Wesley Sneijder believes the Ajax goalkeeper should favour a move to the Spanish giants over Arsenal, but is the retired star’s claim misguided?
Andre Onana got a lifeline when his 12-month ban for testing positive for banned substance Furosemide was reduced to nine months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in early June.
The upshot of the softened suspension will see the Ajax goalkeeper return to training in September, two months before the end of his ban in November. Having been training in isolation since February, the mini-victory at CAS was an absolute relief.
Arsenal have reportedly stepped up their interest in the Cameroon shot-stopper, as have a host of other European clubs who were awaiting the verdict of his appeal. The Gunners are thought to be frontrunners, but any transfer will be dependent on the sale of Bernd Leno who could leave the Emirates Stadium this summer.
While Onana will require a starting spot wherever he moves, the Premier League side’s absence from the Champions League since 2017 and non-appearance on the continent next season may cast doubts over a move to North London.
Indeed, former Ajax attacking midfielder Wesley Sneijder believes the ‘great goalkeeper’ can do better than the PL giants but offered interesting alternatives to the English club.
“I expect him to leave. I think he is a great goalkeeper. European top? Yes, certainly,” Sneijder told Voetbal International Live. “I’d rather not see him at Arsenal. It’s a fantastic club, but it has slipped in recent years. I’d rather see him play at Real Madrid or FC Barcelona.”
It’s hard not to agree with the Inter Milan treble winner’s take on the PL outfit, but how viable is a transfer to either La Liga giant? On the surface, it feels like an unusual suggestion that may be outside the realms of possibility.
Given Thibaut Courtois’ standing as one of the top goalkeepers in Europe, Onana’s prospects of supplanting the Belgium star between the sticks appear slim on paper.
The former Chelsea stopper is an incredible shot-stopper, commands his area commendably and is more adept in possession than he is given credit for.
A comparison with Onana in the 2020/21 Champions League shows that the ex-Genk man and the Cameroon goalie conceded 1.17 goals per 90.
However, a deeper analysis reveals Courtois let in fewer goals than expected, although Onana followed closely.
Unsurprisingly, the Central African attempted more in-play passes than the Real stopper (43.7-28.8) and played more passes under pressure (5.67-2.67).
Despite the apparent chasm between the Ajax and Madrid goalies, Marc-Andre ter Stegen’s numbers (below) will make for fascinating reading.
Onana’s dominance with the ball and involvement in Ajax’s build-up is further enhanced when he and Courtois’ touches and progressive carries are compared.
The Cameroonian makes 54.3 touches per 90 to the Belgian’s 39.7 — 45.8 of those were in-play, to Thibaut’s 31.2 touches.
The African’s teammates made more attempts to find their shot-stopper than Real looked to involve Courtois — 35.3 to 21.6 — while the former was expectedly more adventurous than the Madrid star with the ball, evidenced by their respective average progressive carries in yards: 96.5 to 51.0.
Again, despite the profound difference, ter Stegen’s underlying numbers may surprise observers. (Hint: he’s beaten hands down by Courtois).
Of course, observers will reckon a move to Barca will appeal to Onana owing to the emotional connection he has to the club and the feeling that the Blaugrana involve the man between the sticks more than Real do.
However, the reverse played out in reality with the Belgian’s underlying numbers outdoing Barcelona’s German goalkeeper.
Not only was ter Stegen’s shot-stopping average in the Champions League, but he’s also conceded higher than expected in La Liga in the last two campaigns.
Having been largely flawless in his opening two years in Spain, the ex-Borussia Monchengladbach man has declined somewhat between the sticks amid the club’s on-pitch struggles.
In just five CL appearances, ter Stegen let in 1.80 goals per game and was rather average in his shot-stopping. Interestingly, he attempted fewer in-play passes and passes under pressure than Onana and Courtois, as well as significantly fewer touches and progressive carries.
A comprehensive Fbref comparison of all three can be found here.
Undoubtedly, Onana is the most adventurous of all three and his first-rate shot-stopping means he suits both clubs.
Having said that, it is highly uncertain that Real prefer him to their outstanding incumbent.
There’s a higher chance of the Cameroon man supplanting ter Stegen at Barca, but the German is probably going to keep his place for another year.
His drop off isn’t cataclysmic and the Cameroon star’s preference for an assured first-team role probably rules out the prospect of an emotional return to his old stomping ground.
Notwithstanding what the underlying numbers reveal and, despite Sneijder’s belief in Onana, a move to either Real or Barca may not materialise. Not this summer, at least.