Marc-Andre ter Stegen: an unsung Camp Nou hero
For Football Manager 2012 enthusiasts, Marc-Andre ter Stegen's rise is no great surprise. In the addictive video game, he is one of the young goalkeepers with the potential to reach the very top, alongside Thibaut Courtois. In reality, the 24-year-old German is still developing. However, he now looks like the player Barcelona anticipated after paying big money to lure him from Borussia Monchengladbach as the long-term replacement for Victor Valdes, who was keen to leave Camp Nou for a new challenge.
Ter Stegen was signed as number one at the Camp Nou, but an injury in pre-season meant Claudio Bravo was given that role. Once the youngster returned, he was used in the Champions League and Copa Del Rey, with Bravo the preferred choice in La Liga.
Although the rotation worked, Ter Stegen was desperate for more game time. He reportedly demanded that Barcelona choose between him and Bravo. The Chilean shot-stopper was sold to Manchester City. Since his departure, the German is a man reborn, defying logic by making save after save.
Despite Barcelona struggling to live up to previous success under Luis Enrique, Ter Stegen was instrumental last season. He has continued his impressive form this campaign, conceding a miserly 9 goals in 20 league matches.
Ter Stegen's decision making was his bane not too long ago, but he's since added a new-found maturity to his game. He knows when to play long to find a teammate, when to pass short and when to perform the sweeper role - an aspect of the game that international teammate Manuel Neuer has mastered at Bayern Munich.
Ter Stegen is now the undisputed number one at Camp Nou, with Dutchman Jasper Cillessen the club’s second choice. The world's top goalkeepers, including David De Gea, Jan Oblak and Courtois, have all earned rave reviews this season. For his performance over the past six months, Ter Stegen deserves mentioning in the same breath as those goal custodians.
With Barcelona sweeping aside all comers under Ernesto Valverde, a number of players have benefited. Despite being without Samuel Umtiti, perhaps Barca's best centre back, the defence has been exceptional. Ter Stegen is marshalling his area exceptionally. He now seems at ease in his role, instead of suffering the uncertainty that limited him previously.
Even as a youngster, former club Borrusia Monchengladbach gave Ter Stegen a send-off worthy of a retiring player. His performances in the Bundesliga were exemplary before he left in 2014.
Given that Germany's usual starter Manuel Neuer is out injured, it's possible Ter Stegen could man the post for Die Mannschaft at this summer’s World Cup. It's a role he performed in the Confederations Cup victory in Russia last summer.
Ter Stegen's improvement this season has been crucial to Barcelona in the quest to win another treble. The 25-year-old is finally showing his true capability.