In an emotional press conference, Victor Valdes said he was leaving, but not yet. He won't renew the deal which expires next year, but he is not pushing to go away this year, either.
Barcelona now have several choices. Should they sell Valdes while he still has value and invest that money in a replacement? Should they keep him and sign a young talent to learn from Valdes and then let him take over next year? Or should they sit, hold Valdes for one more year, and then pounce on a replacement next year?
Who would that replacement be? Would it be Marc-Andre ter Stegen, the young German keeper who is said to have great potential but is in for a big adjustment? Should it be the unproven but more familiar Vicente Guaita from Valencia? What about the experienced Pepe Reina? Or is there another option?
Goal.com reported Barcelona bid on Uruguayan Fernando Muslera of Galatasaray. Meanwhile, talkSPORT has reported Barca tabled a bid for Samir Handanovic of Inter Milan of around 20 million euro. Both were rejected, if the reports are true.
At this point, there is little in the way of official confirmation that those bids did in fact occur. (In fact, it now seems Galatasaray deny a bid ever took place while Handanovic's agent also insists no bid has been made.)
David De Gea from Manchester United and Thibaut Courtois from Chelsea (on loan to Atletico Madrid) would perhaps be the best replacements, but at the moment neither transfer seems likely at all.
Let's start with the first question. Should Barca keep Valdes for one more year or cash in? By keeping him, Barca will retain the player who knows its system best and is suited so perfectly for it. They will maintain an influential and respected voice in the locker room. Not only that, but he is still a good keeper overall and would provide no drop-off. Finally, he could help a youngster ease into the starting role next year.
However, selling him would generate cash (rather than letting him go for free the next year.) Some people have also been unsatisfied with Valdes's level over the past season and want a new, possibly better replacement. Finally, it would allow a young keeper to come in while Jose Manuel Pinto, the current backup, provides tutelage. Instead, Barca would have three keepers if it kept Valdes, Pinto, and a youngster. It would mean a slower handoff.
The first question is about when, the second is about who. Barca will have to bring in a replacement for Valdes, sooner or later. There's also the possibility of bringing two goalkeepers, a younger one and a veteran one to give maximum security in the post Valdes-years.
The choices are hardly straight-forward as there are many different branching paths Barca could take. But the key question is, who is the top candidate to take over the Barcelona starting position, this year or next? Let's look at the options.
Credits: Transfer value from Transfermarkt (note actual cost may be higher or lower). Save percentage from NBCSports. Match rating and pass success rate from WhoScored.com
Marc-Andre ter Stegen (Borussia Monchengladbach)
Estimated Value: 10m Euro
Positives: Great potential to be one of the world's best. Excellent with his feet. On his day can be unbeatable.
Negatives: Lack of experience is the big one. His recent blunder against the United States, in which he let the ball slip by him into an own goal, makes people wary. If he's having trouble handling the German NT shirt in a friendly, how will he do playing in the Champions League?
Verdict: German goalkeepers are all the rage at the moment, and Ter Stegen is touted as the next big thing. With a playing style suitable for Barca's short passing system, ter Stegen seems a natural fit. But communication and cultural issues, as well as general growing pains, will be difficult for him to navigate. Valdes may be leaving after being sick of the pressure the Barca gloves have put him through. Will ter Stegen be able to cope?
Key stats in the Bundesliga: 34 appearances, 9 clean sheets, 1.39 goals against average, 72.5 save percentage . 63% pass completion rate, 6.93 rating
Jose Manuel "Pepe" Reina (Liverpool FC)
Estimated Value: 10m Euro
Positives: Former starting Barcelona keeper and La Masia product, plus Spanish NT experience = very smooth transition. Charismatic and well-liked by his Spanish teammates. Veteran with experience.
Negatives: Prone to mistakes. He's been on a long dip of form. Once considered one of the world's best, Reina has struggled in recent seasons. At 30 he should be reaching his best, yet he is backpedaling.
Verdict: Reina's inconsistency over the past two seasons is hard to explain. Because of his background and experience, it would seem he'd be the safest choice. Instead he is a risk, in that Barca cannot be sure of what to expect. Perhaps Reina's ultimate role is to supplant Pinto as the backup.
Key stats in the Premiership: 31 appearances, 14 clean sheets, 1.10 goals against average, 67.6 save percentage, 70.8% pass completion rate, 6.66 rating
Samir Handanovic (Inter Milan)
Estimated Value: 24m Euro
Positives: Great reflexes make him a good one-on-one stopper. Good at saving penalties.
Negatives: Cost might be a factor. Not the best with the ball at his feet but he's improving that. May need time to adapt.
Verdict: He lacks the top mobility or short passing technique of a classic Barca goalkeeper, but his good one-on-one stopping makes him an interesting candidate. His price may become a roadblock, but it's easy to see why the coaching staff is intrigued.
Key stats in Serie A: 35 appearances, 9 clean sheets, 1.51 goals against average, 67.9 save percentage, 67.6% pass completion rate, 6.71 rating
Vicente Guaita (Valencia)
Estimated Value: 7.5m Euro
Positives: Quick off his line and good in the air. But can he do it on a cold night in Stoke? Actually he can, which is quite impressive due to Stoke City's penchant for high balls. Good at both reflex saves and shots from long distance. Valencia is a short trip from Barcelona and his adjustment would be relatively minimal. He's also still quite young.
Negatives: He's been fighting off Diego Alves for the #1 job at Valencia for years now. If he's good enough to be Barca's undisputed #1, why is he still fighting against Alves? Alves is the more acrobatic of the two, with better reflexes. Some even wonder if it's Alves, not Guaita the team needs.
Verdict: Guaita's command of the box is highly appealing for a club lacking in height. His clean sheet record is impressive (6 in 14 appearances in La Liga), but it's balanced by a high amount of goals in other games. His average is still good, but it suggests inconsistency. He looked awful against Paris Saint-Germain in a 2-1 loss in the Champions League and there are questions about how he will handle the big stage. However, with Valencia missing out on CL football. it seems logical they'd sell one of Alves and Guaita and for a knockdown price he may be worth the risk.
Key stats in La Liga: 14 appearances, 6 clean sheets, 1.07 goals against average, 71.7 save percentage, 60.4% pass completion rate, 7.02 rating
Federico Marchetti (Lazio)
Estimated Value: 13m Euro
Positives: Capable of acrobatic saves, good reflexes. Good at hitting long balls. Steady at the back and positions himself well.
Negatives: Lacks elite short passing ability. May need to adapt to the system.
Verdict: Marchetti may be the most "old school" keeper on this list. An Italian international who probably would have many more starts to his name were it not for a certain Buffon, Marchetti is the kind of keeper Italy love to have because he can frustrate opposition with save after save. His goals against average and save percentage is the best on this list. He would need to adjust, but for the right price, Marchetti would be a useful talent to have.
Key stats in Serie A: 33 appearances, 13 clean sheets, 0.97 goals against average, 73.1 save percentage, 63.4% pass completion rate, 6.81 rating
Fernando Muslera (Galatasaray)
Estimated Value: 14m Euro
Positives: Good at reflex saves and one-on-ones. Good passing range. Could be in a move for a more competitive league.
Negatives: Still not up to Barca standards playing with his feet. Cost could be an issue.
Verdict: The Uruguayan international certainly has had his good moments and he has experience at the highest level. Still, he is not the best fit for the system and his cost could balloon a bit if Galatasaray are unwilling to part with him.
Key stats in the Super Lig: 31 appearances, 11 clean sheets, 1.00 goals against average
Key stats in the Champions League: 69.9 save percentage, 50.6% pass completion rate, 6.77 rating
Valdes probably is not leaving until next year, which means Barcelona have a few options and enough time to evaluate them further, and perhaps check the progress of other keepers such as Espanyol's Kiko Casilla.
However if the right opportunity presents itself Barca can strike, and perhaps loan the player for another year. The shortlist may be different if no decision is made come next year, but it's good to see who the leading candidates are as of now.
In my opinion, ter Stegen is the leading candidate for both his quality and style of play. A buy-and-loan option might be good for both parties. Reina probably would be best as a backup in his later years. Meanwhile, Guaita remains a very intriguing option. It would be wise to continue to track him as well as other keepers.
Perhaps the best thing to do is to keep Valdes for another year to ensure at least one more year of stability, and then transition to ter Stegen.