The goalkeeper position is one of the most coveted in modern football. See, each team plays in a much more distinct way than the other one that they need a keeper tailor-made for their style. For example, if Pep Guardiola manages your squad; he’ll seek for a keeper who is as good with his feet than with his hand, hence Ederson.
During his tenure as Barcelona president, Josep Maria Bartomeu has – for the most part – failed to sign players that have left a mark at Camp Nou. From André Gomes to Thomas Vermaelen, passing by Nélson Semedo and Douglas, Bartomeu has bought some deadwood to a squad that has been depleted of its most legendary components in Dani Alves, Andrés Iniesta, Carles Puyol or Xavi Hernández.
However, credit where credit is due, the one time the Spanish entrepreneur did decent business was in 2014. After a disastrous 2013/14 season, that ended without any trophies to show, Bartomeu dug deep in the transfer market and brought two goalkeepers to compensate for Victor Valdés’ departure and a few more great additions in the form of Ivan Rakitic, Jérémy Mathieu, and Luis Suarez. The two goalkeepers were Marc-André Ter Stegen and Claudio Bravo. While the Chilean did great at Camp Nou, he left and opened the door for the German to become the number one.
Now, after six years at Camp Nou, Ter Stegen is set to renew his contract, one that could make him the highest-paid goalkeeper in the world, but what if he doesn’t? With Barcelona losing a significant amount of money in recent years, however, it might not be feasible, paving his departure from the club. Barca Universal takes a look at this hypothetical scenario, analysing three replacement for ter Stegen.
Candidate Numero Uno: Unai Simón
Simon may not be the best with his feet, but boy does he know how to dominate his box. (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO / AFP) (Photo by JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images)
With David de Gea and Kepa Arrizabalaga performing much below their capabilities in the recent past, Spain could have headed into trouble for the upcoming Euros. However, if push comes to shove, the answer lies in the Basque region, where goalkeepers such as Andoni Zubizarreta have guided the nets for the Spanish national team and Barcelona.
Unai Simón’s rise from Kepa Arizzabalaga’s number two to stardom has been sensational. The Basque goalkeeper has made Alex Remiro, another great up and coming Basque keeper, flee from San Mamés to the Anoeta as Simón was simply too talented to dethrone.
A superb shot-stopper, Simón is inarguably the best Spanish keeper at the moment. One of his best games for his boyhood club, one that would give the best perspective of Simón’s ability, came against Real Betis after the lockdown in June. In that game, saving multiple shots, most of them from close range, especially as Betis started attacking more. He frustrated Nabil Fékir to death and kept Borja Iglesias quiet, saving, with a last-ditch attempt, the former Espanyol marksman’s chip shot.
Although Unai isn’t as generous with his feet as ter Stegen, he would still be a safe option for Barcelona, who need a keeper that can come up clutch with stopping shots. Also, Barça’s recent domination of the ball under Ronald Koeman would mean that Simón wouldn’t have to worry as much about the ball being at his feet as ter Stegen when Ernesto Valverde was in charge.
However, the big problem would still be the price, as Simón’s most recent contact does not include a release clause. After being called up to the Spanish national team in multiple breaks, Athletic Bilbao could raise their asking price. Ter Stegen leaving, though, could alleviate the fee as the German is one of the best, and highest-paid keepers in the world. Signing Unai Simón to be number one is a no-brainer for any team in need of a keeper.
Candidate Dos: André Onana
Onana is one of the most rounded keepers in the world. (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
As the second candidate, Barcelona could go to Amsterdam to get back a former young star of theirs. André Onana, one of the most rounded keepers in world football presently, has not gone unnoticed in Ajax’s recent rise to Dutch dominance.
From this golden generation, Ajax have seen Onana’s partners in Hakim Ziyech, Donny Van De Beek, Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt all depart for bigger things. The African star, too, was close to departing a few years ago, but the transfer fell through because, in his own words, the sports director of the said team thought having a black goalkeeper at the club would be complicated.
Onana was a Blaugrana before departing for Ajax a few years ago. Since then, the keeper has gone from strength to strength to achieve the world-class status he’s at right now. A superb shot-stopper who also knows how to use his feet, as he was taught in Barcelona, he could be proud of his recent performances and the fact he was linked with many sides in the past.
In an interview in 2019, Onana stated that the Catalan team will always be his home and this could open the door for a transfer. Barcelona’s relationship with Ajax is well known to all, with Sergiño Dest’s transfer being the latest example, and it might help to sweeten the transfer fee the Dutch side would demand from any other club. A reliable option with a solid CV, André Onana should be one of the front-runners to replace Ter Stegen if he ever decides to pack his bags.
Candidate Tres: Álex Remiro
Remiro has already put in multiple clutch performances for Real Sociedad, despite being there for one season. (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)
The third candidate on that list is also one of the best keepers in the La Liga – Álex Remiro. As mentioned, Simón kept Remiro out of the squad at Athletic Bilbao, which is when Remiro had to leave for their Basque brothers, Real Sociedad, at the start of last season.
Apart from a below-par run of form the whole Sociedad squad after lockdown last year, Remiro has been nothing short of sensational at Anoeta. He also showed a bizarre level of display with Huesca, helping them gain promotion in 2018.
Capable with his feet, a non-negotiable criterion for a Culé keeper, Remiro is also one heck of a shot-stopper. He has continued to show this in his start to the new season, where he’s been one of his team’s only bright spots.
Remiro has already kept three clean sheets in five La Liga games – half as many as he had last year. Of those three clean sheets, we can cherry-pick the one against Real Madrid, which also stands as proof that he can keep his composure against some of the best.
It’s also worth mentioning that Real Sociedad aren’t the most rock-solid side in defence and Remiro while being impressive, has not helped his team’s lack of concentration, nor has he been vocal enough to organise the defence.
Real Sociedad also lost Diego Llorente, one of their best centre-backs, to Leeds, making the three clean sheets Remiro has registered much more impressive. Sociedad’s price wouldn’t be as high as the two other keepers we have mentioned, as he’s not as highly thought of as Unai Simón is in Spain, for example. Remiro, being a less-known name for many fans, could resemble a ter Stegen signing. A young and impressive keeper signing for a reasonable price for Barça to help them forget about their losses.
Can Alexander Isak be the firepower Barcelona need in their attacking arsenal
With incoming presidential elections and the resulting anticipation of a rebuild, more and more players are being linked to Barcelona. Besides big names like Erling Haaland and David Alaba, Real Sociedad centre-forward Alexander Isak is reportedly on the Catalans’ radar. A new striker is an absolute must for the club and Isak’s €70 million release clause is turning heads. His stock is rising and he has a bright future ahead of him, but should Barcelona pursue him?
Isak is currently in the midst of his second season for Basque-outfit Real Sociedad. The 21-year old started his career at the Swedish club AIK before moving to Borussia Dortmund’s youth setup in 2017. Lacking first-team opportunities, he was loaned to Dutch club Willem II, where he tallied an impressive 14 goals and 7 assists in 18 appearances. Isak then moved to Sociedad in the summer of 2019 and scored 16 goals in his debut season. This season, he has 12 goals in 29 appearances.
He has been dubbed the “next Zlatan Ibrahimovic” by some, and with the Swedish national team, Isak has scored five goals in 18 appearances.
Tactical and Statistical Analysis
Isak has all the attributes of a classic “target man”, one whose main role is to win aerial duels and play off of creative teammates, but his game is much more than that. He stands tall at 190 cm, or 6 foot 3 inches, but has incredible speed and balance. Despite his height, however, he is only winning 42% of his aerial duels this season.
Isak likes to play off the shoulder of the defence, eagerly waiting for through balls from creative midfielders like Mike Merino or David Silva. Alternatively, he can also hold the ball up. With his combination of speed and dribbling ability, he is a constant threat on the counter-attack, capable of getting past defenders or dragging bodies and creating space for runners. He also has decent vision and passing acumen for a centre forward, but Sociedad’s set up doesn’t allow him to maximize these qualities.
Statistically, he is averaging 1.36 dribbles per 90 minutes this season at a clip of 64.8%. According to fbref.com, when compared to forwards in Europe’s top five leagues (Spain, England, France, Germany, and Italy), Isak stands out in terms of his successful pressures rate (93rd percentile), pressures in the attacking third (81st percentile), and carries into the penalty area (87th percentile).
In front of the goal, Isak is dangerous with both his feet and his head. He is unpredictable with his finishing, always keeping defenders and goalkeepers on edge. This campaign, his 12 goals are fairly evenly distributed: six with his right foot, three with his left, and three with his head. Most of his goals have come from through balls or passes over the defence. He carries the ball in his stride and finishes with confidence.
His goalscoring record was rough to start the season, scoring only four goals across 20 appearances, but he’s picked things up in 2021. The forward has been in rich vein of form, already scoring nine goals this calendar year. Furthermore, in La Liga, he has scored in each of his last six appearances, not to mention a hat trick last time out against Alavés. He could have a breakout season if he continues scoring at this rate, attracting offers from teams across Europe.
Where would he fit at Barça?
Naturally, Isak fits a need for the Blaugrana at centre forward. The team has no natural “number nine” –other than Martin Braithwaite — and with Messi entering his twilight years and potentially leaving in the summer, they desperately need goal-scorers. The Swedish international is well adapted to playing as a lone striker in a 4-3-3 system and is already accustomed to playing in La Liga, so Barça won’t need to worry about adaptation along those lines.
Tactically, his height and runs into the box could bring a different dimension to a fairly one-dimensional Barça attack. While he could fit in well with the team’s patient and possession-oriented approach, his game is more suited for runs into open spaces and spearheading counter attacks.
The question is, would he start for Barcelona? Messi is best suited for a false nine role, and Isak would not displace Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembélé, or Ansu Fati in the front line. On the contrary, he could be an extremely productive squad option, but his potential transfer fee would be too high to warrant such a role.
Should Barcelona pursue him?
There are plenty of intriguing reasons for Barça to pursue Isak, but he should not be their number one transfer target. He undoubtedly has a bright future ahead of him and is showing immense quality this season, but he might not be ready to carry Barcelona’s front line.
There will be a lot asked of him, and he will be expected to perform on the biggest stages in world football, and his zero goals in the Europa League this season are not reassuring. Despite his incredible form over the last few games, Barça need to see more consistent output if he is to be their number nine for the next decade.
He would also cost the club around 70 million euros, and that money could serve the team better by investing that in other areas like centre back or centre defensive mid.
While he is still young and has time to improve, Barcelona should focus on more refined and finished products.
On the one hand, Isak could bring a lot to the Blaugrana and offer much-needed variation to their attack. On the other hand, there are signs pointing to the fact that he is not yet the calibre of player Barcelona need to lead their frontline, especially for that sum of €70 million. He could be a more than sufficient squad option and someone who could develop in the long term, but once again, that transfer fee warrants caution.
Also, facilitating his move could be quite difficult given that his ex-team Borussia Dortmund have a reported €30 million “buy-back” clause attached to his name. If (and when) the German club are to lose Erling Haaland, they could easily opt for Isak as his replacement.
Isak is a solid striker and has a lot of potential, but he is not yet the player capable of leading Barcelona’s front line. That paired with his potential transfer fee means the club should focus on other transfer targets first.