Ben Foster is to be afforded the opportunity he has craved most over the past four years after Edwin van der Sar underwent an operation on a broken finger today. With the big Dutchman, 38, out for the start of the new campaign, the talented Lemington-born ‘keeper has an eight week chance to demonstrate his credentials to take over for Manchester United – and potentially England – between the sticks. It’s a make-or-break opportunity.
Foster’s presence and technical ability have long been held up as a standard bearer for English goalkeeping – the natural heir to both van der Sar and England’s David James. Certainly that is the view of manager Sir Alex Ferguson, whom recently tied Foster to a new four year contract.
“We are delighted that Ben has signed a new four-year deal,” Ferguson said recently.
“Ben is seen as one of the best young goalkeepers in England and we genuinely see him as a successor to Edwin.”
“There is no question in my mind that he will be England’s goalkeeper. There is nobody better,” added the Scot.
But for Foster it has been a frustrating four years since a £1 million transfer from Stoke in 2005. The stopper, who has been hampered by injuries and the form of van der Sar, has started just 10 games for United over his four years as a Manchester United player.
Two years on loan at Watford afforded Foster some experience though, and his performances were strong enough to earn the ‘keeper a first call-up to the Steve McClaren’s England squad. Foster made his international début in England’s 1–0 defeat against Spain on 7 February 2007 but it was more than a year before his first start for United against Derby Country on 15 March 2008.
Then Watford manager Aidy Boothroyd offered a prophetic insight into the young Foster. “He recognises the fact he’s just a cog in the wheel. He works harder at his game and that’s why I think he’ll be a future Manchester United and England number one,” said Boothroyd.
“He’s better than Edwin van der Sar in my opinion. He is going to be the best goalkeeper in the world, I’m convinced of that.”
van der Sar’s injury and Portsmouth’s off-the-field problems this summer have handed Foster a hugely lucky break. But even if Boothroyd’s view of Foster’s potential has translated into real ability, there is still has much for the ‘keeper to prove. It’s one thing being handed a start in last season’s Carling Cup final, it will be quite another for Ferguson to plump for the Midlander in the final games of the coming season. At 26 Foster is no longer a young pretender.