Marc-Andre ter Stegen: Barcelona's Borussia Mönchengladbach-trained goalkeeper with some of the best feet in the business
If, when Germany emerge to play Mexico in Moscow in their opening match at the FIFA World Cup, Bayern Munich's Manuel Neuer is not available, it will not be the catastrophe some German commentators would have you believe: Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Barcelona's Borussia Mönchengladbach-schooled goalkeeper, will wear the gloves – and the world champions' hopes will be in safe hands.
No nation competing at the tournament boasts a better 'back-up' keeper – if that's the right term for the Catalan giants' No.1 – than ter Stegen.
While the 26-year-old's kicking and handling abilities now elicit 'wow' reactions on social media videos worldwide, it was – in his own words – Gladbach that "shaped his career". If those preternatural kicking and handling skills are two defining traits, honed in the environs of the Borussia Park, then the third is a calmness under pressure, an impressive mental fortitude, that also stems from his time in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Watch: Ter Stegen - a global goalkeeping icon made in the Bundesliga
It seems only right to start with ter Stegen's footwork, given that it is so often eulogised ahead of his glovework. Having started out as a striker, he was shifted back in between the sticks at the age of 10 for two reasons: the first, that the goalkeeper in Gladbach's youth teams suffered from regular, debilitating nosebleeds and had become unreliable as a result; the second, that ter Stegen's coach had questioned whether his gait lent itself to his hopes of becoming a world-class striker.
However reluctant the switch may have been from the pre-teen, it proved inspired: years of training both feet against the wall in his parents' garage paid off, marking ter Stegen out as a future great. Those same skills are in evidence today every time – and it happens often – that he effortlessly dinks a pass to one of his full-backs, be it Jordi Alba or Jonas Hector, Nelson Semedo or Joshua Kimmich. Indeed, plenty of goalkeeping observers rate ter Stegen's work with his feet as better than Neuer's.
Ter Stegen progressed seamlessly through the Foals' youth system, winning award after accolade after award, serving notice of his talent time and again. So much so that when Gladbach were struggling in the 2010/11 season – sitting bottom of the league – and suffering through a string of erratic performances from first-choice goalkeeper Logan Bailly, the demands increased on coach Lucien Favre to throw ter Stegen in at the deep end.
Indeed, ter Stegen has kept clean sheets in over half his league games as Barca look to complete a historic unbeaten league season, and his form has been such that many Catalan commentators have rushed to hail him as the best goalkeeper on the planet. Not, however, that ter Stegen lets such praise go to his head.
"When he [Neuer] comes back, he is the [Germany] No1," he told ESPN. "He deserves a lot of respect and all of us are trying to help him be at his best because, in the end, it is a team situation. We want to be successful as Germany."
If Neuer does not come back in time, however, then Germany have a Mönchengladbach lad with a calm head, a safe pair of hands and some of the best feet in the business waiting in the wings.
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