Will Bernd Leno Become the German Joe Hart?

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Will Bernd Leno Become the German Joe Hart?
Alex Grimm/Getty Images

Bayer Leverkusen's 21-year-old goalkeeper Bernd Leno is a world-class shot-stopper, but will he rise and fall like Joe Hart did at Manchester City

"The lad [Leno] is one of the best keepers in Germany as he proves week after week," Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Voller said, via Sky Sports.

Before Leno broke out at Leverkusen, he had an uncertain future at Stuttgart.

During the 2009-10 season, Leno made the jump from the U-19s to the Stuttgart II team, playing 17 third-division games.

There was light at the end of the tunnel for Leno with Stuttgart's starting goalkeeper Jens Lehmann fighting off Father Time.

When Lehmann retired (he would later come out of retirement for Arsenal), a successor was announced, but his name wasn't Bernd Leno. It was Sven Ulreich.

Helmut Roleder (1972-86), Eike Immel (1986-95) and Timo Hildebrand (1999-2007) all had lengthy tenures in goal at Stuttgart.

So, you can understand why management were steadfast in their belief that an uber prospect in Ulreich was to be given leeway to make mistakes. 

This meant Leno's development had stagnated as he was a top-tier talent playing third-division football. 

Leverkusen made a desperate emergency loan for Leno when they had no options in goals. 

No. 1 Rene Adler was recuperating from knee surgery. Backup keeper Fabian Giefer was out with a concussion after colliding with Mainz's Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting. Third-choice goalie David Yelldell not only conceded four goals to Bundesliga team Dynamo Dresden in an league cup loss, but he was not fully fit.

"We are happy to have found a quality new signing in Bernd Leno at such a short notice," Voller said, via UEFA.com. "We are sure that with his help we will be able to reach our goals this season."

In his third Bundesliga game, Leno denied Sven Bender, Shinji Kagawa, Lukasz Piszczek and Ivan Perisic as Leverkusen drew 0-0 against Borussia Dortmund

Two months later, Leno outperformed Borussia Monchengladbach's Marc-Andre ter Stegen, making six saves (four more than Ter Stegen).

Those saves kept 10-man Leverkusen, down 2-1, in the game. Andre Schurrle would score an 87th-minute equaliser to salvage a point. 

Leno played 33 league games and 41 club games in total that season. 

Kicker was so impressed with Leno's debut season that he was ranked the Bundesliga's best keeper. 

Kicker Magazine's Top 5 Goalkeepers (2011-12)
Player Team
1. Bernd Leno Bayer Leverkusen
2. Ron-Robert Zieler Hannover 96
3. Sven Ulreich Stuttgart
4. Roman Weidenfeller Borussia Dortmund
5. Diego Benaglio Wolfsburg

Kicker

Since February, he has stopped four penalties and made countless reflex saves, but there is a glaring red flag in his makeup: He is Hart-like in having clangers. 

There is no in-between. 

It's either world-class saves or amateur hour. 

Going into the highly anticipated Euro U-21 game against the Netherlands, Leno's positioning was all over the place.

He looked aloof as there were routine communication breakdowns with his centre-backs Stefan Thesker and Matthias Ginter.

Leno was at fault for Adam Maher and Georginio Wijnaldum scoring for the Dutch. 

Alex Grimm/Getty Images

It was as if Leno wanted no more.

In a 4-2 defeat to Manchester United, he conceded four goals from five shots, despite making four saves in a 3-1 win over Wolfsburg three days earlier. 

Looking back, he exhibited the same negative body language when Lionel Messi scored five times in a 7-1 win for Barcelona. 

"The more goals Messi scored, the more Leno seemed to buckle under the psychological battle between striker and goalkeeper but in all honesty, can we blame him for doing so?" wrote Jonathan Harding at IBWM

Then, there was the game against Valencia where Leno's miscued clearance led to Jonas scoring after 10 seconds.

To throw a red herring in, Leno made nine saves when Leverkusen pulled a "Chelsea" by holding on for dear life in a 1-1 draw against Bayern Munich.

Bayern completed 90 percent of their passes, held 78 percent of possession, took 27 shots and had six shots blocked.

Leno did not shy away from the big occasion on that day, and this is how he should play every week. 

If he doesn't, he will suffer a similar demise to Hart, per Daniel Taylor at The Guardian: 

There is, however, a good reason why all the scrutiny has been on Hart since Manchester City's defeat at Chelsea and it is not solely because his mistake, coming in the last seconds, was the decisive one. It is the deja vu that accompanies it, the sense of it being another one to heap on to the list, and the wonderment that there always is in sport when someone who once excelled has started to unravel publicly.

In hindsight, Hart was afforded the benefit of the doubt because you knew of his pedigree.

Now that he has become the Titus Bramble of goalies, it's open season, and everyone in the media is jumping on him after holding back the criticism for so long. 

This is why you need to be cautious of not overhyping Leno.

The goalkeeping situation in Germany is fascinating because it's not just Leno.

There are so many young goalkeepers with a high ceiling playing in the Bundesliga. 

For comparison's sake, the same can't be said about England where there is no English keeper 25 years old or younger who is in the top five for saves made or save percentage. 

England's best goalie, 25-year-old Fraser Forster of Celtic, is playing in the 23rd ranked European league, according to UEFA coefficients

Back in Germany, Freiburg's 23-year-old Oliver Baumann could have been elevated into Joachim Loew's squad, if not for three mistakes in 37 minutes against Hamburg a few weeks ago.

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Hannover 96's Ron-Robert Zieler, 24, who was found out in games against Ukraine (conceded three goals in 17 minutes) and Argentina (got sent off), has been dropped from Loew's latest German squad, per Thomas Zocher at Sky Sports.

Leno's upside is similar to Ter Stegen (Gladbach, 21), Ulreich (Stuttgart, 25) and Kevin Trapp (Eintracht Frankfurt, 23), but it remains to be seen if Leno can eradicate his "Jekyll and Hyde" approach to keeping, which may lead to him becoming the German Joe Hart. 

 

Statistics via WhoScoredFFT Stats ZoneSquawka and Transfermarkt.
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Twitter: @allanjiangLIVE

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