After the signing of André Gomes, it was expected that the only other summer signing that Barcelona would make would be the long-awaited arrival of a fourth forward to back up Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez. Yet, with Munir El Haddadi playing well at the start of the season, a more immediate and necessary signing has reared its ugly head.
Culés knew that the ongoing struggle for playing time between the emerging Marc-André ter Stegen and Claudio Bravo would some day reach its breaking point, but it appears that an offer from Manchester City was enough to entice the Chilean away from the Camp Nou. With ter Stegen the undisputed number one in net and Jordi Masip forever resigned to the third spot on the keeper depth chart, the Barcelona brass has needed to act fast to find a back-up, especially due to ter Stegen’s recent injury.
It appears that the club has found their man in Dutch goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen. The 27-year-old is no stranger to the Catalan club, as he has been on the receiving end of a number of Champions League lashings from Lionel Messi and company. Since signing with Ajax from NEC in 2011, Cillessen has made just over 100 appearances for the club while winning the Eredivisie on three occasions.
Cillessen was named the Ajax player of the year in both 2015 and 2016, and he has been a stable leader at the back for a team that often fields multiple teenagers and expects to win titles. His greatest moments of recognition certainly came in the 2014 FIFA World Cup where he won third place with the Netherlands. He served as Louis van Gaal’s starting netminder for every minute of the tournament, with the exception of the penalty shootout with Costa Rica where he was famously replaced by Tim Krul due to his experience in such situations, and the end of the third place game against Brazil where he was substituted for Michel Vorm.
It was in that 2014 World Cup that the fans of the game across the globe saw what a goalkeeper with elite athleticism and footwork could do when Manuel Neuer helped Germany capture the ultimate prize. Goalkeepers with an astute ability to pass out of the back and display athleticism off their line have been hot commodities, and it should be no surprise that Pep Guardiola wanted a keeper in that mold when he moved to Manchester and Bravo obviously fits the bill.
With Bravo soon out of the picture, Barcelona’s options are limited. As they have already done in this transfer window, Josep Bartomeu and company began to look around La Liga for a replacement, and Valencia’s Diego Alves seemed to be the first choice, but those rumors have since quieted. Across the European leagues, Barcelona are well-aware that few clubs play with the style necessary to play in Catalunya, with Ajax being one of those rare clubs. Thus, Cillessen became the top choice.
According to whoscored.com, Cillessen has completed about 66% of his passes since the 2012-2013 season. Across the same span, Bravo completed 70% and ter Stegen completed 76.5% of their passes. However, ter Stegen’s passing has significantly improved since moving Barcelona, finding teammates on 85% of his passes since moving from Borussia Monchengladbach. It should be surmised that Cillessen’s passing will improve behind Gerard Piqué and Sergio Busquets as well. He is already known for his quick reflexes and his ability to control long range shots, which oddly enough seems to be ter Stegen’s biggest weakness.
If Cillessen can put his ego aside and play second fiddle to ter Stegen, Barcelona can easily lay claim to one of, if not the best, back-up goalkeeper in the world. From Johan Cruyff to the de Boer brothers and Ronald Koeman, Barcelona has a rich history of finding success with footballers who don the Oranje shirt, and Cillessen should be next in line.
Nevertheless, becoming the first choice keeper at an elite club is not an easy task, as evidenced by the staying power of Gianluigi Buffon at Juventus and for the longest time, Petr Cech at Chelsea and Iker Casillas at Real Madrid.
Since Victor Valdés left the club and Bravo and ter Stegen came into the fold, Barcelona has not had an indubitable top choice in net, though Barcelona may be better for it.
The competition provided by Cillessen, as it was by Bravo, should continue to push ter Stegen as a player and a person to persist in his development to eventually be the goalkeeper that Luis Enrique believed he would become when he was signed.