28 matches into the 2010-11 season German club, Borussia Monchengladbach, had conceded 62 goals and were in last place being five points away from safety. Six matches later, the Foals, as they are lovingly called throughout Germany, ended their regular season overturning the five point deficit with their defence conceding only three more goals in those six matches. There was still the two legged playoff against the third place side in the second division in Germany, Vfl Bochum, left to deal with in order to fully confirm their survival, which they did with a 2-1 aggregate victory. So just how did Monchengladbach turn their season, and defence, around in such quick time? One by appointing Swiss wunder-manager Lucian Favre mid way into the season and, two, by bringing in the then 18 year old Marc-Andre Ter Stegen as their number one goalkeeper after 28 matches of rotating between Belgian international, Logan Baily, and Christopher Heimeroth.
Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, born in Monchegladbach, has been associated with his current club since he was just four years old. It takes something special to be signed by one of Germany’s most historic clubs at such a young age and the coaches at the club knew they had a special boy in their hands. Having represented at all youth levels, it clear early on that he was well ahead of players of a similar age, such so that he made his debut for the U-17 side at the age of 15 and then the U-19 team the following season. During his second season in the U-17 team, Ter Stegen lead his team to the regional U-17 championship conceding only 11 goals in 23 matches. Gladbach were ultimately knocked out by eventual champions, Vfb Stuttgart, who had current Bayer Leverkusen No.1 Bernd Leno on their books at the time, in the semi-final of the national U-17 tournament but Ter Stegen would soon taste success as he was selected in the German U-17 team which won the 2009 European U-17 Championship after an extra time victory over the Netherlands in the final. Competing again with Leno, Ter Stegen was this time able to get a small victory as he was the undisputed No.1 throughout the competition. His performances throughout the season and the European U-17 tournament lead him to receiving the Fritz Walter U-17 player of the year bronze medal behind Mario Gotze.
After tasting success at youth level, Ter Stegen was keenly waiting for his opportunity to impress for the senior side. After being named on the bench on a few occasions prior (including on one in the 2009/10 season), Ter Stegen was finally given his chance to impress late on in the 2010/11 season as the Borussia Monchengladbach management finally lost patience with their regular two goalkeepers; just 10 days before his 19th birthday, Ter Stegen played his first minutes in the Bundesliga against FC Koln. With Monchengladbach’s defence leaking goals consistently, it was a bold decision by Lucian Favre to move his trust onto to an 18 year old goalkeeper. The pressure was surely not only on Favre though as Ter Stegen was probably thrown in to the least favourable situation for a youngster to impress his fans and justify the hype his talent had created during the past years with Gladbach looking dead on certainties for relegation with a few matches left. It would be in these few matches that he would get to learn about the greatest attribute to Ter Stegen, his iron-will mentality.
He has always said that his idol has been Oliver Kahn, strange considering the old rivalry between the two clubs stemming from their regular clashes for the Bundesliga during the 70’s and 80’s, and it seemed obvious that Oliver Kahn’s strong character had an impact on Ter Stegen as a child. Despite being only 18 years old and behind a defence with a usual average age of 28, Ter Stegen made no hesitation in voicing his disapproval at the defenders in front of him with constant berating and at times cheerleading them as well. It showed not only his own confidence in his abilities but also his team-mates confidence as well and very soon on it seemed clear that he was the new leader of Monchengladbach’s defensive line, a defensive line which went on to concede only three goals in their last six matches thereby providing the building blocks upon which Gladbach made their great escape. It should be mentioned that Ter Stegen’s leadership in defence was not the only characteristic shown with respect to his strong mentality. With being in a situation Monchengladbach found themselves in, every match from then on was a cup final; but you wouldn’t have thought that watching Ter Stegen handle himself in goal. There weren’t any visible signs of nervousness from the 18 year old goalkeeper has he racked up those remaining six matches playing as if he was still with the reserves. Never timid in his approach, he attacked crosses with unerring confidence, despite his rather short height for a goalkeeper, and was never hesitant in charging out of his box to clear balls coming over the top.
While his mentality is certainly above many players of a similar age to his, his pure abilities as a goalkeeper are far outreaching as well. While his short height can be seen as a drawback it gives him amazing agility, thereby enabling him to commit several show-stopping saves. The agility and jumping ability also make him, as mentioned before, a formidable force when it comes to gathering crosses thereby making him the complete goalkeeper at an already young age.
The current season as seen Monchengladbach embark on a fairly tale story and Ter Stegen has been one of the main protagonists. Continuing on from last season, Monchenglabdach’s defence have been the most well built wall having the second best defensive record with Bayern Munich (20 goals conceded in 29 matches) and have only conceded more than one goal twice thus far. Just like last season, some of Ter Stegen’s best performances have come in the biggest games of the season, most notably against Bayern Munich in the opening day of the season and against Borussia Dortmund. Besides some fantastic performances, the consistency of Ter Stegen has been impressive to see again when you consider his young age and inexperience with few errors costing Monchegladbach goals this season.
While Monchengladbach’s already unrealistic bid for the title has all but faded after a few weeks of inconsistent performances and their run in the DFB Pokal was ended by Bayern Munich on penalties, the Foals are set for a UEFA Champions League place next season which will present Ter Stegen with the next step in his development after making the jump towards professional football. But before that opportunity arrives, Ter Stegen could see himself jump on a plane to Ukraine and Poland for the 2012 European Championship with Germany. While he hasn’t been selected by national team trainer Joachim Loew yet, his name has constantly been suggested for call-up and the trainer himself has intimated that a maiden call-up could be coming up.
“In all our observations, he has positively excelled. He is in his early years, but is very confident, has tremendous charisma. We have Marc in mind.”
The speed at which Ter Stegen’s career has progressed could be too much to handle for many youngsters and with a UEFA Champions League campaign coming up, all the eyes of Europe, let alone Germany, will now be on the young goalkeeper. If his first full professional season is anything to go by, he shouldn’t have that much of a problem adjusting to the increased pressure.
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