Claudio Bravo, Marc-Andre ter Stegen excelling between Barcelona posts
Being a goalkeeper at Barcelona is not a task not for the faint of heart. Although legends such as Antoni Ramallets and Salvador Sadurni were adored by the Blaugrana community, renowned internationals such as Andoni Zubizarreta, Vitor Baia or even Victor Valdes failed to fully gain the fans' trust during their time with the club.
With the Catalans likely to dominate possession from the initial whistle regardless of they play, opponents are regularly limited to less than five goal-scoring chances per game. Being exposed to such a limited number of shots, rather than being a blessing, actually makes the goalie's task harder as memorable saves are expected and, in contrast, any eventual mistakes are magnified out of proportion and remembered for years to come.
A recent study concluded that Valdes is the most efficient goalkeeper not only in Barcelona, but Spanish league history. During his time at the Camp Nou, Valdes managed to concede a mere 0.83 goals per game and was awarded the Zamora trophy a record five times, tying Ramallets at the top of the all-time list.
Despite being instrumental to the 21 titles the club lifted during his time between the posts in Barcelona, a large section of the Cule fanbase regularly questioned Valdes' ability and never fully regarded him as world class. Although the Hospitalet-born goalie was certainly no stranger to committing clumsy blunders from time to time, the way in which he stepped up under pressure, religiously organised his backline and responded when faced one-on-one definitely deserved more respect from the club's supporters.
Valdes has recently gone on record to explain that, if he could go back in time, he would not choose to be a goalkeeper again and that his unquestionably successful career simply does not compensate for the many years of constant suffering between the posts. Even during his time as Pep Guardiola's automatic first-choice keeper, the No. 1 admitted to not ever having a chance to smile on the pitch, being constantly worried about the endless pressure on his shoulders and not even enjoying his teammates' brilliance.
The goalkeeper's words, while obviously shocking and unexpected, came as a rare insight into the mind of an ultimate professional who was just too pressurised to fully appreciate the success his effort was generating. Similarly, the failure of Barca goalkeepers such as Pepe Reina, Rustu Recber, Richard Dutruel or Julen Lopetegui over the years was not due to lack of talent, but an inability to mentally step up to the challenge and deliver consistently when needed.
Between 1994 and 2008, up to 15 different goalkeepers were given a chance between the Camp Nou posts, a mind-boggling stat that clearly exemplifies the alarming lack of patience the club has shown toward their prospective No. 1s over the years. Luckily, La Masia graduate Valdes established himself as an automatic first choice for the most part of the 12 seasons he played for the Catalans' first team, bringing some much-needed stability.
However, Valdes' voluntary departure in the summer of 2014 meant that Barca were left with the difficult task of finding a worthy replacement who would make an immediate impact and have enough quality, charisma and self-belief to convince the club's demanding fan base from their very first game.
With the benefit of hindsight, Cules now agree that the signing of both Claudio Bravo and Marc-Andre ter Stegen for a combined amount of €24 million was a fantastic move by the club's board. If Barca managed to conquer the Treble in Luis Enrique's first season as manager, it was not only thanks to the magic of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar up front, but also the outstanding contribution of their much-improved backline and, unquestionably, both their goalkeepers.
The Blaugranas are currently on a club-record run of 33 unbeaten matches and only one away from equalling the all-time Spanish record set by Leo Beenhakker's Real Madrid back in the 1988-89 season. During this period, Barca have only conceded a mere 0.54 goals per game. With Bravo having allowed 11 goals in 20 league matches and Ter Stegen only seven in 12 appearances in both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey, the contribution of both goalkeepers has been crucial to the team's fantastic run of late.
While having secured a remarkable 17 clean sheets since Oct. 3 is impressive, the goalkeepers are not only helping the team by making save after save. Their admirable skill when passing the ball with their feet helps Barca build attacking plays from the back and provides a valuable outlet for defenders whenever under pressure. Always able to read the opponents' attacking plays, both goalies can adopt the role of a modern-day sweeper when needed.
The ongoing competition for the No. 1 spot between Bravo and Ter Stegen, rather than cause endless friction, has spurred both internationals to reach new heights. Kudos to Luis Enrique for managing their egos in such a seemingly effortless manner and trusting his goalkeepers to ensure life after Valdes between the Camp Nou posts was not only up to a decent standard, but arguably better than ever before.