Barcelona's Marc-Andre ter Stegen talks Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, LeBron James and more
Marc-Andre ter Stegen is entering his fifth season with Barcelona, his third as the primary goalkeeper. During his time he’s seen stars like Neymar, Andres Iniesta, Dani Alves and Javier Mascherano leave the club, which, along with over 140 games under his belt in a Barca shirt, has catapulted him into one of the veterans of the squad.
After a busy and shortened offseason because of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, the German shot-stopper rejoined the club from a few weeks of vacation during its International Champions Cup tour in the United States to get back into the swing of things before the start of the season.
“Spending time with my family is very high-rated. It’s what I really like to do on my holidays. But also, I like to really be far away from everything just to disconnect and to be myself,” ter Stegen said. “Spending some time with my wife, which during the year is a bit difficult. And then I’m working on my physical strength which is the least I can do.”
On Sunday, he played a pivotal role inby denying a penalty kick in stoppage time.
ter Stegen, who has established himself as one of the best keepers in the sport, sat down with CBS Sports for a one-on-one interview to talk about the evolution of the goalkeeper, playing with Messi, Germany’s World Cup exit, Ronaldo’s departure, where his basketball allegiances lie and much more.
The following Q&A is lightly edited for clarity and flow.
This season is an important one in La Liga because of the significance of the departure of Ronaldo from Real Madrid. How do you think that impacts the rivalry between the two clubs?
ter Stegen: It doesn’t change. Of course, he was a very important player for Real Madrid and he will be a very important player for Juventus as well. For us, it doesn’t really change. They have so many good players that we need to be aware of. They’ll have a good season. It’s not just about Cristiano Ronaldo, even if he had a big impact for them. As I said before, we lost Andres Iniesta, who was a big personality and a wonderful player, and I think for them it will almost be the same.
What makes the rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid so special?
ter Stegen: During all these years, both teams were very close to each other, and Barca came up recently a bit more. They’ve won a lot of trophies. We’re big rivals, of course, but then on the other hand we have the political situation in Spain. But I think we as football players we’re always just aware of playing football and we really want just to win our games for the fans, for the supporters, for us and for the whole club.
Is there another rivalry out there that catches your attention like this one?
ter Stegen: I think it’s the biggest rivalry we can find worldwide. I think there are other really big matches out there but I think Real Madrid against Barcelona is always one of the biggest there is.
How hard was it for you to go to Russia and stay on the bench throughout the entire tournament for Germany?
ter Stegen: Very difficult. You need to imagine that you had a good season and then you go with expectations to reach the World Cup and then in the end you’re not playing. Of course, it’s not fun being in this situation. I knew that even if I didn’t play, I had to be supporting the team — to be there for them 100 percent. I think it was the least I could have done, and I did it 100 percent as I always do. It was unlucky that we couldn’t go further than the group stage.
What do you think Germany can learn from the elimination, and what can you learn from your experience in Russia?
ter Stegen: First of all, I think it’s very difficult to say now what we learned from it because we didn’t even play one game [after the group stage]. … We need to work on many problems. I think there was a lot of discussion after we got knocked out, so we need to [examine] things a bit differently now. There was a mix of discussions involving Mesut Ozil and some other players, but I think the most important thing is that we concentrate on football and be happy to be a part of the national team. I think this got lost in the last couple of years, so what we need to do is just be happy that we can play for such a wonderful nation and that we can play in front of over 80 million people every time we are on the field.
“Yeah, I think there will be a change, for sure. We’ll see how it works when we’re back with the national team, but now it’s just time to focus on the club level, which is, for me at the moment, way more important than the national team. We’ll see when we are back in September with the national team, then we’ll have another opportunity to talk about the national team.
What has been your initial impression of the Brazilian newcomers Malcom and Arthur?
ter Stegen: I just got to know them recently, just a few days ago. I can mainly speak about them as a person, because it’s very difficult to assess in these two, three, four days. I think they fit very well into the locker room. Very interesting. I saw a bit in the match when they played against Roma [in Dallas], they’re very interesting football players with a lot of potential. For us, it’s very important that they feel comfortable with us and that they adapt very quickly. They’re Brazilian and speak Portuguese, which is not that far away from Spanish. It’s difficult maybe in the beginning, but step by step they’ll get used to it. I think it’s easier to adapt than a German- or an English-speaking player. … We are all at their disposal to explain what they need to know about Barca. And football is so international that everybody understands its language. There are not that many words needed.
Let’s talk about Lionel Messi. How hard is it stopping him in penalty kicks in practice?
ter Stegen: I faced him once in an official match. It’s always better to have him on your team than playing against him. It’s not just about Messi. We have so many good players, but of course he can make the difference, but we have a lot of players that can make the difference as well. Every player who’s on the field can learn from Leo. It’s not just about football, we’re talking about a guy that’s mentally strong. Look at how many years he’s now played at a big level, always scoring, doing the work he’s doing every day and even getting better. This is what everybody could learn. He’s an idol in this respect for everybody, and one of the people that is working a lot on his own skills, not just looking at the others. He just wants to make himself and the team better, and everyone should think like this. It’s very easy to work with him — he’s a very humble guy, everybody has a good opinion about him — and when it comes to football, there are no words for what he’s capable of doing on the field.
Psychologically when it comes to defending a penalty kick, how do you try to gain an edge over the kick taker?
ter Stegen: You prepare yourself. You know exactly what they did in the past. You know more or less where the kick will go. Of course, you can just see more or less what he’s done in the past, but you never know what he’s going to do. Everybody has a different style, so I wouldn’t want to talk about it since I’m [still] an active player. Everybody has their own style on how to face penalties as a goalkeeper — some aren’t [looking at their opponent], some do it more, some are moving and some not.
Were you always a goalkeeper growing up?
ter Stegen: No, I started playing on the field and later I got to be the goalkeeper.
ter Stegen: Ah, it changed. I had some different positions. At first I was a forward, and then step by step I kept moving back and now I’m here at the goal. This was my way.
People categorize you as a sweeper keeper, so do you think those childhood years playing different positioned may have helped?
ter Stegen: To get a good feeling for other positions, for sure. But I was very young. It’s good to have an idea of what the others need to do, so for me at the end, it was always good to have skills with my feet. You have so many modern goalkeepers and they’re all different. There’s not just one type of modern goalkeeper. We have so many good goalkeepers in Europe. When you speak about so many goalkeepers, you speak about so many different styles, and it’s very interesting to see that every [club] has a very good goalkeeper, but different. I like to see differences and I like to talk about them.
How has the position evolved over the years?
ter Stegen: Twenty years ago, you could receive the ball from your own [teammate] and lift it up. Even in this aspect, when this changed, it was very difficult to [adapt] to this change. I never had to deal with it because the rule had already been in place. From that point on, goalkeeping got more and more modern and different.
Soccer in the United States is growing, but it took a hit when the men’s national team didn’t qualify for the World Cup. What do you think is missing here in this country?
ter Stegen: To be honest, I didn’t see a lot of MLS, but I know that it was very hard. You have different sports here in the U.S. — I was at the basketball game [recently] and it was totally crazy.
ter Stegen: When Miami won the [NBA Finals] trophy [in 2013]. I was in the city and I saw three games when they won it against San Antonio. [The atmosphere] was spectacular. When you compare it to football, maybe there’s some difference, but the sport is growing here and it has way more potential. And this is what we’re trying to do with the International Champions Cup. You see differences but we’re getting closer.
“MLS, I think physically is very good, but also in Germany, Spain and England there are things to improve. It’s very interesting for [Americans] to see the difference and what to work on. For us, the people here are very interested in football. You can fill the stadiums easily when you have a big game coming up. The people like football, it’s not that they don’t like it … it’s a bit shorter than [American] football, so for the people it gets more and more interesting.
What’s one of your favorite things about America? Is it the food, the movies, the music, the culture? Maybe the sports?
ter Stegen: The music is good. I was at the basketball game. When you talk about soccer or football, you need to point out that basketball is way bigger here than in Europe.
Is basketball probably it for you?
ter Stegen: I mean, I was at the big games.
Is there a basketball team you root for in the United States?
ter Stegen: I was just in Miami, so if I had to pick a team it would be Miami. To be honest, I really like what LeBron James is doing. It’s very interesting to follow him a bit.
He’s in Los Angeles now.
ter Stegen: Yeah, I know. Also, physically how strong he is. We always want to be at the top [as an athlete] and when you see a personality like him who is working a lot on their skills, it’s very interesting and good to see.