It's official. Barring a dramatic change of heart, Barcelona will have another starting keeper in 2014 as Victor Valdes "explores other cultures," as he's phrased it. Barca are in no rush to make a decision, but are already keeping tabs on a few players. Here is a breakdown of some of the options the Blaugrana could be considering:
Barcelona is known for the best academy in the world, La Masia. It stands to reason that they would look at a replacement that is already on the team, right?
Well, Betis product and current #2 Jose Manuel Pinto has starting experience (even a Zamora Trophy) and seems popular in the dressing room, but at 37, he may not even be around when Valdes leaves.
Third-choice and starting B team keeper, Oier Olazabal has been capped at youth level for Spain but was not included in the U23 Olympic squad. At this stage, Oier is considered a good backup but not a starter and that is unlikely to change in just a year and a half.
Jordi Masip is the B's #2, and he's older than Oier, so he's even less likely to take over. Miguel Bañuz is the B team's third-choice, but he's much younger. The good news is he can still make a lot of progress, but the bad news is that he has a lot of progress to make.
Overall, it's highly unlikely that a current player would take over as the starter, though there one could be a the #2 keeper.
Spain - La Liga
To get a decent selection of goalkeepers, I have looked up by their passing accuracy (according to WhoScored.com) and their save percentage (according to NBC Sports). Then, I sorted them by the average of both values. I also included their average WhoScored rating and their age. It's a pretty crude way of sorting them, but it's the best available.
Valencia's Vicente Guaita is the leading candidate, and apparently Barca already made an inquiry for him when they bought Jordi Alba. Ten million euro would be the cost, and because of his passing ability and goalkeeping skills, he would be a good fit. At 25, he's young enough to still have a lot in him but old enough to be mature. The only problem is a relative lack of experience.
Another option is Athletic Bilbao's Gorka Iraizoz. Playing under Marcelo Bielsa, he has experience in a pass-first system. The main problem is whether he would want to leave Bilbao at all, and his relatively advanced age. Miguel Angel Moya is good enough on the ball that he once featured as an emergency midfielder in a preseason match for Getafe
Willy Caballero is leading the Zamora Trophy race at the moment, but he is not quite as good on the ball. The same could be said of Claudio Bravo. From the rest, Javi Varas will stick out for his immaculate performance against Barcelona in a 0-0 draw last year, and Thibaut Courtois has been impressing at Atletico Madrid despite belonging to Chelsea. Andres Fernandez has been rumored as another player Barca are keeping an eye on, while Cristian Alvarez would not have to move if he joined, as he plays across town at Espanyol.
British Premier League
Barcelona has a track record of resigning former academy products, so why not Pepe Reina? Well, despite being Spain's backup keeper, he has not been in his best form for Liverpool. His low save percentage and average rating demonstrate this.
Speaking of trends, why not plunder Arsenal? Wojciech Szczesny is young, makes good saves, and plays for a possession team. Again, consistency may be a problem, though probably less so.
Gerhard Tremmel and Michel Vorm are similar stories: they play for Swansea, a possession-obsessed team, but they have also been solid in goal. Despite Tremmel playing well in limited time, Vorm is the more likely option, being younger.
De Gea, one of the most expensive goalkeepers in history, has been good but not quite up to the level Manchester United hoped. He has been Spain's #1 at youth level for some time and has lots of potential, though some have questioned his ability to deal with long shots.
Transfers from Wigan and Stoke seem completely unlikely, but if the players are good they're worth keeping an eye on. It would be very interesting for US Soccer if the national team's #1, Tim Howard, made it to Barcelona. Again, stranger things have happened.
Manuel Neuer from Bayern Munich would be perfect, but would Pep Guardiola's new team really let him go? Well maybe, as a switch for Valdes? Still, probably not.
Switzerland's #1, Diego Benaglio, would be an interesting fit. He has helped Wolfsburg to their only league title, and the only concern might be his injury history. Rene Adler used to be the Germans' first-choice before an injury gave the job to Neuer. He wouldn't be a bad consolation prize if Neuer cannot be obtained.
Sebastian Mielitz from SV Werder Bremen is a good passer but he has to improve other aspects of his game before he would be considered for such a big job. Ter Stegen, Oliver Baumann, and Raphael Schafer have similar stastitics. Schafer might be a bit on the old side, though. It's clear Barca is looking at Ter Stegen, though Baumann wouldn't be a bad option either.
Italian Serie A
Maarten Stekelenburg has played no less of a big match than a World Cup final, and comes from the Dutch tradition of keepers with solid playing technique. He has not been great this season, and has battled injury, to the point that Roma are happy to part with him, with Fulham ready to pounce.
This is partly due to the Uruguayan Mauro Goicoechea, who has been impressive filling in for Stekelenburg. Though perhaps not as talented on his feet as the Dutchman, he's been better in goal for the capital club.
Federico Marchetti has been capped for Italy, including playing three matches at the 2010 World Cup after Gianluigi Buffon was injured. The Lazio man has made lots of great saves over the season, and his quick reflexes would be welcome at Barca.
Christian Abbiati and Jean-François Gillet have similar statistics, and they're similarly a bit on the older side. Abbiati can be quite inconsistent, having magnificent games followed by poor games.
Neuer is probably the best goalkeeper out there for Barca, and he's also one of the world's best. It's doubtful Bayern would let him go, but who knows? Guaita is probably the best realistic choice, having to make a short trip from Valencia. Experience is the only key question.
Stekelenburg is certainly talented, but if Roma are ready to let him go, is he prepared to be the Barcelona #1? The same could be said of Reina, who has struggled at times for Liverpool. Goicoechea might be the more forward-thinking signing, but again lack of experience is a factor. Barca could try to get him in the summer and ease him into the team, or split time between him and Pinto in the first year.
Marchetti is a bit more of a "traditional" goalkeeper, but he's very, very good. Of the options at the top of the list, he has the lowest pass percentage, but that could be improved on. Benaglio is not talked about as much, but it would be worth keeping an eye out. Szczesny would make sense, especially considering how many players move from London to Barca.
From those not pictured on this list, the best options are probably Ter Stegen, Adler, De Gea, and Moya. The key of course, is Barcelona have a good bit of time to make their decision. With this guide, we'll be keeping our eyes open as well.
What do you think?