Just like every human being in any other profession, Ter Stegen has tasted some highs and lows in his footballing career. Since joining from Borussia Mönchengladbach in the summer of 2014, the German shot-stopper has been Barca’s first choice between the sticks for the most part.
Equipped with great reflexes, the ability to pass it long or short from the back, a strong belief in oneself which meant he didn’t often boot the ball aimlessly under the slightest pressure, Ter Stegen seemed a perfect fit for Barça. The German soon demonstrated his importance to the team in his first season. He was pivotal in Barça’s outstanding journey to a fifth Champions League title in 2015. And with the departure of Claudio Bravo in 2016, who then was first choice in league games, Ter Stegen furthered his Barcelona career and rose high in the world.
However, in the intervening seasons just before this, Ter Stegen’s real troubles began when recurring knee injuries inhibited him. His quick reflexes were gone. His pace as a sweeper keeper was no more. Ter Stegen no longer possessed the quick feet to step out of goal to deal with malicious crosses and set pieces.
Instead, he began to heavily rely on shot-stopping rather than shot-prevention. And as Bayern loaded Barça with eight goals in the Champions League back in the 2019/20 season, Ter Stegen became a laughing stock on social media.
It was big news to absolutely no one when a section of Barça fans turned on Ter Stegen and began to revile him. Furthermore, it was true that his form had dangerously dipped and he was a pale shadow of his former self. It was true that he had lost that unbreakable self-belief which was one of his primal strengths.
But what was also true were the fragility and frailness of the Barca defence. The lack of tactical fouls by outfield players when opposition broke on a dangerous counter meant Ter Stegen was helplessly vulnerable. It meant he was exposed to lots of shots.
The knee injuries kept him out of the team in the beginning of the 2020/21 and 2021/22 seasons. He even missed out on the 2020 Euros in 2021 to undergo surgery to stem his predicament. And ever since his treatment, Ter Stegen has emerged reborn and rejuvenated. He has rediscovered what made him one of the best goalkeepers in world football. His belief in his own abilities has been unwavering. The troubles of the past now seem like a lifetime ago.
Back to his best form
In the 2022 calendar year, no goalkeeper kept more clean sheets in the top five European leagues than Ter Stegen. The German boasted of 19 clean sheets. This season he continues to remain indispensable for FC Barcelona. With only six goals conceded in 17 La Liga games, it could be said the 30-year-old is in the form of his life.
He’s also the first goalkeeper to not concede in nine of the first eleven La Liga games. It’s true that the defensive setup of Xavi’s team has aided. But there’s no denying Ter Stegen has found his mojo back. This much was evident in the Spanish Super Cup where he was the difference, and several other games.
In the footballing landscape, rarely are goalkeepers singled out for praise. It’s usually the case that outfield players, especially strikers, and to a certain extent coaches, hog all the headlines. Nonetheless, there’s a widespread feeling among FC Barcelona supporters that if the club is to land the league title and several other titles this campaign, Ter Stegen will play a crucial role in it.
Through adversity and turbulence, Ter Stegen has diligently worked his way back to prominence. And despite niggling injuries, despite being vilified by many, the German has always believed there would be a brighter tomorrow. He’s believed that even if save percentages deteriorate, form will always be temporary but class permanent. And that no matter how many times you fall, how many setbacks trouble you, your will to succeed would eventually prevail.