After Ter Stegen announced on Monday that he will not renew his contract at Monchengladbach, it now seems likely that it will be only a matter of time before Barcelona confirm the young German stopper as the heir to Valdes’s throne in the Nou Camp goalmouth.
Ter Stegen has been linked with the Catalans ever since Valdes announced his desire to quit the club at the end of last season. After more than a decade at Barca, Valdes served notice of his intention to quit last May, giving the Primera Division champions up to a year to choose his successor.
Ter Stegen’s name has been mentioned alongside goalkeepers such as Pepe Reina, Thibaut Courtois and David de Gea, with even Iker Casillas touted by some to make a switch which would stun Spain.
Casillas, however, was never really a contender, while Courtois and De Gea were always unlikely to have been made available by Chelsea and Manchester United respectively.
Reina was the obvious choice. The Liverpool goalkeeper, currently on loan at Napoli, came through the ranks at Barca with Valdes and has long dreamed of a return to the club where he made 30 appearances before joining Villarreal in 2002.
The 31-year-old understands the demands of being a Barca stopper and since flying the Nou Camp nest, he has gained vast experience in three of Europe’s five major leagues as well as the Champions League. Unlikely to cost a large transfer fee, Reina is the safe bet.
It seems, though, that Barca have other plans and Tata Martino is willing to gamble on the younger, less experienced Ter Stegen.
But there is very little risk associated with the 21-year-old. Despite his tender age and lack of Champions League action – or action of any sort outside Monchengladbach – Ter Stegen is the closest thing to a sure bet when it comes to picking a young goalkeeper who can fill Valdes’s gloves.
Ter Stegen has risen through the ranks at Gladbach since joining the club as a five-year-old and has proved since making his debut for die Fohlen as an 18-year-old that he has everything a top-class keeper needs.
While Lucien Favre’s side are by no means a one-man team, it is no coincidence that they have risen from the Bundesliga relegation places to third in the table, ahead of Borussia Dortmund, during Ter Stegen’s ever present run since being handed the gloves in 2011.
Much like the apparent multitude of talented young German goalies in the Bundesliga, Ter Stegen is a brilliant, athletic keeper who, in his debut full season, achieved the highest save percentage in the Bundesliga.
Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer, the world’s best keeper according to International Federation of Football History & Statistics, has been impressed with his national team rival: “Ter Stegen is sensational. He is very agile and always knows how to deal with complicated situations. He is a superb shot-stopper.”
But his talents extend far beyond his goalline. Ter Stegen dominates his box by coming for, and usually catching, anything within range and he is just as comfortable with his feet as his hands. Ter Stegen has the composure and passing range of a ball-playing centre-half, which is a must-have trait for a Barcelona keeper.
Over the last season and a half, the Gladbach goalie has a distribution accuracy rate of 79 per cent – three per cent more than Valdes, despite almost double the number of distributions (864 from ter Stegen compared to Valdes’ 440).
The stats also suggest that Ter Stegen needs only to tweak his distribution style slightly. Valdes is famed for often stubbornly preferring to play short into his centre-halves or even a deep-lying midfielder, with 49 per cent of his passes being played short. Ter Stegen opted for the longer pass only seven per cent more than Valdes since the start of the 2012-13 season.
What many goalkeepers who fail to excel at the biggest clubs often struggle with is not technique, but the changing and increased mental demands. Can Ter Stegen handle the step up to protecting the goal at what many consider to be the world’s biggest club? It’s impossible to say for sure, but the signs look positive.
Germany coach Joachim Low has spoken of Ter Stegen’s “great composure and real presence for such a young goalkeeper” while Favre was even more gushing with his praise: “As a player and a person, he is perfect.”
Ter Stegen is an organiser and a leader in the in the Gladbach coach’s dressing room, which serves to illustrate the youngster’s confidence – something he will need in abundance under the intense spotlight at the Nou Camp.
While Ter Stegen looks all set for Barca, whatever ambitions Reina holds of a return to where it all began might not be yet be over.
Barca’s second-choice stopper Jose Manuel Pinto sees his contract lapse at the same time as Valdes and it is not clear yet if the club intend to offer the braided veteran a new deal.
It may be that Barca want Reina to work alongside Ter Stegen. The 31-year-old might not be enthralled at the prospect of being a mentoring stand-in, but Pinto has averaged 15 appearances a season over the last three years and has won medals as Barca’s cup keeper.
Pinto is also a well-liked character in the Nou Camp dressing room, as third-choice Reina is in the Spain squad, but the 38-year-old’s time at Barca might be up.
Even if Ter Stegen were to hit the ground running, Reina would have a greater role to play than most number twos and the lure of his boyhood club may be enough for him to sacrifice a guaranteed starting spot elsewhere.
But the more pressing task for Barca is to get Valdes’s replacement signed up. Monchengladbach are expecting at least £10million, with some reports this week suggesting they will look for double that amount, which is perhaps not unreasonable when you consider Neuer cost Bayern £19million when he had only a year remaining on his deal at Schalke.
Barca drive a hard bargain and will use Ter Stegen’s desire for a move to haggle, but it is in no one’s interest not to get a deal done.
A Barca penalty box without Valdes prowling around it will be strange sight for many Blaugranes. They watched him make the number one jersey his own at 21. But ter Stegen can do exactly the same and there is no reason why the German cannot emulate Valdes’s quality and longevity.
|2012/13||Marc-Andre ter Stegen||Victor Valdes|
|Save percentage (in box)||62.4%||58.3%|
|Save percentage (out box)||85.5%||86.4%|
|Shots on target faced||163||94|
|GK long distribution||357||162|
|GK long accuracy||63.0%||55.6%|
|GK short distribution||218||140|
|GK short accuracy||98.6%||99.3%|
|Long distribution %||62.1%||53.6%|