By Enis Koylu
When you are staring relegation straight in the eye, it would seem like an act of stupidity to throw a rookie goalkeeper into the mix, particularly when you have one of the Bundesliga's leakiest defences. And yet that is exactly what Lucien Favre did when Borussia Monchengladbach looked certain for the drop in 2011.
The Swiss coach's new-look side, complete with Marc-Andre ter Stegen between the sticks, went on to stay up by the skin of their teeth, and have not looked back. The following season, they finished fourth, doing the double over Bayern Munich in the process, with a stellar spine featuring the young German, Marco Reus and Dante.
|OUT WITH THE OLD
|Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
Victor Valdes' decision to leave Barcelona came as a shock to the club last month, but the Catalans have been watching several other goalkeepers for some time now. And Ter Stegen is top of their list.
Marca's claim that the German had signed a pre-contract with Barca was quickly denied this week, but their sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta (himself a great Blaugrana keeper) rates the youngster highly and believes that, at just 20, he will be able to adapt to the position at the Catalan club, where goalkeepers are expected to be just as comfortable with their feet as with their hands.
Manchester United's David de Gea has also been linked, but looks out of reach, while Vicente Guaita made two bad mistakes in Valencia's loss to Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday. Espanyol's Kiko Casilla is highly rated, and also under consideration.
While his two former team-mates have since departed for pastures new, Ter Stegen remains at Borussia Park, and continues to put in performances that belie his tender years. In a difficult season for the Fohlen, he has been a rock at the back. Little wonder he has attracted the attention of Barcelona.
While both clubs and the 20-year-old's agent have since come out to deny the rumours that he had already signed a contract with the Blaugrana, there is no denying the Catalan interest in the player. The Liga leaders have been linked with him since March 2012, and Victor Valdes' refusal to sign a new deal will have only intensified their interest.
And, truth be told, they could do a hell of a lot worse. His mental strength is obvious. Not only did he take his chance in the first team two years ago emphatically, but his first forays into international football have seen him save a Lionel Messi penalty with his first touch after Ron Robert-Zieler had been dismissed.
And that was just typical of a man who has approached his career in a completely fearless manner. In September 2011, he was involved in a bizarre training-ground collision with goalkeeping coach Uwe Kamps and lost two teeth on a Friday, but took up his place with his team-mates the following weekend.
And he is hardly lacking ability-wise, either. He constantly seems to be in command of his area, and his shot-stopping qualities have very much come in handy, particular in a team who regularly allow their opponents a clear sight on goal. Indeed, when Gladbach claimed a 1-1 draw at the Allianz Arena in December, he made no fewer than 26 saves.
Along the way, he has won a host of admirers including the legendary Sepp Maier, one of West Germany's heroes in Euro 1972 and World Cup 1974.
"Marc is virtually on a par with Manuel Neuer," he commented in January last year. "Neuer has just preceded him. He plays for Bayern and distinguished himself internationally."
|"It is really interesting to see how consistent his performances are considering his age. Everything he does, he does with such calmness"
- Oliver Kahn
While he may not boast Neuer's experience at the highest level, a move to Barcelona would allow him the opportunity to play in the Champions League and to take his game to the next level and, perhaps, to fulfil his comparisons with Oliver Kahn.
Ter Stegen is often seen barking orders at his defenders and making the same heroic saves as the Bayern legend, who has been impressed with the young prodigy's performances thus far.
"[When Gladbach were struggling] he performed masterfully," the former Germany shot-stopper noted 11 months ago. "That is not normal, especially in a situation with that much pressure. That was the first time I noticed him.
"It is really interesting to see how consistent his performances are considering his year age. Lots of aspects of his goalkeeping game are already very good - his extraordinary reflexes, cross-catching, leaving the six-yard box and reading the game.
"Everything he does, he does with enormous calmness. You never get the impression that he is flustered."
The Bundesliga boasts a wealth of great, up-and coming goalkeepers. As well as Ter Stegen, there is Bernd Leno of Bayer Leverkusen and Hannover's Rob-Robert Zieler, while Neuer is still only 26 years of age with his back-up, Rene Adler, having just turned 28.
There is no doubting who is winning the race to be the long-term deputy to the former Schalke man, though. Joachim Low is a huge admirer of Ter Stegen's talents, and a move to Camp Nou would help him become a more credible challenger to the No. 1.
And, if Barca decide to move for Ter Stegen, their goalkeeping future will be just as assured as Germany's.
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