News that United’s second choice goalkeeper Ben Foster has agreed a new four year contract this week is welcome but will the former Stoke player finally get his chance? Edwin van der Sar is entering his final season as a pro and – to be frank – began to show signs of wear and tear towards the end of the last campaign. Now manager Sir Alex Ferguson must decide who begins the new campaign as his number one – the legendary Dutch international, or the younger pretender?
Foster, 26, joined from Stoke City in 2005 but has made just 10 starts for United in the intervening four years. Two seasons on loan at Watford, plus recurrent injuries to his knee and hands, have restricted his opportunities at Old Trafford. As such, the new contract is faith in the player’s ability, more than his performances on the pitch for United. But the prize for keeping himself fit is great for Foster – potentially taking over in goal for both United and England too.
Foster’s rival for the shirt, van der Sar, is under pressure to maintain his performance levels in the coming season. While the big Dutch ‘keeper set a new record number of Premier League clean sheets last season, the pressure of back-to-back games during the run in exposed some of van der Sar’s growing frailties. At 38 his ability to stay fit and flexible will be on the wane, as will his judgment. This much was evident in the poor goal van der Sar conceded in last May’s Champions League final.
However, this is no shoe-in for Foster. The Lemington born ‘keeper must perform in pre-season to be in with a shout of starting the campaign as number one. More realistically, Ferguson will go with the devil he knows but it would be a major surprise if the England international does not finish next season as first choice between the sticks for club and country.
All the same, it’s a make-or-break season for Foster. If the player fails to break into the team – or worse still succumbs to injury once again – United will buy next summer. Indeed, the club has been linked with a move for two Spanish stoppers – Villareal’s Diego Lopez and Barcelona’s Victor Valdes. While the later may have been angling for a new contract at Camp Nou, Lopez is undoubtedly available. This is the challenge now facing Foster.