Capello shocked as Foster takes England 'break'

Birmingham goalkeeper criticised for decision which could cause problems due to lack of back-up for Hart
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Ben Foster's announcement yesterday that he is taking a break from international football came as a complete shock to the England manager, Fabio Capello, who only last week had asked the Birmingham City goalkeeper to delay an operation to ensure he would be fit to face Switzerland next month.

The first Capello knew of Foster's decision was when the news was announced on the Birmingham website yesterday morning. Up to that moment the Italian had fully expected to name the 28-year-old goalkeeper in his squad to face the Swiss in a Euro 2012 qualifier at Wembley on 4 June, as understudy to his first-choice goalkeeper, Joe Hart of Manchester City.

Capello's assistant Franco Baldini spoke to Foster last week to check on his fitness. The goalkeeper is in line to to repair ligament damage to a thumb at the end of the season which is likely to keep him out for six weeks and Baldini wanted to ensure the operation would be delayed until after the Switzerland game. It is understood that at no time during the conversation did Foster intimate he was considering taking an indefinite break from international football.

However, since that phone call Foster, who has five caps, has chosen to exclude himself from England selection, claiming that playing 41 games for Birmingham this season "really takes it out of your body". He is concerned at the number of injuries he is picking up and has pulled out of several England squads with various injuries in the past, most recently in March when he withdrew ahead of the Euro 2012 qualifier with Wales complaining of a throat infection.

In a statement Foster said: "Performing at the highest level game in, game out and particularly when there's been as many matches as there have been this season really takes it out of your body. It's no secret that I've had a few niggling injuries and that I've had to pull out of the past few England squads because of that. I've spoken to the management team and coaches here at Blues and told them what I want to do but it's also very important that I say just how much I have loved playing for England and being part of the set-up.

"I've enjoyed my time with England and am certainly not closing a door on the international side of things forever but this is the right thing for me to do right now in terms of club football. Inevitably every time I've had the opportunity to give my body a rest there has been an international fixture and the demands that come with that."

It is also understood Foster, who joined Birmingham last summer from Manchester United for £6m, does not relish being put under the spotlight with England and was upset over criticism of his last appearance, November's 2-1 defeat to France. He prefers playing for Birmingham more than he did at United and questions have been raised about the level of his ambition.

He might reassess things in the future but his announcement leaves the national side worringly thin on goalkeepers. Hart has cemented his place as Capello's No 1 this season, but he has just 10 caps to his name and behind him there are few options.

West Ham United's Robert Green has not appeared for England since he allowed Clint Dempsey's shot to slip under his body against the United States at the World Cup last June in his 11th game for his country. There have been reports that Green was also considering his England future, but that situation might now change with Foster's announcement.

The other alternatives are Scott Carson of West Bromwich Albion, who has three caps, plus the trio of David Stockdale, who is Fulham's reserve goalkeeper, Scott Loach of Watford and veteran David James, who is still playing for Bristol City at the age of 40.

Blackburn's Paul Robinson retired from England duty when he missed out on the preliminary World Cup squad last year.

James, who won the last of his 53 England caps in the 4-1 defeat to Germany in the World Cup last year, yesterday described Foster's decision as "foolish". The former Liverpool, Portsmouth and Manchester City goalkeeper said: "I haven't retired yet – 65 goals later in the Championship and I'm still waiting for a call-up," he said. "I wouldn't retire. You work hard enough to be in a position to be called up so it would be foolish in my eyes to give away that opportunity."

England's record appearance maker, Peter Shilton, said: "Sometimes if you are No 2 and you think you're not going to play a lot of games, it's not always the easiest to keep going on, but I don't think that's the case with Ben Foster because he hasn't been No 2 for a long time. If he has made the decision for that reason, it's the wrong one as far as I'm concerned."