When Sir Alex Ferguson proclaimed that Ben Foster would be “England’s goalkeeper for the next 10 years” a couple of seasons ago it was a bold statement even from such an experienced man. Ten years is a long time but the present is what should be first and foremost in Foster’s mind. England can take a back seat because he is struggling to become Manchester United’s no.1 and, worryingly for someone who is now 26-years-old, seems some way off from being the man trusted to keep goal for the champions.
A look at United’s current goalkeeping set-up suggests that Foster now finds himself as third choice, behind Edwin van der Sar and Tomasz Kuszcak. Van der Sar recently signing a contract extension that will keep him at the club until 2011 means that he is likely to start the next campaign as the keeper in possession of the gloves. There can be no questioning the Dutchman’s performances and the fact that he is playing at the age of 39 has no bearing on how well he is doing. As for Kuszcak, the signs for him are good and will no doubt have lowered Foster’s morale because the Pole has been Ferguson’s preferred choice when Van der Sar is injured or suspended, along with playing in arguably bigger, more meaningful matches than Foster when both of them have been available for selection.
Not only has Foster got to compete with Kuszcak and Van der Sar but there are potentially two issues that could prey on his mind should he be someone that gets mentally affected easily. Firstly, being 26 years old is usually the age where footballers start to peak and although goalkeepers traditionally last longer in the game than outfield players do, Foster needs to be playing regularly due to the fact that he has had a thorough learning in the game thanks to his loan spell at Watford and must have developed the skills and knowledge to play at the highest level. Secondly, since Peter Schmeichel left United in 1999, the club tried long and hard to find a quality and assured replacement. Whereas Van der Sar has turned out to be that man, many failed before him such as Mark Bosnich and Massimo Taibi. Whether it is down to a lack of chances or lack of form, Foster will be adamant not to be remembered as another Bosnich or Taibi. Recruiting for class goalkeepers must be one of the tougher tasks in football, especially as United went through their fair share since Schmeichel, so Foster will be determined to prove that he should be the man in between the posts instead of his Dutch colleague.
Sir Alex Ferguson has been renowned to be a patient man when it comes to giving young players time to prove themselves but if it is true that he and Foster had a dressing-room row following United’s Premiership draw with Sunderland, last October, it could have been based on how the Englishman is failing to make the most of his limited chances. Unfortunately for Foster he has made a series of mistakes when he plays and these are inevitably highlighted more because it will be mentioned that he is not ready to replace Van der Sar and it would seem wise to suggest that he will miss out on Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad. Ferguson himself has repeated on numerous occasions that he sees Foster as England’s best goalkeeper and has agreed that he has had limited game experience, so should he have been put on the transfer market in last January’s window? If Foster is desperate to play for England he can only do it by being a regular at his club. With Van der Sar still the leading goalkeeper, and for the beginning of next season at least, Foster may have to try his luck elsewhere.
A goalkeeper usually has his saves forgotten and his errors remembered- and Foster has had a few of these. Foster can take heart from the fact that he had great success at Watford but United might be a step too far. This is not for his qualities but for the fact that he is being kept out of a team by a world-class goalkeeper, and instead of demonstrating his assets to the team, Foster finds himself warming the bench. Long-term injuries have not helped his progress but does he fill the fans with the same confidence as Van der Sar does? He may not even get next season to prove his credentials and by becoming another year older, but with a lack of experience, it might be that a career re-start is needed at another club.
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