Many were surprised when Barça decided to sign Jasper Cillessen from Ajax Amsterdam this most recent summer transfer window. The Oranje keeper went from a team that recently struggled to achieve success both on the domestic and European stage, to a team that is expected to win every possible trophy. Although Cillessen is upgrading the quality of his team, is this move a downgrade for his career?

  • By Ibrahim Ayyub
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When FC Barcelona was forced to decide between keeping the Chilean Claudio Bravo or the German Marc-André ter Stegen, the club decided to bank on the German as their keeper for the future. Bravo was in his thirties while ter Stegen is still a young pup in his early twenties. It was the right move for the club to cash in on Bravo by selling him to Manchester City since they had their goalkeeper of the future. However, eyebrows were raised when Jasper Cillessen was rumored to be Bravo’s replacement instead of some aging veteran.

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Barça have a history of signing Dutch players from the days of Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens back in the mid 70’s to the vast number of players in the 90’s and this century. One of the players signed during the 90’s was Dutch goalkeeper Ruud Hesp. He was the starting goalkeeper when Louis van Gaal was in charge as Barça captured back to back league titles. So it is not unchartered territory for Cillessen as he begins a new chapter in his career as a Barça goalkeeper.

Sadly, the contrast of quality between Ajax Amsterdam and FC Barcelona is not debatable. Cillessen leaves a club that is going through tough times as they usher in a new era now that Frank de Boer is no longer the manager. Furthermore, Cillessen also endured two disappointing years for both club and country where his performances left a lot to be desired. Of course, an argument could be made that the supporting players in front of him were not blameless either.

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Nonetheless, when Cillessen joins his new Barça teammates for a training session at Ciutat Esportiva, he will undoubtedly be surrounded by a better supporting class consisting of world-class players. Unlike Ajax, he will have better defenders playing in front of him and other players that are game changers. His usual training session will consist of facing superb players such as Iniesta, Rakitic, Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suárez that will no doubt test him and, hopefully, help him become a better player.

However, this move seems puzzling since Cillessen is signed to be ter Stegen’s backup. In Spain, the backup mainly features in the Spanish cup, Copa del Rey. The only way the backup goalkeeper will play in the league or the Champions League will be if the starter is injured or is performing poorly. Right now, ter Stegen is the starting goalkeeper for Barça in both the Spanish league and the Champions League. Therefore, Cillessen is expected to start the Copa del Rey matches, which amounts to 9 matches a year if Barça reach the final.

It is doubtful that Barça manager Luis Enrique will repeat what he did the last two seasons when Bravo featured strictly in the Spanish league while ter Stegen featured in Copa del Rey and Champions League. This time around, the manager plans on using ter Stegen for the Spanish league and Champions League, which is why Bravo asked to be sold. Both goalkeepers wanted to be the league starters, and the club opted for youth.

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Cillessen was the starting goalkeeper for the Oranje during World Cup 2014, but it is hard to believe that this move to Barcelona will ensure he remains first choice. Oranje manager Danny Blind recently relegated Cillessen to the bench and started Jeroen Zoet in Holland’s most recent matches against Greece and Sweden. Was the decision made because of Cillessen’s recent poor form or with an eye to the future? Ultimately, Cillessen’s chances of being the Oranje starting goalkeeper seem slim if he is going to be sitting on the Barça bench for the majority of the season.

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The last three seasons, Cillessen made 33, 42, and 44 appearances for Ajax in the Eredivisie and in European Competition. He will be lucky if he manages to make 10-15 appearances for Barça this season. Perhaps Luis Enrique will surprise us and use Cillessen more but for the moment, Cillessen is there in case of an emergency. As this is being published, ter Stegen has suffered a knee injury that will see him miss two weeks. Thus, Cillessen will now get to start in two league matches and one Champions League match.

Barça did the right thing in signing Cillessen as a security blanket for ter Stegen. He has the right pedigree for the position. However, Cillessen is too young to be a security blanket when he can be a starter elsewhere. Time will tell how this move works for Cillessen and his future. He should make the most of this recent opportunity, and also his time with Barça. Yet, he should also keep his options open for his future and seek an exit if a better opportunity presents itself.




Ibrahim Ayyub (14 Posts)