Gloves are on as Ben Foster’s battle against injury gathers speed
Ben Foster had the common sense not to question Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision
to pull him out of Tuesday evening’s reserve-team match, but there is no
holding the bullishness that prompted the young goalkeeper to pronounce
yesterday that, after eight months out injured, he intends to be Manchester
United’s No 1 goalkeeper next season.
Then he wants to prove that he is the best goalkeeper in England, then the
world. There is neither brashness nor false modesty about Foster, but if he
is unable to oust Edwin van der Sar, the veteran United goalkeeper, for the
2008-09 season, he will be eager to move on loan to a Coca-Cola Championship
club to start fulfilling his aims. It is three years this summer since
Foster, who will be 25 in April, signed from Stoke City for £1 million, but
he has not made a senior appearance for either of his permanent employers.
His reputation has been forged while on loan – to Wrexham, when a Stoke
player, and in two seasons with Watford – so he is a young man in a hurry.
Having borrowed a donor’s tendon when his cruciate knee ligament on his right
knee was reconstructed last summer, Foster wants to prove that he is his own
man. His immediate aim is to play for United’s reserve team against
Middlesbrough at Northwich Victoria’s Victoria Stadium a week tonight, then
to regain full fitness by the end of this season. After that, it sounds as
if Ferguson would have to nail him to the ground to prevent him becoming the
Barclays Premier League champions’ first-choice goalkeeper.
“I think that’s more realistic,” Foster, speaking at the launch of the 08
Total Contact Exosphere glove at the National Space Centre in Leicester,
said. “I’m not aiming to play this season, just to get back to full fitness.
But next season I’d say it is going to be a fresh start for me and I want to
be No 1 goalkeeper.”
With no one establishing himself as England’s No 1 goalkeeper during his
absence, he is gratified to learn that Fa-bio Capello, the national team’s
manager, was impressed when watching a video of his international debut
against Spain 12 months ago. “It’s good to know I’m in his plans and he’s
taken notice of me,” Foster said.
Having ruptured his cruciate knee ligament on his right knee shortly after he
joined Stoke from Racing Club Warwick – while playing tennis with his
brother – Foster was doubly frustrated to suffer the same injury at the end
of last season. A scan while on international duty revealed that he had been
playing with the injury for “probably a couple of months” and put on hold
again a career of the latest in a line of talented young English
goalkeepers. Adrian Boothroyd, his manager during two seasons at Vicarage
Road, has predicted that Foster can become the best goalkeeper in the world.
“I felt everything was there ahead of me, there for the taking, so to find out
I was going to be out for eight months, practically the whole season, was a
huge blow,” Foster said.
He will be guided by United as to his next career move, but after a season’s
rehabilitation he has no intention of warming benches next season. “If going
out on loan means playing week in, week out, I don’t see that being a
problem,” he said. “I would probably have to drop down a level but if I’m
going to be playing every week, it’s not going to be doing me any harm.” He
does not laugh off Boothroyd’s outlandish prediction. “That’s got to be the
aim,” he said. “If you’re not going to aim to be the best, then you’ve got
no chance. You’ve got to aim to be the best you can. I am at one of the
biggest clubs in the world and there’s no reason not to aim that high.”