The second-choice keeper is an ever-present source of debate in Barcelona. With Neto contracted until 2023, Iñaki Peña and Arnau Tenas coming through the youth ranks and other valid options on the market, the board is yet to decide on how to act. But what is the best choice for Barça, and how does Marc-André Ter Stegen’s injury affect it? In this in-depth analysis, we will take a look at exactly that.
A player full of contrasts, Neto’s continuity at the club is a matter or priorities and preferences. His quality is undeniably there, yet with 2 years gone by, the Brazilian hasn’t managed to trouble Ter Stegen at all. A grand total of 17 games amassed is not impressive by any stretch of the imagination, considering the fact that many of those are solemnly down to his competitor’s injury. Coincidentally or not, it’s those substitute games that provide the most data on his suitability.
When he finally got his opportunity to shine at the beginning of the 20/21 campaign, Neto was uncontested in his position. That greatly affected his performance, as following a promising start, his form would take a dive. Exceptional at times, but unreliable and erratic on other occasions. Overshadowed by his costly errors, his terrific stops seemed meaningless. If there is any word that could describe his career at the club so far, it would be inconsistency.
Barça B’s wall. Iñaki Peña’s promotion to the first team is long overdue. The 22-year-old has been the first-choice goalie for 3 years with the subsidiary, and he has only kept on improving. With nerves of steel, he boasts terrific precision in his passing at any range. His decision-making, aided by his nonchalance, is at a decent level as well; that permits him to easily beat the press with his incisive, line-breaking passes. As a shot-stopper, there isn’t many aspects where Peña doesn’t excel either. He possesses unusual mobility, thus allowing him to quickly stretch out and reach the deadliest of efforts. In a way, his playing style is similar to Ter Stegen’s. Even their flaws lie in identical situations: proactivity and reluctance to intercept crosses. But given Iñaki’s age, that’s no big deal.
From any perspective, promoting Iñaki Peña seems like a reasonable choice. Young, talented and reliable, he is someone who will put pressure on Marc-André Ter Stegen. At this point, it’s not even a risk: by promoting him, we would have a player ready to push his competitor to the very limit and take his place when granted the opportunity. Iñaki has been there or thereabouts in the first team for a while now and is more than capable of making the decisive step. That, of course, given he receives enough game time.
Another hot prospect from the subsidiary. Arnau Tenas is two years younger than Peña, and arguably has the higher ceiling. Their profile is not generally comparable, but their quality unites them. A more proactive keeper, Tenas is always willing to get off his line and intercept any through ball in behind the defence. Unlike his elder competitor, he is very loud and constantly giving instructions to the backline. Arnau excels in 1 on 1 situations, always making his body big and closing down all options. The 20-year-old possesses ample confidence, which has often backfired: as he has himself admitted, he will often get too comfortable on the ball, leading to costly errors.
While Iñaki Peña has more experience, the candidature of Arnau Tenas should also be seriously considered. His profile differs from that of Marc-André Ter Stegen, which could be beneficial for the teammate competition. Tenas has also spent plenty of time training with the first team, which proves that Ronald Koeman has faith in him. However, he still has to mature as a player. If we intend to promote him, we should guarantee him sufficient game time in order to allow him to keep developing.
Whom to choose between the two youngsters?
It’s a weird case that Barcelona have found themselves in. Ever since Víctor Valdés left, the club hasn’t produced any goalkeepers truly worth-mentioning. Now, however, they have two extremely talented GKs competing for the same spot. Unfortunately, only one of them will make it. That however, will only be decided further down the line by various circumstances that we, as fans, are unable to control. Yet if I had to pick one for now, it would undoubtedly be Iñaki Peña. Everything points towards the fact that he is prepared for the big step up. Tenas, on the other hand, still needs time to improve, and Barça B is the best place to do so.
Onana, López and more options on the transfer market
Lovely as it would be to see a young goalkeeper from La Masia make the jump to the first team, it isn’t just a two-horse race between Peña and Tenas. According to numerous reports, the board is considering bringing in a more established pair of hands so as to apply pressure on Ter Stegen. Many names were thrown into the media, including free agent Gigi Donnarumma, but the Italian is on his way to PSG. Who would be the frontrunners should Barcelona venture into the market? That isn’t something that has been disclosed, but there are some interesting candidates. More specifically, Pau López, André Onana and Jordi Masip look like decent options.
Masip is a La Masia graduate, and being Ter Stegen’s backup is no novelty for him. Yet it looks unlikely that he would give up his leading role in Valladolid and sacrifice all of the game time that he has recently enjoyed. Pau has also been linked with Barça in the past. He would have been a safe option, but he looks set to embark on a different career journey in Marseille. Finally, there is André Onana, the most tempting candidate. He, just like Masip, spent his early career in La Masia, before joining Ajax. With exquisite distribution and jaw-dropping reflexes, he would be a high-class competitor for the blaugrana’s current number 1. His contract is due to expire in a year’s time and his value has considerably dropped courtesy of his failed dopping test in February, so the operation shouldn’t be that difficult.
Ter Stegen’s injury: spanner in the works or blessing in disguise?
It’s no secret that the 20/21 season was among Marc-André Ter Stegen’s worst in a Barça shirt. Coming back from a knee injury, the German struggled to recover his past form. Lacking in confidence and playing through some knee pain once more, he looked a shadow of his former self. Back in May, he went under the knife again, which could rule him out for the start of the season. Theoretically, that should hand either of the aforementioned candidates an opportunity to prove themselves. Peña and Tenas in particular, are desperately awaiting an occasion of that sort. In practice, however, it only diminishes the young guns’ chances of promotion. Though they are more than capable of filling in that void, the absence of a senior keeper could force Joan Laporta into either the signing of a GK, or the retention of Neto.
The board has a big decision to make this summer. Each candidate for the position of the second-choice keeper has his pros and cons, and Laporta and Co. will have to weigh up each one of those before taking the initiative. With an unhappy Neto, two young and exciting prospects knocking on the door, alluring external options and a delicate financial situation to top it off, we are in for a thrilling summer of endless negotiations. Bring it on.