Friday, 6 March 2009

Heroic Foster performance tinged with sadness

There can be little doubt as to who most sports pundits believe the star of the Carling Cup final was this year. As Ben Foster was standing between the sticks staring out at the Wembley pitch whilst the referee was preparing to start the match, he may have been praying for a performance which would see him go largely unnoticed.

Conversely, he may have been wishing for a few chances to prove himself as a talented young goalkeeper capable of playing regularly at the top level. Ultimately, even if the thoughts that were running through his mind as the players were preparing to start the battle for glory and silverware were ambitious and approaching the level of fantasy, they probably still wouldn't have matched the reality of what followed.

Ben Foster has been hailed as something of a hero since the Carling Cup final, in which an accomplished and professional performance was enhanced by a heroic display in the penalty shoot-out. The young goalkeeper may have been helped by an iPod and the apparent inability of certain Spurs players to take an accurate or powerful penalty but the vital component which should really be credited is Foster's natural talent.

The truth is that certain sports writers have been keen to place such emphasis upon the influence of the iPod to hide the fact that they have never really paid much attention to Foster's talent. As a result, it is easier for them to comprehend such a strong performance resulting from a small gadget than it is for them to comtemplate it arising from natural ability.

The sad news is that this ability will remain largely hidden whilst the player stays at Manchester United. Van der Sar, with the exception of his recent howler against Newcastle, remains the best goalkeeper in the Premier League. It is difficult to see how Foster will be able to break into the first team and establish himself whilst Van der Sar remains injury-free.

This is bad news for England fans because Ben Foster may just be the best goalkeeping prospect we have for the next World Cup. David James puts in some majestic performances in a Portsmouth shirt but he also puts in some performances which make us question whether he has a split personality.

The problem is that we can't fully assess whether or not Ben Foster can adequately master the consistency which David James famously lacks unless he is playing week in, week out in important games.

He could go out on loan but this wouldn't test his talent or ability to cope well under pressure vigorously enough to persuade Fabio Capello to place his trust in him. Foster needs to be experiencing the likes of the San Siro on a regular basis but, unfortunately for fans of English football, this doesn't look like happening anytime soon.

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