Last November, Barcelona tweeted a photograph of Lionel Messi hugging Marc-Andre ter Stegen with the caption: “The two biggest reasons we are where we are right now.”
The tweet drew outrage because fans felt it diminished the role of the other players in the squad and Barca followed up with another post explaining that “all our players contribute to our success.” However, one year on, it remains undeniable that Messi and Ter Stegen are the keys to Ernesto Valverde’s side prospering this season.
In a Barca side that is struggling in defence — they have conceded more than nine other teams in the league and are winless in three ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League game against Tottenham — Ter Stegen’s handwork, and footwork, has become increasingly important.
The Germany international brought up 150 games in a Barcelona shirt in the 1-1 draw against Athletic Bilbao at the weekend, but back in 2016 there was a real chance he would leave. It’s no secret that summer the Catalans had a decision to make: Ter Stegen or Claudio Bravo. Luis Enrique’s rotation policy wouldn’t cut it anymore.
“You want to play, this is what it is about, this is what matters,” Ter Stegen said, unprompted, when asked to look back over his four-and-a-bit years at the club. “I don’t think anybody would have been happy with the situation but I kept fighting and there came a situation when the club had to decide. It was not just my pressure, it was Claudio’s pressure as well.
“The club had to decide one day. I think it was the right time for everybody. That the club decided for me was a sign, too, and this is why I stayed. It was a hard situation at that time, but I am happy that everything worked out well and that we’re in this situation, celebrating 150 games.”
New revelations in a book about Pep Guardiola, written by journalists Lu Martin and Pol Ballus, claim that Ter Stegen was actually closer to joining Manchester City than anyone realised, before Bravo eventually did. A passage in “Cuaderno de Manchester” says the player’s wife had even begun the process to switch to Manchester University.
“This is the past already,” Ter Stegen says when the book’s claims are put to him. “What we need to do is look forward. But, of course, after the second season, there was a time when we had to decide and, of course, it’s not just about me as a person, not as a football player. It’s also about family, it’s about my wife, and my wife is studying here in Barcelona.
“She’s very happy and of course the first option for me was to stay here if all the circumstances would be fine and I would play. Of course, that would be the first choice. But when you’re not happy, and at this time I wasn’t really happy sometimes, you’re searching for another way, for an exit maybe, for another idea.
“But, in the end, the option that I really wanted to have in my life was to stay here, to play for the club and be at the highest level possible. I’m really happy [with what] the club did and [with] how my wife managed the situation. It [wasn’t] an easy situation. When you start to study here and then it’s about to change a lot, or it might be (…) it’s not really comfortable. It’s not what I say as a footballer, [but] as a private person, a normal guy who wants the best for her, and I am very happy for her.”
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