Ben Foster completes a medical this morning as Birmingham City seal a £6 million deal for the Manchester United goalkeeper. Foster, 26, will move to the Midlanders this summer after five largely frustrating years at Old Trafford. The deal includes £4 million up front and a further £2 million dependent on performances and international caps.
Foster, who played 13 times for United last season, began the campaign as Sir Alex Ferguson’s number one but a series of high profile mistakes, including in the derby against Manchester City at Old Trafford, consigned the Leamington-born player to the reserves.
The ‘keeper’s long-term position at the club, despite Ferguson’s promise that the England international would stay, effectively ended when Edwin van der Sar signed a one-year contract extension earlier this year.
Foster will replace Joe Hart at St. Andrews, with the City ‘keeper heading back to Eastlands this summer after a year on loan in Birmingham. It is with no little irony that Hart has replaced Foster in the England set-up as the United stopper’s form dipped during the campaign.
But Foster will leave United with the best wishes of supporters. A fine young ‘keeper, Foster was found out with the pressure finally placed on his shoulders after four years in the reserves or on loan elsewhere.
It hardly helped the Foster that United’s defence suffered so many injuries in the early part of last season, while Ferguson’s promise that the stopper had a long-term role at United was clearly misleading. After all the club accepted the first bid for the player this summer.
With Foster now departed, van der Sar approaching 40 and Tomasz Kuszczak few supporters’ choice as the long-term United number one, Ferguson may move for a new ‘keeper this summer.
The club watched Schalke’s Manuel Neuer, CSKA’s Igor Akinfeev and the brilliant Hugo Lloris of Olympique Lyonnais in the past year.
While many believe Lloris, who had a superb campaign in the Champions League, is the best of the three, Lyon’s notoriously hard-nosed chairman Jean-Michel Aulas ensures that the ‘keeper will command a fee in excess of £15 million.
Olympique Marseille’s French number two Steve Mandanda has also claimed interest from United, although many who have seen the Congolese-born player’s erratic performances over the past five years believe this is true.
Should Ferguson place faith in just van der Sar and Kuszczak – despite using three senior ‘keepers in the past year – one of United’s youth players may step up to the third choice slot.
While Ron-Robert Zieler returns to Germany this summer with Hanover, Ben Amos may return to United after a less than successful loan spell at Norwegian club Molde. Tom Heaton, on loan at Wycombe Wanderers for the past season, will leave the club with his contract finishing in June.
In Ferguson’s tenure at Old Trafford only Kevin Pilkington, with eight appearances, and Mark Bosnich have come through the ranks at the club. Bosnich only took the first team shirt after returning from Aston Villa on a free-transfer during summer 1999.
But Ferguson is keen to avoid the goalkeeping chasm that engulfed the club in Peter Schmeichel’s wake. When the great Dane moved to Portugal and into semi-retirement in 1999, Ferguson went through a string of ‘keepers including Roy Carroll, Tim Howard, Bosnich and the laughably poor Massimo Taibi before settling on van der Sar six years too late.
The ideal scenario sees United recruit a top-class stopper this summer, allowing van der Sar to wind his career slowly down.
In reality the limited transfer budget and even more pressing areas of the team means that the club will seek the best available next summer.