For many years it looked like Ben Foster was never going to fulfil all the promise he was showing when Sir Alex Ferguson first took a punt on the young keeper back in 2005. Back then Foster had just started to cement his position in a Stoke side on the up.
Ferguson only happened to spot the keeper by chance as he came to watch his son Darren playing, he was impressed with what he saw and decided that Foster could be the man to replace Peter Schmeichel in-between the sticks at Old Trafford.
Seven and a half seasons down the line and Foster has just ended his self-imposed international exile and has also just won the most recent Player of the Month award at his club West Bromwich Albion. Compared to how things were when he left Old Trafford life is certainly a better place now if you’re Ben Foster.
At Manchester United Foster was always hyped (virtually the entire coaching staff labelled him as the eventual successor to Edwin van der Sar. Unfortunately a succession of injuries and the odd error cost him. Despite the problems at Manchester United Foster was showing the signs of becoming a top keeper, especially during a loan spell with Watford.
His time there may be remembered by most for the infamous lob that England rival Paul Robinson scored against him during a match against Tottenham Hotspur but for those involved with the club at the time they saw it as the development of one of the finest young goalkeepers in the country.
In 2010 Foster knew his time at Manchester United was up and if he wanted to secure first team football he would have to leave Old Trafford. Birmingham City managed to pick up the England international to replace Joe Hart, who was returning to Manchester City following his loan spell.
Despite City’s eventual relegation it was a season of great personal success for Foster as his impressive performances were key to Birmingham’s League Cup victory and saw him win the club’s Player of the Season and Players’ Player of the Season. Following Birmingham’s relegation to the Championship Foster once again moved, this time to Midlands side West Bromwich Albion where he quickly established himself as a firm favourite amongst the fans.
For England things were always a different story. At a younger stage in his career the occasional mistake cost him dear and just as he was starting to re-establish himself again Joe Hart was bursting onto the scene, being labelled the best England goalkeeper since Peter Shilton. Then in the summer of 2011 Foster announced he was quitting international football indefinitely citing that he wanted to prolong his club career.
In reality he had a young family to look after as well as his own body and few could argue with a man looking after the things most important to him. Now though he is back and for once it is with perfect timing. Just as cracks have started to appear him Joe Hart’s defences Foster has been in the form of his life.
Foster may have featured in fewer games this season due to injury but he has made over 40 saves more than his main rival and has a save per game ratio that is nearly double that of Hart.
Whilst it seems unlikely that Foster will displace Hart as the national side’s number one (Hart seems well placed until Jack Butland fully develops) he is still a more than adequate number two. In my opinion he is a cut above the likes of Butland and Ruddy who just don’t have the same experience as Foster.
It is unfortunate that the West Brom stopper has only won five caps for his country and that he is unlikely to be remembered as one of the top English keepers. It is however good to see him back in the limelight.
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