Bravo, Ter Stegen or logic? It’s clear

Luis Enrique hasn’t made many mistakes as the head coach of FC Barcelona, but the goalkeeper situation is one of them.

Irrespective of whether Sport and MD are stirring crap up with the latest spate of stories about ultimatums, and Ter Stegen marching into the club offices with his agent, brandishing an offer from Manchester City, or Bravo saying he would leave if he isn’t the No. 1 keeper, Bravo vs Ter Stegen should never have been allowed to happen by a coach who should know better.

Competition improves the breed, everywhere except the keeper position, where a team needs to have a clear No. 1. You give him the shirt, and roll with it. Barça decided on Victor Valdes, back when people called him “Exxon Valdes,” and other nicknames that described his tendency toward errors. But there was no question who the top man was.

The club later acquired Jose Manuel Pinto as the No. 2, a keeper whose errors were, like everything at Barça, overblown. He was a more-than-fine backup keeper, who played Cup matches and other times that Valdes was injured. And until Valdes decided to leave, there was no question who the No. 1 was.

The club bought Ter Stegen with a clear eye that he was the keeper for the future. Then the club bought Claudio Bravo, and there was lots of speculation as to why. Bravo was named the No. 1 keeper by Luis Enrique, with Ter Stegen playing all Cup matches. The difference in this scenario, compared to Valdes/Pinto is that Pinto stepped aside for Valdes when Champions League got serious, in the later rounds. Ter Stegen played all the way through, including the semis against Bayern and the final against Juventus. Perhaps Ter Stegen could be thought of as a No. 1.5, rather than a No. 2.

Ter Stegen made a couple of “errors” that, typically, were overblown. He was caught out on a couple of goals from distance, one that a midfielder should never have allowed to happen, the other a spectacular golazo — the goal of a lifetime for Florenzi. Then, suddenly, the culerverse talked of Ter Stegen not being trusted and being susceptible to goals from distance, which was the most profound nonsense.

Last season, Ter Stegen showed off his fluency in Spanish, as seemingly the last plank in his assumption of his birthright, so to speak, the No. 1 shirt. Of this, there shouldn’t even be a question. It’s unfortunate that there is. The goalkeeper position is about stability. In every other position on the field, a coach wants competition, pressure on the incumbent to keep that player from slacking off. There were a few positions in which Barça lacked that important factor, which have been rectified in the off season. Lucas Digne has come in to apply some heat to Jordi Alba, and Samuel Umtiti is an heir-apparent CB while Andre Gomes will have people looking over their shoulders in midfield. This is all as it should be.

But the keeper, for a team that builds play like Barça, should be a constant. Keeper is also a confidence position, in that you don’t want him to feel anything except the complete and full confidence of his coach and teammates. Pinto never lacked for confidence. Pinto did, however, lack a fully competent defense in front of him that allowed us to see why he was the No. 2. Barça’s defense is good to the point where you could probably put Masip back there and he would be okay. That’s good. But the difference a keeper makes is in building play from the back, and it’s here that the difference between Bravo and Ter Stegen is clear.

A player such as Busquets or a deep-lying Messi have to do less work with Ter Stegen in the nets. The play after the keeper possesses the ball also starts more quickly with Ter Stegen, as Bravo will usually catch, cradle, run around yelling at defenders, then put the ball back in play. In that time, the opponent defense is set. Ter Stegen catches and clears. Ter Stegen is also a better passer out of the back, and more accurate with those passes. That anyone can see that means that there is something going on that we can’t see.

Bravo is a reassuring keeper, one who stays home more than Ter Stegen. Bravo will never, ever get caught out too far from his net. Bravo is a great reflex keeper and a top-quality shot stopper. He’s a legit No. 1 net minder. The problem for Barça, created by a coach who wants it all, is that the team now has two No. 1 keepers, with the attendant problems.

Nobody can blame Ter Stegen for being impatient. He’s 24 years old, and ready to take over. He has the quality to be a No. 1 keeper, something noticed by more than a few teams. His buyout clause is EUR80m, which no club is going to pay even if he would ultimately be worth it. Bravo’s clause is EUR40m, which again, no club is going to pay, even if it’s a fair number in today’s money-mad transfer market. If press reports are to be believed, the club has told both that they aren’t going anywhere, even IF someone is willing to pay their clause, which is something that strains belief, because that isn’t how buyout clauses work. If a player wants to leave and someone pays his clause, he can leave. Done.

A coach wants the best options at every position. Ideally, a coach would have two fully competitive XIs ready to do, with players who can slot in at any position with no drop in quality, at a moment’s knock or pause. For a coach such as Luis Enrique, that includes keeper. The danger in that scenario is that keepers never get injured, so a No. 1 keeper is essentially built to stay that way, all else being equal. Yet that position is different, for all the reasons listed above.

When Chelsea committed to Thibaut Courtois, Petr Cech was sent to Arsenal. The emergence of Keylor Navas meant that Iker Casillas had to go. There isn’t a team in club football that, to my knowledge, has two No. 1 keepers and whose coach “settles” things by letting one play all the Cup matches while the other plays all the league matches. Neither player is satisfied. Bravo was pissed watching Ter Stegen in nets in the Champions League final, while Ter Stegen had 35 Liga matches in which to get pissed. Only a fool or a greedy coach would think that such a situation would be workable, long-term.

Make a decision. Make one of them the No. 1, and tell the other one that he is free to leave if someone is serious about buying him. It’s fair to both players and lets the team build toward the future with a clear conscience. If the promoted keeper from B isn’t up to snuff, find a forever home for him and grab a quality veteran who is clear about his status.

This isn’t even about a choice, even as most culers have a preference. It’s about resolving a question about a crucial position on the team.

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Written by:

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.

17 Comments

  1. MSN
    August 3, 2016

    I agree 100%. My personal preference is to keep Ter Stegen, but the best solution is to resolve this situation. Another season like that will bring problems.

  2. Jim
    August 3, 2016

    Ah, another game. This will be a good test of our midfield. Not sure they helped the defence last game in being available when they needed them.

    Btw, I quite like Messi’s new colour.

  3. Jim
    August 3, 2016

    It might just be me but I really enjoyed this match as well as the Celtic one. Nothing at stake but a good test from a Leicester side that looks like it wrote the manual on pressing. The constant subs helped them do that of course. Looks like they’ve found a player in Musa.

    I liked the way the ball pinged about first half when Messi was everywhere and I have no idea what his name is but the youngster who scored our last took it really well, as did Munir with his goals. We’re still pretty rusty and still pretty Messi dependant but we move on.

    • Davour
      August 3, 2016

      First half was pretty decent, I must say. Messi with some delicacies, Munir with some welcomed weight and goals – the second was fabulous – (and a TM Luis one). Considering it was a rough time to enter, Samper seemed to struggle in CM position, acting like his old DM. This is understandable, but he will hardly see (m)any minutes (if he stays put) as CM, considering the competition. Arda looks better, but I still don’t like his overly slack attitude, walking around with the ball, sometimes under-hitten the pass because of it; I’d like some more energy from him. Denis provides some of that, though looks a bit light at times. Still, very good on the ball and some nice combos with Leo (I, too, can’t help kind of liking the blond turn; making him easy to spot, too! I miss the old, shy-let’s-just-play Leo, but he vanished with the gorgeous girlfriend, kids & tattoos anyway…).

      And who is this Marlon fella’? May be that we’ll soon have two young bucks challenging for a CB spot…

  4. Davour
    August 3, 2016

    And thanks for the article. Indeed: pick one!

  5. Rami
    August 3, 2016

    Do i dare say, The club should get their hands dirty in this GK matter, We know it’s nasty bushiness interfering in the manager’s decisions, But let’s remember in real life, Not everything is black and white, And there are no absolutes, Just hear me for a second.

    Almost every coach views every season as his possible last, The only time he plans beyond his current season is in May or June where he is planning for the next one, And that’s as far as he’ll ever let his sight go, And it’s the logical thing to do, That’s why we never see a coach getting involved in the transfer of a youngster where it’ll take a few years to make a use of him.
    While in the short-term the coach, The club and the fans are eyeing the same thing, Trophies, Things can get blurry when we involve the long-term plans and goals, Because coaches look for their OWN interests, AKA success in their managerial career at the their current club, Meaning, Not every action they take will be in the best interest of the club in the long term, And it’s naive to think otherwise.

    Currently, As far as Enrique is concerned, He couldn’t be more happier with the current GK situation, Two top-notch GK playing for him, Why should he complain?, If Marc threatens to leave should we expect from Enrique to do anything than to show him the door, Should he be allowed (hypothetically speaking) to make such a decision with long-term consequences?, Specially from a coach in the last year of his contract, And still hasn’t informed the club he’ll renew.

    If the club were to ask Enrique to play an inferior GK, This would’ve been a totally different matter, But the fact he let’s marc play the CL, Shows that he views him equally as bravo, And in this case the club has every right to put their foot down,on this matter, And demand that he looks for the best interest for the future of GK position of the club.

    Lastly, Isn’t giving a fixed time, And a guaranteed spot in certain tournaments, Against the concept of competition?, The idea of ‘No guaranteed spot’ and ‘One spot and only the best can fill it’ is a key aspect of establishing a competitive environment in a squad,., In Enrique’s first season we could’ve made the argument that the GK spot was unclear as the void valdes has left was big, But when you are in your third season and still continue with this absurd split, You’re telling your Goal keepers to slack off.

  6. Jim
    August 3, 2016

    I find this a difficult issue. There’s a bit of me that says TS is the future and it will be a bright one. I wouldn’t argue if that were the decision made. There’s another bit of me that feels more confident seeing Bravo playing there as I feel at the moment he’s still the better keeper and has been since he grabbed his chance way back. I haven’t really seen any slacking off from either do far. However, TS has learned from his mistakes and is improving every game just as Bravo’s distribution has improved and his positioning become a little more advanced although it’s a skill which can’t really be taught and it may just be time to thank Bravo for his service and explain its a question of future proofing as Kxevin says.

    What really interests me, though, is LE’s attitude to the situation and what he does about it. Unlike Kxevin I think he has made a lot of mistakes but the keeping situation hasn’t been one of them. Most of these, though, I would categorise as man management. Now, though, he is about to be severely tested in more than just the keeping situation. We have a huge squad, there is going to be some bad feeling and it may just start with the goalkeepers. My worry is that he could, as has been suggested, take a really hard stance and say that anyone unhappy can shut the door behind them. It is starting to have that feel to it. Have the keepers been told what the situation is ? I suspect not or one would be on his way. Has he made up his mind ? Did he ask for Bravo despite knowing TS was on the way and as has been suggested, sees out his last season with him leaving a successor to pick up the pieces ? We haven’t a clue but one of the skills of a great manager is managing to keep everyone happy.

    We have probably the strongest squad we have had since our peak squad under Pep yet I’ve a feeling this season could be a roller coaster. Roll on the predictions article. 🙂

    Btw, I like dissecting a lost goal or performance as much as the next person ( OK, more) but even I draw the line at slagging players for their performances preseason. Nothing matters in that sense till the serious stuff starts. Not here, but already I’ve seen some negative stuff about performances. Probably not from anyone, though, who has ever gone through preseason training and the agony of trying to get both body and mind working again after a break. And it has to be said that it’d be difficult to find two sides less likely to stroll through a game at friendly pace making it easy for you than Celtic and Leicester.

  7. Chiu
    August 3, 2016

    easy choice. Ter Stegen as No 1. Just tell bravo to accept the situation or you could go. These 2 season we were breeding the future GK. Now he is ready.

    If bravo goes, i agree with Kx we find a veteran that would accept his role as no 2. Lots of veteran out there that capable to play cdr and meaningless CL/Liga matches.

  8. Messiah10
    August 4, 2016

    Have to give TS the full time job imo. Sure he will still make mistakes and culers will lamblast him and pine for the days Bravo were between the sticks, but you have to let young keepers grow. Look how Man U stuck with DeGea. He was rotated out occasionally, but it was always his job. He learned how to control his box better and doesn’t make near as many errors as he once did a few seasons ago. Young keepers only get better with more experience. It’s not an easy job and its a thankless one. Once a crucial mistake is made that leads to a loss then the wolves are out. Disregarding any previous form that probably won games.

  9. TITO
    August 6, 2016

    Arda isnt helping his case. Continues with his only negative side in playing football. Cant believe that he still has not learned that needs to be more focused throughout a game, every game.
    All in all, poor first half, some very sloopy passes and misjudgements on situations.

  10. TITO
    August 6, 2016

    And as writing this, Mathieu and Busi just burried us wirh amateurish mistakes.
    I hope they leave this atittude here and forget about it as soon as the serious business starts.

  11. Dar_vincy
    August 6, 2016

    I really do hope this inglorious shellacking would engender a wake up call as to what needs to be fixed in the team – defensively especially. Initially, the concession of goals in our past friendlies was attributed to the inavailability of the regular guys; same alibi wasn’t applicable today as only Alba and Neymar were the only absentees. While much should not be read into it (like last year’s remarkable capitulation against Sevilla and Bilbao early in the season) – especially as most of the players are working their way to full fitness – I can’t help but feel there has been a huge step-down in our defensive performance recently, personnel difference notwithstanding. The purchase of Umtiti is a great delight under current circumstance. Still, his performance could be insignificant if the overall defensive system is in shambles with gaping holes of deficiencies.
    Hoping things improve, greatly.

  12. Jim
    August 6, 2016

    Well, didn’t enjoy that one do much – but the same reasoning applies, for me. All we saw tonight is that Liverpool are further ahead with their preseason than we are. At least partly to do with the fact that we had so many away on duty over the break plus both Mathieu and Samper are coming back from quite serious injuries. So, no panic from me yet and no final judgements on the rest of the season. There were some interesting points for me though :

    1. Still the rotation of the keepers. Is that a sign that LE means what he says and both are staying on a rotation basis ?

    2. Rakitic at DM when he came on. Is this an experiment or a sign that Samper isn’t trusted ? He’s had a bit of one game at his favoured position and the rest further forward. Whatever, Rakitic isn’t quick enough on the ball and moving out of trouble and Samper didn’t do himself any favours in the two games playing further forward. Have to say, also, that Busi’s mind is still on the beach. Every day in the week his lost ball should have been a return pass to Mathieu. Mathieu, on the other hand needs not to force a pass left with a closed body as its too easily intercepted. Same mistake twice has spoiled otherwise good displays. Still, all those involved are just getting back into it.

    3. The midfield and FBs just have to do better in terms of making themselves available on better angles for passes from the defence. All our defenders suffered from that today and against Leicester. When our defenders are pressed by sudden movements it’s up to our midfield to also quickly adjust their position to keep the angle for an easy pass open.

    4. If we’re gonna let Messi come this deep he’s got to start caring about losing the ball. I’ve no problem at all with him losing it in their last third on a dribble. However, if he’s just beyond our half way line we’re skooshed ! It’s why he’ll never be a mdfield player. Just in case I seem to be slagging Messi unduly, I’m not. He came back because our midfield was incapable of stringing passes together or creating anything.

    5. We still need a fourth forward. . .

    I would love to know what LE has taken from the games so far. I reckon another week of full training will see a huge difference.

    • August 8, 2016

      As a culer it was not enjoyable, but was surprised to see LIverpool pressing us so hard as if it was a final. If Klopp insists on them doing this so early, by end of season, they are going to be a hell tired team.
      I saw to positive things from that match. – Munir sending a beautiful pass to the feet of a running Suarez – if he can make that kind of passes, well we should be patient with him. I never liked him, frankly.
      Digne – few minutes only, but the guy looks like a world class dribbler and he already picked a moment., that Messi was going to make that diagonal ball. In this case, he couldnt reach the ball, but thats a good sign too. Alba needs to work hard now.

  13. Davour
    August 7, 2016

    Unfortunately could not catch the entire game, but from extended highlights a few things are clear:
    -Ter Stegen is better than Bravo, as 1 conceded goal vs 3 surely proves.
    -Masche supports Ter Stegen to the point he is even prepared to cause an own goal to back it up.
    -The team looked tired and sluggish; normal for pre-season. LFC looked like they wanted this.
    -Mané looks promising for the reds
    -Arda will never flourish at Barca (sorry, unfair, I’m sure, but I can just feel it).
    -Sergi managed to find players in the box with distinct, low crosses.
    -Puzzled by Raki at DM – why play Samper, then? Or is LE trying ways to accommodate and shift around his many mids?

    It will be interesting to see the eleven for the super copa!

  14. Davour
    August 8, 2016

    Oh no, Mainz beat Liverpool 4-0. Does this mean…

  15. georgjorge
    August 8, 2016

    Pogba to United for about 120 million Euros. Can anyone enlighten me as to who pays their bills? They have spent A LOT of money the last seasons under Van Gaal (without anything to show for it), and have already spent 160 million on Pogba + Mikhitaryan from Dortmund this season, plus a big salary for Zlatan. And they haven’t sold any big players for much money. From the outside, that seems like a big bubble ready to burst.

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