The debate ending Ter Stegen post (you’re welcome)

Is a player an employee, or a devoted, loyal lover?

That question sits at the core of supporter perceptions of a player, these days one player in particular, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen. When he was signed for 12m from Borussia Monchengladbach, it was an acknowledgement of his bright future. Ter Stegen is now 23 years old. No idea what you were doing at age 23, but most young men are trying to hump their way through an area code, and doing 180s so fast they run into their impatient, ambitious selves.

Ter Stegen is the No. 2 keeper at the best football club in world. Like every Millennial, he wants more. He wants to save the world, make a difference, be recognized for his talents, all that Millennial stuff. But unlike too many impatient Millennials, he actually has talents worth recognizing. He has been with the club long enough to learn its systems, be part of a Champions League and Copa del Rey-winning side. He has become sufficiently fluent in Spanish to give pressers in the language, and believes that his time is now. So like any talented young person at any place of employment, he’s antsy.

A series of quotes attributed to the player have made it clear that he believes that he is ready, and needs for the club to make a decision. Let’s look at both sides of the debate:

He should be patient. It’s Barça

Sorry, but no. Employers are losing Millennials left and right, for some very good reasons: youth, talent and ambition don’t have to wait, because they are desirable. The onus is on an employer to retain that person, and Barça is no exception. Ter Stegen will have played on a team that won a Treble last season, and is on track to repeat that astonishing feat. Why should he stay at a club where he has already done it all, if he is unsatisfied with his role within the team? If you liked it then you should have put a ring on it, as the pop song goes.

Culers overestimate the drawing power of Messi, Iniesta, Neymar, et al. Supporters at every club overestimate loyalty in this modern game. A player like Ter Stegen is selfish, and he should be. Every athlete hears a timer ticking every time they step onto the practice pitch. Examples abound. Mathieu went away to play an international match, came back with a torn meniscus. Victor Valdes went up for a ball, a play he executed a zillion times before that. He landed wrong, and is now giving up goals in Belgium.

There are things that an employee needs to do to demonstrate that they are ready for a position. Way back when, a young editorial assistant got a shot at a reporter’s job. It was incumbent upon that dude to be ready to handle his shit, or go home. I did. Others didn’t. Ambition and impatience are only so if you can’t back it up. If you are ready, ambition and impatience become acknowledgement that it’s time. When an employee is ready, and says “Give me what I have worked for or I am leaving,” only a foolish one isn’t ready to walk, having done advance research that makes them confident the path will be a rosy one.

No employee should wait one second longer than they deem necessary, when they are ready for a position. That is even more true for athletes. It is also true that employers want to try to get employees to be patient, because people hate making hard decisions. Even ruthless bosses.

It is immaterial to this discussion whether Bravo is better or worse than Ter Stegen, because Ter Stegen believes that he is ready. Should he wait? No. Hell no. Who would in his position? If his coach wants to play a 33-year-old veteran over him he would be stupid to stay whether the team is Barça, or the Valhalla XI. A player has to think about his development, and his future. “Wait til next year.” Why? It’s like a boyfriend saying, “I’ll change!”

The other complexity is that everyone wants a hot young sweeper keeper these days, and Ter Stegen is the one. Liverpool would grab him in a nanosecond, rumors are popping up that Manchester City has secured the first rights, whatever that means, should Ter Stegen find his way to market. The market for keepers is hot right now, and Ter Stegen has the skill set to become one of the best. The world is his oyster. Anyone who expects him to wait is kidding themselves.

Luis Enrique should make the right decision

What is the right decision in this case? Luis Enrique has rarely, in his (admittedly short) time as first team coach, been wrong. His transfers have almost all worked exactly as expected, and his team won a treble. This season, that team is on track to win its domestic league, faces a winnable league cup and is in the Champions League quarterfinals against an opponent against whom it is 6-0. Irrespective of what naysayers have said about varied and sundry things, the Barça coach has been, on aggregate, faultless.

He also rules his group with a iron fist, and is not interested in the inmates running the asylum. So “right decision,” for the proponents of Ter Stegen, means giving the young German the shirt and putting the position’s future in his hands. That seems as simple as anything that we can see from our completely obscured seats.

Why isn’t he the No. 1? Is it as simple as Bravo doing nothing wrong to lose his spot? No, because we know that Barça is a meritocracy. A player can take another player’s position, if they play well enough to move up the depth chart. It happens rarely because of the murderers’ row in that XI, but it can. If Ter Stegen was better enough than Bravo in training to grab the spot, it would be his. No coach is stupid enough to decide to play a lesser player in a position as important as keeper. Does Luis Enrique see something in his defense that demands the more goal mouth-rooted skill set of Bravo? Or is this Liga v Cups thing just a silly compromise worked out by a coach who wants to have two world-class players at every position, and is whistling past the graveyard with one of them?

Right now, Bravo is the Liga keeper, and Ter Stegen is the Cup keeper. At most teams with such an arrangement, there is a clear No. 1 and No. 2 position. With Valdes/Pinto, the latter was the Cup keeper until the matches mattered, then he stepped aside. Ter Stegen remained in goal throughout the entire Champions League competition. Copa as well. It’s clear that if Bravo is No. 1, Ter Stegen is No. 1A.

The right decision is, as far as Luis Enrique is concerned, the one that he has made at present, for his own reasons. Who knows about the future? Ter Stegen will, therefore, if his discussions don’t have the desired outcome, have some decisions of his own to make. At that point he would almost certainly leave the club and Barça would have to hope that Bravo has some Gigi Buffon in him, and can continue to be a top-flight keeper for many years to come. People would scream and rail, call various people incompetent, etc, etc. And Barça would keep right on winning, short-term, which is what any coach is thinking most about — this season, this championship, this competition. Luis Enrique is no exception.

Who has the whip hand?

Ter Stegen’s buyout clause is EUR80m. No club is going to pay that for him. Sorry. Yes, he is talented, and a world-class keeper for years and years to come. City can pay that fee without batting an eyelash, but won’t. Not with Joe Hart, the England No. 1, as their net minder. And if they could, why wouldn’t they just add another 10 and go for Courtois?

Hart is 28, entering prime years for a keeper. If RM doesn’t get the fax to the wrong place this summer, United will also be looking for a No. 1. Liverpool? While the prospect of a Klopp project would be appealing, Liverpool is no way in hell going to pay 80m for Ter Stegen, without even getting into the style differences of the Prem, weatherable only by a coach such as Guardiola. Imagine the howls of derision as Ter Stegen plays up around the halfway line, on those weekend Prem broadcasts. “What IS that young man doing? The net is that way!”

Let’s assume that City/Guardiola can lure Ter Stegen. What of Joe Hart? Ter Stegen doesn’t want to hear, “You can come and compete for the spot.” He’s already heard that. He wants the No. 1 shirt. That heavy clause makes this a completely different situation to that of Thiago Alcantara, rather than a mostly different one.

Both were young, ambitious players with world-class talent who are/were ready to start for any club in world football. That’s where the similarities end. Alcantara’s buyout was a steal. Ter Stegen’s isn’t. Alcantara had club legends in his path. Ter Stegen doesn’t. An iconic coach said, “Thiago or nothing!” It made his decision easy. If Guardiola says that about Ter Stegen, it’s a pretty safe bet that Barça will have a hard time holding on to the German.

So now what?

Sit tight and stop squabbling. Bickering over a situation you have nothing invested in makes no sense. I saw one comment about “plastic fans,” and “Bartomeu defenders.” Madness. One side is calling Ter Stegen disloyal and impatient, the other is saying that Luis Enrique is taking a huge risk with a class talent. Both sides are right. But because we know exactly nothing about the meat of the situation, both sides are just as likely wrong, misguided and ignorant. The future awaits.

By Kxevin

In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.


  1. Stegen needs to calm down, he is still young and has plenty years ahead! I know how he feels about the situation but he has to keep quite a bit, making such fuss infront of the media won’t change lucho’s stance.

  2. I don’t know why players (as a group) need to send messages through media in the first place. They can simply take the high way and schedule a meeting with the manager or whoever is the point of contact. Going through the media only hurts the objective of the player, by hurting the egos of the club. If it is indeed a strategic move by the players, I can’t see any advantages, they may need better counsel.

    On the other hand, it maybe the case that Ter Stegen just answers the questions off the bat, as he thinks about them, without any filter – maybe he already spoke to the club about it, who knows.
    In which case – good for him, he is under no obligation to hide his views.

  3. I think it’s unfortunate the way things have worked out with our keepers. I’m not sure why, after buying an ambitious, talented young goalkeeper , you go out and buy another top one. Was never going to end well.

    The issue is that Bravo got in and hasn’t really put a foot wrong. I’m starting to doubt if TS will be here next season as Bravo could go on long enough. He is confident and really excellent. You add that to Barcastuff reporting that City and Liverpool are willing to DOUBLE his Barca wage and his public posturing which I’m pretty sure won’t have gone down well in the dressing room and he could be off. I do get a few echoes of Thiago, Kxevin, in the sense that something about both of them smacks a little of an arrogance which I don’t find appealing. Just as Thiago didn’t really grab the chances he got with us, TS didn’t cover himself in the sort of glory you’d expect if he was going to bench one of the top WC goalies.

    I hope he stays as he is the future but as has often been said here if a player isn’t happy with their lot then good luck to them but they won’t win more trophies where they are going.

  4. Agree with you Jim, that may be the club didnt had to buy Bravo, after having TS.
    I just think its a complicated situation for all parties, with all having their own strong points.
    However, from the side of TS, if at all he is leaving, he is the kind of keeper Pep would love to have and wouldnt the same situation repeat there in MCity too, Can Pep just keep aside Hart, who for me, is the best or at least the best of 3 in EPL.

  5. Enter Your Comment… the solution is simple. Reverse the roles and make Bravo the cup keeper.

    it may be a matter of taste but Ter Stergen was immense @ Bayern last season. He made a few mistakes @ the start of the season when he had the chance to stake the jersey as own. Tough luck there.

    Overall he is the future. Hard to ditch Bravo as it is but tough choices are sometimes necessary.

    In a way its a similar situation to EE’s that as good as Navas has been would DD be a better option.

    1. Things is, though, that if he spoke via the media without first discussing this with the club, I don’t see LE complying. ter Stegen had a rough start of the season, when he had his chance, but so did the entire team. He was not ready for that – compare with Navas, who keeps bailing out RM with holes in its defence, and ungratefully rumours persist that he will not be their no 1 next season. Perhaps we can pick him up if ter Stegen leaves…

      As Kxevin highlights: the coach does not have very long term in mind, as the club wants to win NOW. But on the other hand, ter Stegen seems to have potential overshadowing Bravo’s, though not the consistency yet.

      To make Bravo the cup keeper seems fair from our perspective, but will not go down well with him, I think. Might be worth a try, if any of them would settle for that (ter Stegen might want it all; Valdes had both Liga and CL).

      Overall, if LE does not deem ter Stegen ready to assume the no 1 spot next season, perhaps he simply is not good enough. or will not have come far enough in time. A loan, however, would be a possible compromise, though maybe not one ter Stegen would prefer, if he wants to be a legend somewhere. Will be interesting to follow.

  6. Perhaps we overestimate the draw of Messi, but people are getting complacent with regards to his performances. Did you see what he did to Bolivia? No wonder he was pushed to the ground in anger by one of their players. That would be the performance of a lifetime for most players. And he conducted well agains Chile, too, dominating first half. He’s ability to turn nothing into something from deep is baffling (á la last year’s copa final).

    People who claim he does not deliver in the NT cannot be looking very hard.

    1. He seems to be trying hard for Argentina, much more than Barca. Or, he is more relaxed at Barca. Lack of a good central midfielder means, he has to play in the midfield, carry the ball forwards and then most of the time watch that ball getting screwed up by his wannabe Messi friends.
      That first goal against Bolivia, was an incredible moment. – He decides to pass to Higuain in a split second. Well that decision making is out of this world. It is then another thing to perfectly execute it, and that makes it out of the planet. Luckily Higuain hears the scream of Mercado and passes and it s a goal.
      Really at this age, I cant believe this, am in absolute love of this player and a person too (for his normalcy and the way he conducts himself).

  7. Lucho need to make a quick decision about that because am smelling another thiago case on the horizon, the problem with stegen might only be his consistency but he is a magnificent GK, if the reverse is the solution next season then that would be cool but we would end up with same problem we are facing right now, an excellent GK like bravo won’t seat on the bench as well, this is the complexity of the situation. To my mind lucho can distribute all the matches between them with each of them having equal match playing, no one for the league or the CL, but rather the opponent should be analyse if we would be able to build comfortably from the back then he choose stegen and if the opponent presses like hell (villareal, sevilla, bayern , ) then he should opt for bravo due to his excellence on one on one situation.

  8. Enter Your Comment… another thing that is worth considering but is rarely said is the issue of who pushed for the transfer. Sometimes selection and loyalty comes down to who instigated the transfer.

    Coaches usually stick with the players they chose themselves because those players conform to the coache’s likings. Rare is it that a coach advocates for a player and then don’t give him some form of loyalty.

    From my understanding Bravo was signed at the instigation of LE whereas MaTS was already here when LE came. Am not saying thats the case here but its a real possibility. It also becomes plausible if you consider that our goalies have recently been chosen on their ability to satrt attacks and an extra outfield player. Considering their attributes you had reason that Stergen’s weaknesses are more than compensated by his strenghts. Either way it does not look pretty.

  9. “No coach is stupid enough to decide to play a lesser player in a position as important as keeper.”
    Well, there is a Mignolet nd a Klopp smwhr in de BPL

    1. Another example may be Del Bosque and his selection of Casillas, despite first having a better keeper in Valdes, and afterwards with De Gea.

  10. Sorry.
    While I can agree that every employee has the right to choose whats best for him, in this case, the said employee needs to realize that NOONE had heard of him until barca picked him up. Show a little gratitude.

  11. Debate has not ended dude.

    And since you are talking about employers and employees, let it be also said that when an employer offers a great opportunity to a candidate (however talented he/she is), the offer usually comes with a pre condition on the part of the candidate to commit oneself to the organization for a specific period.

    Ter Stegen was literally plucked out of obscurity from zubi za and immediately enjoyed maximum spotlight to showcase his talents by courtesy of his employment to fcbarcelona, the grandest stage.

    He also won everything there is to win within the first year. Following his enormous visibility and championship medals, What happens next?

    Demands and whinings for more time from the player – essentially a “promotion or I walk” ultimatum from the employee. Being ambitious is one thing. Being an over entitled c**t is quite another.

    This article also fails to touch upon the allure of barca the club and Barcelona the city. People like mascherano and cesc took pay cuts to just get a chance to play here. Suarez looks like someone who would do the same. Turan, a champion agreed to sit out for half a year so he could play here. Alexis, once coveted by everybody while at udinese, said “barca or nothing.”

    FCB is a special club and this case isnt just any other employee–employer situation like the article makes it out to be. Like I said before, if mAtS can’t take what barca is giving him he can **c* off by all means. He would do well to keep in mind the precedent that has been set by those who left. The trajectory usually takes a predictable curve.

    Being ambitious is one thing. Being an over entitled **n* is quite another. Mats is the future. He knows it, barca knows it. He just needs to play his part and take his chances as well as he can.

    I shudder to think what might have been, had folks like iniesta and xavi thought like ter Stegen did or like the manner in which the writer encourages the (barca) employee to think.

    I love Ter Stegen. And I’d love for him to commit himself to a club which is actually a perfect fit for his skill sets. But when you become an employee of barca, a cultural and attitudinal fit is every bit as important as a talent fit.

    If mats is unwilling, he can co star in that movie with zlatan — the one where the head gets in the way of real greatness and glory.

  12. All valid points here. May be we should also look at the cultural aspect. TS is a German and all know how blunt they are. It is not like TS called up a press con and announced this. Some stupid reporter must have aired a question and he could not cover up his natural reactions. May be he doesnt plan to leave at all, but just answered the question sincerely.

    1. You do realise that’s an April Fool ?

      Fotobirajesh, he may well have done but he needs to wise up quickly as comments may well be going down badly in places that matter. On a more general note, it is unfair that we expect wisdom from these twenty something kids in situations where journals know exactly what they are doing by niggling away at issues which might prompt a useable quote.

  13. Can’t wait for tonight!

    The game may not have much meaning from a pragmatic perspective (and pragmatic is what most people consider Lucho to be). But I still believe/hope this game to be one of a very few this season where the team will play the very best football they can. No playing in second gear, no reserving energy for later, just the best football they can currently produce. Depending on the opponent and on luck, they might still win or lose, but beautiful things are surely going to happen. Visca!

    1. Ok I must have missed the Champions League three days after. So much for not reserving energy ; ) Still beauty might be produced tonight as well

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