Ben FosterNobody could have predicted the difficulty United would have had in finding a stable goalkeeper since Peter Schmeichel’s departure at the end of the Treble winning season. From van der Gouw to Bosnich, Taibi to Bathez, Howard to Carroll, United have seen many a costly mistake from our men between the posts, with it appearing as though we’d never find someone suitable to fill the gap left by the Great Dane.

Fabian Barthez was the first keeper to show any real sign of promise, after having a great debut season with United when joining at the start of the 2000-2001 season. The fans loved his eccentric nature and his shot stopping ability.

Following his first season, feelings on the keeper were mixed. He made more and more costly mistakes which appeared to be avoidable if not for him clowning around. What was once a source of great entertainment for United fans turned to frustration. From this point on, his form was very up and down, showing signs of his former greatness at times, which was then counterbalanced by silly mistakes at crucial times. Sir Alex Ferguson’s patience ran out following that epic European Cup quarter final against Real Madrid in 2003, where we were knocked out by goal difference despite winning the game at Old Trafford 4-3. Barthez was dropped for the remaining games of the season with Roy Carroll taking his place.

Tim Howard was the next keeper who seemed able to take on the pressure of replacing Peter Schmeichel, joining United at the start of the 2003-2004 season. In his debut, he saved the crucial penalty in the shoot out of the Community Shield against Arsenal and seemed to have a promising future. He had a great first season for United and was named PFA Goalkeeper of the season, ahead of Chelsea’s Carlo Cudicini and Arsenal’s Jens Lehmann in their unbeaten season. However, it was towards the close of that season that Howard made a costly error in United’s Champions League match against Jose Mourinho’s Porto. United fans will remember this game for the linesman’s decision to wrongly rule out Scholes’ second of the game, which would have put us 2-0 up, and Mourinho’s dance when the injury time equaliser hit the back of the net. Howard’s confidence was shattered and was replaced for the last month of the season with Roy Carroll. However, Howard got his place back for United’s victorious FA Cup final and became the first American to collect a winner’s medal in the competition. His decline had already started though and he shared the following season with Carroll, both making costly errors every few months and finding themselves swapping their starting place for the bench each time this happened.

Edwin Van der Sar has been our most reliable keeper since Schmeichel, joining the club in the summer of 2005, some six years after he should have signed for us, but instead went to Juventus, then Fulham. What a different few years United might have had if Van der Sar had taken over from Schmeichel the season after the Dane left. Upon signing a recent contract renewal with the club, Fergie spoke of his regret for not signing the Dutch keeper sooner. “Edwin has been with us for three seasons now and when I bought him I knew he was going to be one of my best buys,” he said. “I should have done it years ago when I had the chance but I let it slip through my fingers.”

Ben Foster made his debut for United against Derby this weekend, being drafted in to the first team sooner than expected following an injury to Van der Sar and suspension for Kuszczak. He played a blinder, making two excellent first half saves, justifying the praise he’s been given over the past few seasons by United fans.

Ferguson has today boldly claimed we have the future England number one on our books.

“It was an excellent performance,” said Fergie. “In his debut in a competitive game for United, he showed what England are going to enjoy for the next 10 years. I think he’ll be England’s goalkeeper without question. He has absolutely outstanding potential and he’s young. He’s not had a lot of football, and today he showed two great saves, his distribution, his speed off the line and it was really a first class performance.”

Whilst certainly impressive, Foster’s chance has seemingly come too late in the season. With European Cup quarter finals to play in, as well as the crucial nine league games remaining this season, the experience and familiarity of Van der Sar should be relied on until May. Foster himself has admitted he is likely to be loaned out for the remainder of the season, but hopes to be starting next season. Following years of uncertainty from our goalkeepers after Schmeichel left, Foster looks promising enough to do the job for United in the future.

Will Foster be our number one from the start of next season?