The future can only hold positive things for Barcelona. Blessed by a cohort of the world’s best and most influential players, no club embodies the word “team” more than the Catalan side. The new chapter in the Blaugrana’s book that was written by Josep Guardiola continues to be meticulously sculpted by the club's players, new manager Tito Vilanova and his assistant Jordi Roura.
Barcelona's current crop still look to have many chapters to write before calling a halt to what is the best Barcelona side the club have witnessed in their history – and perhaps even the best team in the history of the game as whole. However, one player whose hourglass seems to be nearly empty at the Camp Nou is Victor Valdes.
The goalkeeper has not backed down since dropping a bombshell on his club and the rest of the footballing world at the start of 2013. Valdes is keen to see out his contract at Barcelona – which runs until June 2014 – but will then be looking for new pastures; almost certainly outside the Spanish peninsula given his profound love and devotion for the Catalan giants.
Many names have since been linked with Los Cules – Atletico Madrid custodian Thibaut Courtois, Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer, Liverpool stalwart Pepe Reina and Valencia shot-stopper Vicente Guaita. Two are now established goalkeepers, while the other two are fast-ascending stars. However, there is a dark horse to assume the mantle of Barcelona goalkeeper – Marc-Andre ter Stegen, the current number 1 at German club Borussia Monchengladbach.
The reasons behind Barcelona’s supposed interest in this young goalkeeper remain obscure: Why would the world’s best club be interested in bringing in a 20-year-old custodian with barely any international experience and so few professional accolades?
Marc-Andre ter Stegen seems on paper one of the least qualified goalkeepers to guard the Barcelona goal. However, a closer look at the player’s attributes and his Bundesliga story so far soon suggest that a switch to Spain and incorporation into the ranks of the Blaugrana could be a match made in football heaven.
Born on 30th April, 1992 in the city of Monchengladbach, Ter Stegen’s name has been affiliated with his hometown club since the start of his career. He established himself with the team’s second string, but his credit soon grew after winning the UEFA Under-17 European Championship with Germany in 2009; in a side that also included current Borussia Dortmund star Mario Gotze.
But while he attracted attention for his growing potential, his senior club were under scrutiny. By 14th February 2011, the Foals only had 16 points to their name after 22 Bundesliga matches.
Most managers would have stuck by the current crop of players at their disposal, or resign altogether. Gladbach were struggling with the prospect of relegation and staying in the Bundesliga past the 2010/11 season was hard to imagine for the battle weary troops.
However, Swiss coach Lucien Favre surprised many by dropping established custodian Logan Bailly to the bench and promoting Ter Stegen to the first team. The young keeper eventually made his debut in a 5-1 win against Koln on 10th April and has hardly looked back since. He managed four clean sheets in the last five Bundesliga matches and capped his maiden season with the senior side by displaying his calibre against eventual league champions Borussia Dortmund. Gladbach eventually managed to win the battle against the drop by coming out victorious against VfL Bochum in a relegation playoff tie. Ter Stegen had proved he knew how to deal with pressure.
If Ter Stegen’s first season was promising, his second was even more thrilling. The towering shot-stopper was now firmly established between the sticks and made his mark in his team’s first game against Bayern Munich, surpassing opposition goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. Gladbach eventually won the game 1-0 at the Allianz Arena.
In the side’s second meeting with Bayern Munich, the Foals established themselves at home, claiming victory once again against Die Roten by a 3-1 scoreline. After that game, former Bayern Munich and Germany goalkeeper Sepp Maier was full of praise for the Gladbach custodian. “Marc is virtually on par with Manuel Neuer”, admitted Maier. "He is now a great goalkeeper.”
Ter Stegen lived up to Maier’s opinion as his team conceded 24 times in the Bundesliga last season, second only to Bayern Munich in the stingy defence stakes. The tender custodian played in all 34 league games in the campaign. In little more than a year, he went from reserve team goalkeeper to first choice in the senior side and one of Gladbach’s star players.
On an individual level, Ter Stegen is a goalkeeper who likes to command and marshal his defence. His tall stature allows him to claim crosses with ease, while he has shown himself to be very agile with his hands and has displayed superb reflexes and flexibility when dealing with shots.
Yes, Ter Stegen has all the attributes of a great goalkeeper, but playing for Barcelona would be a different matter, as the Blaugrana employ a system that is almost exclusive to them.
Barcelona are a unit in attack, starting their assault on goal from their first line, the goalkeeper. As such, the man between the posts must be comfortable with his feet as well as his hands, and more often than not, the number 1 must transform himself into a sweeper-keeper to aid his side's backline. Ter Stegen will have to quickly assume the Dutch-Catalan one-pass tiki-taka style of play to slot in easily and tune into the same wavelength as the likes of Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol.
Of course, many players have failed to integrate at the club, failing to familiarise themselves with the Johan Cruyff philosophy at Barcelona. Ukrainian defender Dmytro Chygrynskiy’s tenure in Catalunya was nothing short of awful, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s story with the side proved that not all high-profile transfers are bound to work: both players ended up staying just one season at the Camp Nou.
Others however have made names for themselves at Barcelona, such as Yaya Toure and David Villa. And the reason behind this is that the Ivory Coast midfielder and the Spanish forward came to understand the club’s way of doing things. Should Ter Stegen familiarise himself with these notions, there is every chance of him being a worthy successor to Victor Valdes’ throne, if a deal can be pushed through.
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