Three alternative back-up options Barcelona should consider signing
On February 26, Catalunya Ràdio reported that Barcelona are interested in signing Ajax goalkeeper André Onana. According to the Spanish media outlet, Barcelona are worried that back-up 'keeper Jasper Cillessen will depart the club at the end of the season, therefore they're interested in bringing back Onana (a former La Masia graduate) to replace him. Onana's agent confirmed that Barcelona did contact them about a potential move.
This would be the perfect transfer for Barcelona considering Onana's playing style and previous connection to the club. Unfortunately, as I wrote about a few days ago, the move is counter-productive to the 22-year-old's growth as a top-class goalkeeper. A back-up role is an insulting request to a 'keeper of Onana's potential, especially because now is the time for someone like Onana to focus on developing his skills and fixing any inconsistencies still present in his game. For this reason, I don't think Onana should move Barcelona.
If not Onana, than who? After doing some research, I've picked three other goalkeepers that I think Barcelona should consider for their potentially vacant back-up role. I picked 'keepers that fulfill one or two aspects that make them a useful addition to Barcelona. To keep the selections fair, I also listed a reason why they might not sign for the club.
Note: The goalkeepers are ranked based on their transfermarkt.com value, from cheapest to most expensive.
Jordi Masip (Real Valladolid)
Contract until + Worth (per transfermarkt): 30/06/2020, €6 million
He would be a great signing because...
He knows the club inside out.
Unlike the other goalkeepers on this list (*spoiler alert*), Jordi Masip is a graduate of Barcelona's youth academy. He joined La Masia at the age of 15 in 2004 and he was promoted to Barcelona B in 2008. He went on loan to UE Vilajuïga for the 2008/2009 season, and when he returned, Masip spent the next five seasons with the Barcelona reserve team. He was called up to the Catalan club's senior team on a full-time basis in 2014, and although he spent most of his three seasons with the first team as a third-stringer, his training with some of Europe's top footballers helped him hone his skills and build key friendships.
In total, Jordi Masip spent about 13 years in Barcelona's system, meaning that he's very familiar with the workings of the club. This is important because he wouldn't have to get accustomed to new surroundings or build new relationships. He's a close friend to most of the Barcelona players, including Marc-Andre ter Stegen, and a fair amount of his Barcelona teammates from 2017 are still at the club. Barcelona wouldn't have to worry about Masip not fitting in, not adapting to the club's culture, or not learning the iconic tiki-taka style. Masip is a born-and-bred Barcelonés, and that's a massive plus for any potential transferee.
It also helps that he's played like a quality goalkeeper this season. Despite 2018/2019 being his first season as a top division starter, Jordi Masip has shown stretches of brilliance akin to that of an experienced veteran. In 25 league starts, Masip has posted top ten totals in goals allowed (31), goals-against-average (1.24), save percentage (75%), and clean sheets (9). He's made more saves (90) than all but three La Liga 'keepers, and his save percentage is ranked higher than those of Marc-Andre ter Stegen (72.6%), Tomáš Vaclík (71.9%), and Thibaut Courtois (65.1%). All of this while suiting up behind La Liga's worst offense (just 19 goals in 25 games). Although the numbers aren't spectacular, they're more than good enough for a potential Barcelona back-up.
He may not want to give up his current job.
Despite Jordi Masip's experience in the Barcelona system, he never really had a chance at making a name for himself at the club. He didn't escape the Barcelona B team until he was 25-years-old, and he was never more than a third-stringer behind Claudio Bravo and Marc-Andre ter Stegen. Masip only played four games across three first team seasons, including a total of zero matches in his final season at the club. Masip spent most of the first half of his career with either the reserve team or as a benchwarmer, and despite his loyalty, Barcelona essentially gave up on him by letting his contract run out and making him a free agent in 2017.
For years, Jordi Masip struggled to find a place for himself in the football world. Top level playing time was never probable, let alone certain, and he likely questioned his next steps following his entrance into free agency. Masip has since found a home with Real Valladolid, who have provided him with an opportunity to prove that he can compete with La Liga's big boys.
Going back to Barcelona now would require Masip to give up on this opening, though. At 30, Masip is unlikely to find many more starting gigs like the one that he currently possesses. His present stint with Real Valladolid may be his only chance at being a first division starter. Is he really willing to swap it in favour of playing what is basically a shinier bench role to the one he had only two years ago? I find it unlikely.
Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg)
Contract until + Worth (per transfermarkt): 30/06/2021, €9 million
He would be a great signing because...
He's statistically one of Europe's best ball-playing goalkeepers.
At Barcelona, a goalkeeper is not just someone who can save the ball well. The Barcelona goalkeeper must also be willing to take risks, sweep like an 11th outfielder, and pass the ball around with confidence. Koen Casteels checks all of these boxes.
When looking at the ball-playing statistics of Bundesliga goalkeepers with ten or more appearances this season, Casteels almost always comes out near the top. In terms of clearances, Casteels has made 21 of those, the joint-second most in the Bundesliga. In regards to his passing stats, Casteels is in the league's top two in total passes made (897), average passes made per game (40.8), and accurate short passes made (468). He's also in the Bundesliga's top five in accurate long balls made (217) and he boasts a total pass completion percentage of 76.4%.
To further understand these numbers, let's compare them to the stats of Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Barcelona's starting goalkeeper. Per WhoScored, ter Stegen has attempted 650 passes in La Liga this season. Although it's good enough for fifth among Spanish Liga goalkeepers (10+ appearances), it's still nearly 250 attempted passes less than Casteels' total (sidenote: Casteels has actually attempted more passes than any La Liga 'keeper this season). Furthermore, ter Stegen only averages about 5.2 accurate long balls and 16.6 accurate short passes per league game, which is considerably less than Casteels' per game averages of 9.9 and 21.3. To top it off, ter Stegen has only made four clearances in the league this season, roughly five times less than the amount of clearances Casteels has pulled off.
Barcelona would surely be blessed if they can bag a back-up goalkeeper who boasts better passing stats than their current number one a.k.a. one of football's best ball-playing 'keepers.
He has worked too hard to become a back-up now.
Like Jordi Masip, it took Koen Casteels a while to find his place in the football universe. Despite initially being hyped as a top Belgian talent (even more so than fellow Genk academy teammate Thibaut Courtois), Casteels never established himself as a starting goalkeeper for Genk. Courtois overtook him for that role, forcing Casteels to move to Germany in 2011. He made his debut for 1899 Hoffenheim II that same year, and he was starting for their first team a season later. Unfortunately, he could never get a good hold on the number one job, and he spent the 2014/2015 season split between 1899 Hoffenheim II and Werder Bremen (the latter of which on loan). Casteels eventually found himself at Wolfsburg, where he played second fiddle to Diego Benaglio for some time. Casteels did make 20+ appearance in 2016/2017 and 2017/2018, but both times Wolfsburg finished in the Bundesliga's bottom three and were forced to play in a play-off to avoid relegation.
This season, Casteels has started to pay back on the promise he showed as a young goalkeeper. He's often praised for his ability to make big saves at key moments, and at 26 years of age, he's only just entering his prime. This is the perfect moment for Casteels' play to take a rising path, but moving to Barcelona may not be the right next step. Playing back-up for the Catalans would basically mean that Casteels will have to put his growth as a starting goalkeeper on hold. With Wolfsburg currently challenging for a European spot and Casteels playing possibly his best football ever, why should he spend his prime warming Barcelona's bench? From this perspective, it doesn't make much sense for Casteels.
Jeroen Zoet (PSV)
Contract until + Worth (per transfermarkt): 30/06/2021, €12.5 million
He would be a great signing because...
He's a Jasper Cillessen 2.0.
Like any potential Barcelona goalkeeper, it's not just Jeroen Zoet's ability to save shots that matters, it's also his quality on the ball. Zoet is constantly praised for his ball-playing skills, which is a stand-out quality for any Barcelona 'keeper. He's focused when handling the ball and is capable of delivering long and short passes accurately.
Per WhoScored, Zoet has averaged around 18.5 passes per league game this season. Although this is the lowest among all Eredivisie goalkeepers (10+ appearances), Zoet has delivered the joint-fewest inaccurate short passes (1) and the second-fewest inaccurate long balls this season (101), so it all evens out. Furthermore, Zoet boasts one of the highest pass completion rates in the Eredivisie. Zoet has completed roughly 76.1% of all league passes he's attempted this season, which is bested only by André Onana's rate of 80.7%. The quantity may not be high, but the quality definitely is.
Jeroen Zoet is very similar to Jasper Cillessen. They're both around the same height (1.87 metres and 1.85 metres) and build (85 kg and 83 kg), both feature/have featured for a top Dutch club (PSV and Ajax) and the Netherlands national team, and both play a ball-playing style alike to the other. If Zoet replaces Cillessen, Cules won't notice a different. It helps that Zoet has also been scouted extensively by Barcelona, as early as last summer, which is a sign that they too believe that Zoet is a more than capable replacement.
He has been criticized for having a blunder in him.
Like Cillessen when he first arrived to Barcelona in 2016, Jeroen Zoet isn't a character beloved by all in the Netherlands. He has his fair share of critics, usually due to his ability to whiff on easy attempts or bring about his own team's demise. Case in point: February 27, 2017. After saving a header from Jan-Arie van der Heijden on the line, Zoet picked the ball up and brought it to his chest. Unfortunately, most of his upper body was still in the goal, so goal-line technology determined that he took the ball over the line and gave a good goal. The score was tied at 1-1 with less than 10 minutes to go, so the unfortunate own goal gave Feyenoord the victory. To make matters worse, it ultimately handed Feyenoord that season's league title.
Of course, it's not impossible Zoet would change if he joined Barcelona. Cillessen himself showed great progress from an "awful signing" to one of the best back-ups in the sport through his three seasons in Catalonia. But there's no guarantee that Zoet will develop to the standards Barcelona expect him to be at. Although he's only here to play a back-up role, Cules know from their past experience with José Manuel Pinto that an average back-up goalkeeper can harm their domestic cup chances.
If Jasper Cillessen leaves, who should Barcelona replace him with? Leave your thoughts in the comments down below and on Twitter!