Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Bravo to Mats, passive certainty to promising uncertainty

Show time!
An eternal wisdom taught us that to know where one is heading, it is important to be fully aware where one is coming from.

MythBuster

Bravo is leaving FC Barcelona because HE decided to go. Pep Guardiola sniffed a chance and painted a promise-land image for the Chilean, a new challenge, a guaranteed starting role, and good cash. Bravo probably waved that painting at Lucho's face, especially after Mats injury, saying: "What about now? Am I the guaranteed first option for next season?" And the answer was, as it should be, for both keepers: No. Hence, gone.

There is nothing wrong about all that. But it tells us enough about the goalkeepers case to understand the future situation.

1) With Bravo leaving, we are not getting ride of a keeper as clumsy distributing the ball as a drunk clown. A goalkeeper who does not fit FC Barcelona's "philosophy" was handpicked by the philosopher himself, out of a 101 goalkeepers worldwide craving to sign for him.

2) It was ease for Lucho to make promises for Bravo so he keeps him had he been certain he is his one and only man. A proof that Lucho was not starting Bravo over Mats before because Bravo had some tapes to blackmail him. Nor he had anything against MATS beyond technical judgement. It was a football competition for a position, with no certainties or promises. Bravo earned it. For two years.

3) On the other hand, he could have sold Bravo two months ago and bought a backup keeper had he been certain Mats is ready. More time for a new keeper to adapt is never a bad thing. A manager, goalkeepers coaches and a zillion technical monitoring the two keepers on daily bases for two years were still on the fence. Until Bravo flipped the table. 

So, the argument that FC Barcelona is certainly in a better position now with Mats as a starter than having two quality keepers competing for the position makes no sense whatsoever. We are jumping from a rock solid guarantee (with the two of them) toward the, relatively, unknown to put it nicely. Mats is the great future, we certainly believe but we can only hope.

As for the price, I can't care less as this this the least to be concerned about. 

The challenge of protecting Mats from... love

A young keeper, who had an experienced keeper around cooling the public pressure heat off his neck while providing him with the competition he needed to toughen up, is now taking the main stage on his own. 

A talented keeper with strong personality. A goalkeeper with potentially more equipped kit of skills to fit FC Barcelona's needs like a goalkeeper glove. And more years in his face. But make no mistake, every time we trigger such transition at FC Barcelona We are forced to take a gamble, and a gamble it is. FC Barcelona and promising goalkeepers was never a fairy tale...

It is not a "Mats love" to argue he is more reliable than Bravo already, so he will upgrade the position and finish the season with zero goals conceded and half as many assists as Messi and Suarez combined - because he is the Xavi of the goal keepers. 

Next season, we will see a Mats we didn't see before. That has nothing to do with how HE will perform, its us. So far, Mats enjoyed the fruits of fans nitpicking observation. Something like considering Arda a defensive liability against Sevilla while his defensive contribution, as an offense guy, was better than that's of Denis Suarez, the center midfielder. Arda was a liability in the possession game, though he lost possession less often than the other Suarez. And the goal? A brilliant miraculous ball by Denis, and an amazing supernatural finish by Suarez after a "nice" assist by Arda, who was actually the reason why it all worked with his run, turn, vision, decision making and -erm...chest- technique. Same as nitpicking Mascherano flaws because there is a CB elsewhere who spits Top Wesselton diamonds. Nitpicking on Mathieu for Umtiti's love (And if Mathieu leaves, its Mache's turn again). And soon, Nitpicking on Alba for Digne's sake. 

Mats was the beneficial of such phenomena so far, with Bravo being on the other end. A wrong pass by Bravo was a "SEE!!", while a wrong pass by Mats was a "Nice attempt, awesomeness...". Next season he will be on his own. First five goals or so will be hooked on someone else shoulders to defend Mats. More mistakes and the WTF! looks will start staring at the none.

We can only wish that Bravo's departure will trigger many advantages for Ter Stegen. Some second options can pull a Digne when you put them under the spotlight. But as a goalkeeper, we should be ready for a Mats pulling a Valdes. The before and after versions of Valdes.

Mats has many flaws still. He has to get ride of the Bartra syndrome, suffering focus-ness random pauses. That was a reason I argued with youth covering gurus that B-team Barta will unlikely make it at the highest level. For a goalkeeper, that's even more vital.

Being an FC Barcelona goalkeeper, that is the main quality to develop. Keeper may spend 90 minutes staring at his teammates pressing the heck out of the opponent, the other fold of the field, then BANG! A one on one situation to save the day. Keep walking, not sleep walking. A mats homework. He is not there just yet, judging by his two years at the club. And that is not surprising as he joined FC Barcelona from a team that was an underdog in most of the matches, requiring more goalkeeper interceptions. Doable.

It is understandable, at the heat of the competition with Bravo, for Mats to overdo the passing skills and immigrating his own half thingy. It is a way to showcase what he is considered to be a better keeper for, compared to Bravo. But there is a need for him to tune that down to the right (needed) dosage. Not every looooong successful pass is a right pass. Many times he got praised for completing such passes when the lines were not up and ready to get the ball to that position. Next? Pass receiver struggles to find passing lanes and lose possession. 

A surgeon pass at a wrong moment is like a surgeon saying the operation was a success but the patient died. Mats passing skills are an asset for our system, but he needs to learn to keep it simple. He is a possession catalyst where needed, not the play maker.

Mats will also need to enhance his decision making and avoid getting lost between two decisions to pick from sometimes. Any decision is better than a late decision for a goalkeeper. For a keeper of his physical built and qualities he should be more dominant in the area, especially while defending crosses and set pieces.

All that aside, the quality is there to become one of the best (if not the best) goalkeeper worldwide for the next decade. I am a strong believer in his potentials now as I was when I defended signing him over the more popular young keepers of that time. This year was supposed to provide the soft landing for him  on the first team goalkeeping throne, playing more games while having Bravo as an insurance card where needed. Maybe he will blossom more now having his back to the wall.

But he will make mistakes and his flaws will get exposed for him to spot and fix. At this point, patience will be more appreciated than the obvious excitement.Hyped expectations are the doors to drastic upsets. Ask Vitor Baia, Rustu Recber and dozens of keepers who joined the club riding Zues wings and flopped off that cliff to an end that created a chronic panic in our chests every time someone tickles our goalkeeping transition phobia.  

Marc-André ter Stegen, the stage is yours! As excited as we are for the future you belong to, it will be your and only your, challenge to walk the walk. As for Bravo, almost a flawless keeper of the past two seasons, we can't thank you enough. We can just chant that rhyme, Bravo Bravo! for the last time.


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