having started his country’s final three World Cup qualifiers due to the Bayern man’s injuries.
He continued in goal in friendlies against England and Spain and having diligently guarded the Barcelona net in 2017-18’s double-winning season, it should come as no surprise to see him ahead in the pecking order.
Kevin Trapp’s World Cup hopes looked to be in some jeopardy last season after the Paris Saint-Germain shot-stopper started just 13 matches in all competitions – just five of those coming in Ligue 1 outings.
Despite his lack of game time, it was clear long before the World Cup squads were announced that Low favors the 27-year-old over Leno, starting him in friendlies against France in November and Brazil in March while the Bayer Leverkusen man slummed it on the bench.
Leno’s numbers last season were impressive, keeping 10 clean sheets in 33 Bundesliga appearances to help Leverkusen seal Europa League qualification.
But questions remain over his concentration levels, boasting the unwanted record of committing the second-most errors leading to opposition goals among goalkeepers since the start of the 2015-16 season.
For now, Low remains unconvinced by the Arsenal-bound shot-stopper.