Whither Marc-Andre ter Stegen?

The shockwaves were felt far and wide.

FIFA announced earlier this week that FC Barcelona had been found guilty of skirting the rules barring the international transfer of underage players.

Of course, few football observers would be truly shocked at the idea of a major football power playing fast and loose with the rules. Perhaps the more-skeptical among the underwhelmed would say the real stunner was that FIFA was taking action of any sort.

But the news item that pushed Barcelona’s Champions League semifinal to “in other news” status was the punishment: no transfer action for the club over the coming two transfer periods.

In other words, no player not currently under contract with FC Barcelona will be moving to the Catalan giants this summer, nor in the winter to follow.

Though the legal details remain somewhat unclear, some have suggested that the ban does not impact any agreements reached before the ban was put in place, while others have offered that FIFA regulations require a transfer to appear on the transfer list before it can be deemed valid, meaning even a signed agreement for a future transfer might be invalidated. Whichever the case, movement of players to FC Barcelona this summer will be, at best, extremely limited.

Which naturally brings us to Borussen Park, where some had cause to be more sensitive to the aftershocks of the Barcelona ban than others.

Current Borussia Mönchengladbach keeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen had been the subject of long-standing rumors revolving around a transfer to Barcelona as a replacement for FCB fixture Victor Valdes.

While no bit of speculation has ever been validated by the La Liga club, the German national keeper, or the player’s representation, that ter Stegen wants to move to Barcelona in the coming off-season had been considered a poorly kept secret.

Hence, when ter Stegen announced in January he would not extend his current contract with die Fohlen, the assumption was, even though no destination was mentioned, that ter Stegen would be sold in the summer so Mönchengladbach could avoid losing their star with no recompense.

With notice served, the club began planning for a ter Stegen-less future, arranging for current FC Basel keeper Yann Sommer to be their man between the posts beginning with the 2014-15 season.

Assuming ter Stegen’s intended destination was, indeed, FC Barcelona and that those plans had not gotten as far as the completed legalities before the transfer blockade was levied, would there suddenly be an opening for Gladbach to retain their budding superstar with the heavy case of wanderlust? After all, when announcing his decision to end his time in Mönchengladbach, ter Stegen had said, “Everyone knows that I am ‘Borusse’ through and through, as it is clear that the decision was not easy for me.”

Despite ter Stegen’s status as “through-and-through Borusse,” when asked how FC Barcelona’s situation might impact his immediate future, the response was plainly, “I know nothing of the allegations against Barcelona. The fact remains that I absolutely will leave Gladbach at the end of the season.”

Someone who did seem to know about the allegations against Barcelona and would have specific knowledge of any legal dealings between the club and ter Stegen would be his advisor, Gerd vom Bruch, who also skirted the Barcelona piece of the equation, while dismissing the notion of ter Stegen continuing his career in Mönchengladbach.

“Indeed, Marc-Andre still has a valid contract with Borussia,” said vom Bruch “but I cannot imagine that he will stay there.”

Whatever the motivation behind ter Stegen’s determination to leave his current club, Borussia Mönchengladbach sporting director Max Eberl seems convinced it is not completely connected to a desire to be on the opposite side of the pitch from Leonel Messi on a regular basis. When asked whether there might be any legalities that would result in the keeper staying, Eberl smiled and said, “Only should the world fall apart this summer and Mönchengladbach is left behind as a football oasis, then will Marc-Andre ter Stegen play further at Borussia.”

With Mönchengladbach ruled out, the question seems to be, “What becomes of ter Stegen?”

“You can definitely assume ter Stegen will not be unemployed,” was all the prediction vom Bruch would offer on the matter.

Meanwhile, in Barcelona, the recently injured Valdes, who had long ago made clear his intention to leave the club at the end of his contract this summer, was recently offered a contract extension. Some might have seen the move of club President Josep Maria Bartomeu as being one of generosity, knowing the ACL injury and lengthy subsequent recovery time could make it difficult for Valdes to find a suitor this summer.

Our aforementioned cynics might see it as a sign that Bartomeu had some idea that maybe the keeper he thought would be coming to replace Valdes this summer was no longer an option for the 2014-15 season. With 38-year-old Jose Pinto the lone other option, keeping Valdes, even though he will likely be out until winter, suddenly may have become a priority in Barcelona.

Rarely will an injured, out-of-contract player have the sort of leverage with which Valdes may soon find himself.

For now, back in Germany, Borussia Mönchengladbach have ter Stegen for the six remaining matches of the 2013-14 campaign with plenty hanging in the balance.

Die Fohlen came out of the winter break sitting third in the Bundesliga table, holding an automatic-qualification spot for Champions League. After starting 2014 with a disastrous run in which the side earned just three points from the first seven matches of the year, Borussia is playing for slightly smaller stakes. Automatic entry to Champions League is all but completely off the table, but the qualification spot lies just three points above them.

At the same time, challenges from below are also threatening their current hold on a Europa League entry. FSV Mainz 05 trails by just a point and will visit Borussia Park on match day 33 in what could be a very high-stakes meeting.

Before that, however, Mönchengladbach must survive a three-match run of relegation-threatened clubs, the desperation of their opponents’ situations making them perhaps more dangerous than their record might indicate.

Considering that ter Stegen’s professional situation is suddenly up in the air, is there a chance the keeper might not be fully mentally engaged in stopping highly motivated scorers such as 1. FC Nürnberg’s Josip Drmic, the Bundesliga’s current hottest goal scorer awaiting Mönchengladbach’s arrival Saturday.

“The matter does not concern me at all,” says ter Stegen dismissively of the suggestion he might be distracted. “Nobody need be concerned that my thoughts will be elsewhere during my final matches with Borussia.”

With Mönchengladbach having recently recovered from their early slide to win three of their last four matches, any stumbling over the next few weeks will likely signal otherwise.

 

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Randall Hauk is a freelance writer living in the United States while covering German football. He is currently the publisher of Planet Effzeh, an English-language site covering 1. FC Köln. He wrote about the German national team for the Telegraph as part of their World Cup Nation coverage.

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