Winning at all costs is not for Big Ben
Sunday 27 February 2011
After pioneering goalline technology with a twist in his first Carling Cup final, Ben Foster will do it again if Birmingham City's tussle with Arsenal today ends in a shoot-out. But the image of a goalkeeping geek is at odds with a laid-back approach to his trade and an aversion to the "win-at-all-costs" regime he experienced at Manchester United.
Foster, the one Birmingham player who would get in Arsenal's team, earned a winner's medal and was Man of the Match for United against Tottenham in 2009. Then, he studied footage of spot-kicks by Spurs on an iPod before saving Jamie O'Hara's penalty. Now he has upgraded to an iPad, although the England keeper admits he usually "can't be bothered" even to watch his sport.
Foster says: "I've two kids, aged two and one, and that takes up my time. I've never been a big watcher. I just can't be bothered. Not that I don't enjoy it. I've just never been too interested. I enjoy playing – and that's it."
The same relaxed philosophy informs the 27-year-old Midlander's view on a five-year stay at Old Trafford interrupted by loan moves and stop-start stints as first choice. "It was win at all costs," he says. "It's the end of the world if you draw. If you don't perform amazingly, everyone seemed to think: 'They should be pumping teams 5-0.' It was very intense. Even in practice, you'd see tackles flying in and little scuffles all the time. But that's what they are. They carry that on to the pitch on a Saturday.
"It was too much. It gets out of hand. I'm not one of those people who like the celebrity of football. I love playing and going home at the end of it. Once I'm there, I switch off. If I have builders round my house wanting to talk about football, it does my head in. I just want to chill out."
Such attitudes could be interpreted as a lack of ambition but Foster insists he cares as much as the next man, unless that happens to be Gary Neville. "He was a huge win-at-all-costs player. It was everything to him; that's the way he was, it's why he's been so successful. People say to me: 'Wouldn't you like to win this in your career?' Yes, it would be really nice to look back, but in my life that's not the main thing."
Foster's journey from non-League to vying with Joe Hart for England's No 1 spot accelerated when he was playing for Wrexham in the 2005 LDV Vans final. He was spotted by Sir Alex Ferguson. Or rather he spotted Fergie. "I saw him on the big screen," he says. "I thought, 'that's pretty cool'."
Reaching this final, in his first season at St Andrew's, has been "more of an achievement" than with United. Blues are underdogs, yet the weight of expectation on Arsenal fires Foster's hopes. "Everybody thinks in the back of our minds that we're going to do them. We're going to play our style of football, battle and hopefully outfight them to win the game."
Birmingham were heartened by the fallibility Arsenal showed when they surrendered a 4-0 lead at Newcastle. "United would have won that game 6-0 or 7-0," asserts Foster, "whereas with Arsenal, a few little cracks appear, it's all panic."
Nevertheless, in Jack Wilshere he sees a teenage version of Paul Scholes. "The way he's so calm reminds me of him, and Scholesey is a legend."
There is one thing Foster will do differently if he wins. "With United we got straight on the train and were training next day. I think I was alone in thinking we should've celebrated. Everyone else had bought into 'another trophy, move on'. It won't be the same here. God, no. If we win, we'll be celebrating."
The Carling Cup final is on Sky Sports 1 and HD1 today, kick-off 4pm
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