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In Defence Of Ben Foster

Ben Foster has been on the receiving end of plenty of flack following our 4-3 victory over City yesterday but one of our favourite bloggers, Penguin United, is fighting his corner.

So that’s it. It’s official, apparently. If you read the papers and the blogs today, Ben Foster is not good enough for United, and never will be.

Really, can we make that sort of judgment yet? After a run of only seven games, three of which have been clean sheets, with a constantly-changing fruit machine of a defence in front of him? Not for my money.

Obviously Foster had a shocker yesterday, and was responsible for the goal we conceded against Arsenal. But he has also made some stunning saves, the like of which we rarely see from EVDS these days, for all the latter’s assured kicking and good judgment. It is a goalkeeper’s lot to have his saves forgotten and his errors remembered (the opposite of many strikers, who can gloss over missing a few sitters with a last minute goal), but surely our fans can remember six weeks worth of football.

In those six weeks, Foster has demonstrated superb reflexes, good reach when coming out for crosses and good judgment on when to punch or catch when he gets there. For the most part, his distribution has been good, keeping the ball alive well and making good choices between the easy ball to a full back and the harder ball to a more advanced player. He has also, on occasion, demonstrated very good temperament indeed, such as following up his mistake at Arsenal with a superb save which kept us in the game.

He has also shown some weaknesses. His distribution is affected by the fact that he is painfully one-footed – no co-incidence that both his kicking debacles yesterday (one unpunished, the other not so) were on his right foot. He has let in a goal which should have been a routine save, and he has sometimes looked a little hesitant in one-on-one situations. His judgment on crosses is not perfect, although it is far from disastrous and better than Kusczcak’s will ever be.

If you think that the weaknesses mean that he should be discarded despite the strengths, or if you expect him to be the finished product the first time he has a run in a the side, then you clearly don’t have much of an appreciation of the travails of keepers at the highest level.

You must have got so spoilt by watching Peter Schmeichel (one of the best and most complete keepers in the world ever, by the way) for so many years that you think such excellence should be standard. You’ve clearly forgotten that it took Fergie six years of scouring the globe to find a proper replacement for the Great Dane, and that many top European sides have keepers who are often liabilities. Think Dida of AC Milan, Dudek for years at Liverpool, Lehmann and now Almunia at Arsenal, almost every Spanish keeper except Casillas. Barthez was one of the best keepers of his time and capable of mind-boggling saves, but despite one near-perfect season found the relentless pressure of expectation too much.

Keeping at the very top level is very different to keeping for even a mid-table Premiership side. You’ll probably only have two or three saves to make all match, but all are crucial since a draw is not good enough. You probably won’t touch the ball, or even be near the ball, for prolonged periods of play, and when you do it will just be to take a goal kick or receive a backpass. You don’t get to make strings of saves, the adrenalin doesn’t pump, you’re unlikely to be the hero – this is cold-blooded, steely-eyed perfectionism.

The last time Foster played six first team games in a row was at Watford over two years ago. At Watford, he repeatedly demonstrated all those qualities I mentioned above – he was many Watford fans’ player of the season. There, he was under siege constantly, and constantly rose to the task of being the gallant last line of defence, the only thing stemming the tide. What he will have been learning over the last few weeks is how different a mentality is required of a United keeper – and he will have learned a very great deal. Even more since he hasn’t had the luxury (afforded to EVDS for so much of his United career) of playing behind a settled, world-class defence.

Yesterday, he had an absolute shocker. He made an error in the 13th minute which put his team on the back foot after a flying start – there was nowhere to hide, it was 100% his fault. And then he was made to live with it, oh and how. He didn’t have any chance to make a save of note until the 86th minute, when he tipped away Wright-Phillips’ near post shot, and even then it was fairly routine. He will have learned a lot about himself in that time, but his head will have been reeling. When Bellamy bore down on him in the 89th minute, he couldn’t decide whether to come and narrow the angle or stand tall and try to deal with the shot – both would have been fine, but he did something in the middle that made the striker’s life easier. And so his day got worse.

Rio’s contribution to the third goal and Owen’s winner will have made him feel a lot better about himself, but he knows now much better than before what he needs to do. He will welcome the break he’ll get when EVDS comes back – the spotlight can be punishing indeed on goalkeepers, especially when your own fans are nervous about how you will perform.

I, for one, think he’ll come back stronger from that. I think he has proved that whilst he is not The Answer right now, he has the potential to be The Answer at some point. Maybe I’ll be proved wrong, but nobody should be ruling him out until he has at least had a second chance later in the season.

About Scott

Scott is the editor of Red Matters - 50 Years of Supporting Manchester United and an author of Play Like Fergie's Boys and Not Nineteen Forever. He writes for ESPN, The Metro and Bleacher Report. Follow @R_o_M on Twitter.

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  1. alex29 says:

    I’ve been a big fan of Foster’s for years Scott and I agree that keeper’s have it hard when they make mistakes but Barry’s goal wasn’t a mistake it was massively cocky to think that he could take the ball away from a striker. He should have booted it out first time, he trained with Tevez and watched him chase down everything. The other point is that whilst Rio gifted them the chance for the 3rd, Bellamy’s last touch was shit but Foster went down to early and gift wrapped it for him. Before this week I thought EVDS might struggle to get back in but not now. Foster is a good keeper but not as good as he thinks!

  2. Raj IV says:

    In part, both Foster and Rio are at fault in MC’s first and third equalisers. In the first case, Foster must have felt that he could outsmart Tevez and Rio took for granted that Foster would be able to gather the ball little realising Tevez. But Tevez made them look like fools when he dragged the ball from Foster’s hands and fed Barry to slot in the ball. In the second case, Bellamy took full advantage of Rio’s sloppiness and Foster’s poor positioning for MC’s third equaliser. In my opinion, Rio was not match fit and Foster was quite nervous throughout in his first MU-MC derby. MU should get Manuel Neuer of Schalke 04 or Benaglio of Wolfsburg as replacements. As for Rio, he has been hampered with injuries of late and SAF should look into this as well and get a suitable defender to partner Vidic.

  3. CROoney says:

    king Eric – haven’t you learned by now that i’m always right ? ;)

  4. CROoney says:

    I’m not making a judgement on this season only – at watford he conceeded against Robinson – robinson ffs ! – then after he came here, i saw him, he looked shaky and i thought to myself : Ok, he’s young, new, it will go away – then he started matches for us and I always noticed the same problem; clearances and crosses – it’s not even him being blunder prone that is much of a problem – cos sometimes you make blunders but most of the times you’re solid – but it’s his consistancy to fuck up crosses, to punches the shots what makes me nervous – and that’s a huuuuge gap in his abilities – you can have problem with crosses anywhere else but you can’t have them in england – even reina has it to an extent and that’s why i rate VDS over him – reina’s maybe even better shot stopper but he regularly fucks up a corner or a cross etc
    it’s like foster’s never secure, solid,confident –

    and it doesn’t make you fell confident having him there – you’re always on the edge of your chair – and that’s worse than making an occasional blunder – same goes for Brown at the CB spot – i’m always nervous seeing him near our area

    you know what i like with VDS ? is that people are not even aware how good he is untill he’s missing – we don’t even remember all the thunderbolts he caught with ease, all the crosses he picked up easily like drinking the glass of water, all the tight clearancess he made untill you see foster doing it – he does it with grace ( VDS ) – of course he can make mistake too but most of the time you feel CONFIDENT having him there – that’s the main difference between the 2 – and i don’t think i’ll always feel confident having foster there

    i don’t hold anything against the boy but I’m pissed because of all the people who’re trying to prove that he can be what we need – I dont’ think so …because we’re not barcelona to have the luxury to keep valdez as the GK – they can conceed 3 but they know that they will score 4 or 5 –
    it’s not just foster.. it’s not that he’s crap i just think we need world class on that position more than we need on any other position if you know what i mean

    we can’t wait for him to mature

    two situation in 3 matches(i’m talking about crosses – Arsenal and Besiktas ) – add that Chelsea fuck up and at least one punch against City that I remember , that could have been easily caught, and ask yourself has he improved ?- it’s a pretty big ratio of mistakes in a small number of matches – remember who was to blame for that Sunderland equalizer last season ( when Macheda scored ) – who failed to deal with the cross that allowed jones to score ? i think that was maybe the last match he played for us before charity shield – so basically it proves that he hasn’t improved on that problem – maybe he’s improved on his positioning or something else, i dunno i havent’ noticed – but he hasn’t done anything to sort out or to improve on his biggest flaw

    he IS an EPL quality ,no one denies that but that’s not to say he’s UTD quality

    being solid for watford doesn’t mean you’re perfect for UTD

    again people – please don’t say that VDS makes mistake coz VDS has already made a name for himself and had he been so shaky and unrelaible when being 26 he wouldnt be the VDS of today..besides everyone makes mistakes but it’s the least numbers of them that makes you a special goalie – and foster’s ratio is pretty big so far

    he’s in howard league and that’s not enough

  5. cantona7 says:

    @CRooney i like your last line. He is in Howard’s league and if Howard was not enough, then Foster is too. Howard is only 30, he was sold to Everton when he was 27 if i’m not mistaken. And Foster is 26 now. This is last season for him to prove his credentials.

  6. CROoney says:

    btw – i didn’t even want to read the entire soon as i saw “good judgement when to punch and when to get a cross ” i stopped…ffs it’s his greatest flaw – he always punches it and when he doesn’t he drops it ( besiktas, arsenal ) – how about staying at his line against crouch – harry knew that i think, that’s why he played peter

  7. King Eric says:

    Raj – What is up with Evans?

  8. CROoney says:

    what ? he is due to play tomorrow —-with wes brown partnering him – grrrrrrrr

  9. King Eric says:

    CROoney – No mate I meant to Raj, how come he doesn’t rate Evans as he said we need to buy someone to partner Vida!

  10. ji says:

    I think everything what was to be said about Foster was said, and only time will tell us what will happen.

    At the end of the day I went currently to page 2 of the blog played goal of Owen.

    Incredible goal, watching it again made me think about the excitement it brought me during the game and that huge smile on my face seeing owen running in our shirt with number seven.

    That moment was out of universe. Awsome.

    Good night, and till next debate.

  11. CROoney says:

    oh – i’d play evans anytime before wes ! let’s just wait and see in what he tunrs up – wes was highly rated CB too

  12. CROoney says:

    *what he turns up into

  13. djbcantona says:

    Well put Scott. He has the talent. The key now is how he responds to – and learns from – mistakes. And the only way he will learn is by palying 1st team games.

  14. CROoney says:

    come on djbcantona – teaching foster to deal with crosses is like teaching park to cross or to go past players – they are not young anymore in terms of teaching new stuff – sure he can gain confidence and stuff but it will always stay a massive hole in his abilities

  15. CROoney says:

    king Eric – didn’t i tell you about Wes ! crappy blunder prone CB

  16. CROoney says:

    i said on another article how i think wes is blunder prone crappy CB and a great RB

  17. Snoopy says:

    I think Ben was inexperience on first team football….
    Hope Ben to work hards and gain more confidence.

  18. Stevecoppelljr says:

    Ben Foster is not good enough for Man U. Kuszczak is more reliable &consistent.For those saves Foster has made,others could do that as well.Just look at the stats,Foster is not even top 10 in the EPL..and for those mistakes he made..he’s among the worst keeper..stats wont lie..that always remind me the terrible mistake he made against Malaysia in the pre-season (3:48)..really terrible..worse than the 1 against Man City.We need a world class goalie ASAP!

  19. DickCurvy68 says:

    Sell him..we cannot take any more risk to “give him more time”…we are not Wigan or Fulham..we can’t afford to lose titles…his lacking of confidence will affect the the entire team’s spirit..also, he is slow (let’s be honest!)…even Howard was much better..I don’t know why Sir Alex still played him..I think Capello has seen enough..I know, he’s English…and I, as a United fan for many years since Gary Bailey was our goalkeeper, I always wanted Foster to do well and play for England in the World Cup 2010..but let’s be honest..he is just not good enough for Man United..what CROoney Said was right..and after I saw how he dealt with the Sunderland’s 2nd goal…that’s it…sell him!


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