On Wednesday, Marca reported that Mönchengladbach goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen had agreed to personal terms with Barcelona and had signed a pre-agreement with the Spanish Primera leaders.
With Victor Valdes having announced that he will not extend his contract with Barcelona, which expires in 2014, the Catalan club are now in the market for a new No. 1. And although they have pledged to keep Valdes on their staff until his contract expires, it seem Barca have wasted no time in deciding who will replace him in just over a year's time. Ter Stegen's contract will expire in 2015, meaning that Gladbach will have to sell next summer if they are to collect a transfer fee.
But who is Ter Stegen? And is he worth the hype? According to ex-Gladbach goalkeeper Joerg Stiel in a Goal.com article, Ter Stegen is better and has more quality than Manuel Neuer: "It's quite clear, in the not-too-distant future, he will be Germany's No. 1."
Last March, still before Ter Stegen's first cap for Germany, Stiel even claimed that the then-19-year-old could become the best goalkeeper in the world.
Ter Stegen has many, many more fans, including legendary Germany and Bayern Munich goalkeeper Sepp Maier. Last January, the World Cup and three-time European Cup winner claimed that "Marc is virtually on par with Manuel Neuer."
Ter Stegen has enjoyed a steep climb to prominence. In 2009, he won the European Championship with a Germany side that featured now-superstar Mario Goetze. The following season he was promoted to the Gladbach U19 team, and then the reserves. Throughout most of the 2010-11 season he was available as a backup for the first team. And then, on April 10, 2011 (just weeks before his 19th birthday), he was given the nod to start in his first Bundesliga game.
Gladbach were struggling at the time and needed a miracle to avoid relegation. In the final six matches of the campaign they won four and lost just once, as Ter Stegen conceded just three goals. Gladbach's strong run of form in the final weeks of the campaign lifted them to 16th place, earning them a spot in the relegation/promotion playoff against Bochum. After a 1-0 win at Borussia-Park, die Fohlen scraped by with a 1-1 draw in Bochum and retained their spot in the Bundesliga.
As the 2011-12 campaign began, Ter Stegen's potential was understood but his reputation had not yet blossomed. He was not immediately called up to the German U21 team, and made his only appearance at that level in February of 2012. For Gladbach, however, the youngster was magnificent. His side conceded just 24 goals (0.71 per game) in the Bundesliga, a record bettered only by Bayern and Juventus among teams in Europe's top leagues
In 2011-12, Ter Stegen outplayed Neuer twice as Gladbach—a side that so had come so close to being relegated the previous season—won both of their league clashes with Bayern en route to a surprise fourth placed finish. Following his brilliant performances, Joachim Loew called up the youngster for his pre-Euro 2012 friendlies and Ter Stegen earned his first cap in an away match against Switzerland.
Germany lost the friendly 5-3, and Ter Stegen was dropped from Loew's squad as Ron-Robert Zieler and Tim Wiese served as backups for Manuel Neuer at Euro 2012. The Gladbach stopper came off the bench after Zieler was sent off in an August friendly with Argentina and immediately made an impression as he saved a Lionel Messi penalty. It was not enough to save the DFB team from a 3-1 defeat.
Ter Stegen has, in his limited experience, played with experimental Germany teams. And with die Mannschaft down to 10 men by the time of his introduction, perhaps not much could be expected of him in the Argentina match. Still, in 150 minutes for Germany he's allowed a highly disappointing eight goals. And this season, without the talismanic Dante in defense, Gladbach have conceded 32 goals in 21 games.
It can be definitively concluded that Ter Stegen is far from a finished product and perhaps is not yet ready for the expectations that will come at Barcelona. Still, the player has tremendous potential. For all his quality, Neuer only made his debut appearance for Germany when he was fully three years older than Ter Stegen when the Gladbach man played against Switzerland.
In his youth, the ex-Schalke keeper was always a great shot-stopper but was nowhere near as comfortable in the box as Ter Stegen, and by comparison was far more suspect from crosses. At 19, Ter Stegen coolly commanded his defense to the third-best record in Europe. And out of 10 penalties faced at professional level, he's saved five—Messi, Andre Schuerrle and Rafael Van der Vaart are among those who have failed to beat him.
The next 16 months or so are critical for Ter Stegen as he looks to take the next step in his career. Even if Barca have committed to him, there is nothing stopping the Catalans from signing an additional goalkeeper if Ter Stegen struggles between now and the summer of 2014.
The Gladbach man needs to take his chances to solidify himself as Neuer's backup ahead of the 2014 World Cup, and achieve modest success with Gladbach. Neither Zieler nor Rene Adler, Loew's other replacements for Neuer, currently do or can expect to compete in the Champions League and thus have no intrinsic advantage over Ter Stegen. The table certainly is set for the 20-year-old if he can perform.
Barcelona would be a huge step for Ter Stegen, who will still be only 22 heading into the 2014-15 season. He needs to make a leap, though, if he is ever to contend for glory with club and as a prominent feature in his national team.
Still, Stiel is convinced the youngster can make the leap, saying, "Of course I trust him [to be ready for Barcelona]. Whoever masters the Bundesliga is ready for any challenge."