Barcelona transfer would be good for the club, but not for Onana
Barcelona have seemingly found their new back-up goalkeeper.
According to Catalunya Ràdio, should Jasper Cillessen leave the club in the summer, Barcelona will bring in Ajax goalkeeper André Onana to take his place. The Catalan club has contacted the 22-year old, as confirmed by his agent. Onana is expected to cost around €20 million, which is rather cheap in today's goalkeeper market.
What a perfect transfer for the Catalans this would be.
Of all the available goalkeepers in world football, there's none that fits Barcelona's profile better than André Onana. The Cameroonian is a former La Masia product. He spent five years in Barcelona's prestigious youth academy, learning the reigns from 2010 to 2015. He's a goalkeeper who was taught the tiki-taka style of play at an early age, and like Jasper Cillessen, he'd be coming from Ajax, a club who shares a very similar playing philosophy to Barcelona. If the reigning Spanish league champions complete this signing, they'd be getting a back-up goalkeeper who is familiar with both their system and their style of play.
It's not just that he can play the ball well that makes him an effective fit for Barcelona, though. It's also the fact that he's a quality goalkeeper with a high ceiling. Since he first broke into Ajax's senior team as a 20-year-old, André Onana has been tipped for success. He backstopped Ajax to the 2016/2017 Europa League final—their first European cup final in 21 years—with six clean sheets from 14 starts. The following season, he started 33 of 34 Eredivisie games as Ajax finished with the league's lowest goals conceded record. This season, Onana has already kept 14 clean sheets in 22 Erevidisie matches and he is helping Ajax fight-off challenges in the league and the Champions League. And still, Onana is expected to get better.
But that last point might be the most damning thing about this possible move. André Onana has a high potential, and most Eredivisie viewers would agree that he will eventually develop into one of the best goalkeepers in the world. So in that case, why join a club where you're guaranteed to be the back-up?
Returning to Barcelona now would be a setback for André Onana. At 22, he needs to focus on developing his skills and ironing out any mistakes still left in his game. He'll need playing time to do that, and while joining Barcelona certainly sounds like a sexy move, it's obvious that Onana would only be limited to playing in the Copa Del Rey, with appearances in La Liga and the Champions League coming scarce. For a goalkeeper like Onana, those 10 or so games he'll play per season are an insult to his development and quality.
It's not like Onana should be desperate for a move either. He has a very comfortable grip on Ajax's starting goalkeeper spot and there's nothing to suggest that he'll lose that privilege without his own consent. Furthermore, although it's not La Liga, the Eredivisie is still a league with respectable teams in Ajax, PSV, and Feyenoord, among others. It constantly produces talented footballers too, including the vast majority of Holland's greatest ever players. Onana is one of the best prospects in the next generation of world-class goalkeepers, and maximum Eredivisie minutes offer him a much better chance at evolving his game than barely a handful of domestic cup appearances.
Some fans have compared Onana's potential transfer to Jasper Cillessen's arrival to Barcelona a few years ago. Although I can see the similarities (both are ball-playing goalkeepers joining from Ajax to fulfill a vacant back-up role), I think there are some major differences between the two. For one, Cillessen was 27-years-old when he joined Barcelona, around five years older than Onana is now. This is significant because it shows that Cillessen wasn't joining as a highly-rated prospect (like Onana), so limited minutes wouldn't be detrimental to his growth. Furthermore, although Cillessen joined as Ajax's starting goalkeeper, he wasn't as highly-rated as Onana upon his arrival. Cillessen was considered to be an average goalkeeper, nothing like what he's viewed as today. A fair number of Cules even had doubts over whether Cillessen could really achieve any success at Barcelona.
I can see Onana returning to Barcelona in half a decade or so, when he's fulfilled his potential as one of the best goalkeepers in the world and Marc-Andre ter Stegen's years as a number one 'keeper are numbered. It would be the perfect reunion for the two parties. Until then though, Onana should postpone his homecoming.