Foster's game of patience runs out

With the World Cup finals a year away, the United reserve keeper tells Jason Burt he is approaching the point of no return at Old Trafford
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The Independent Football

Ben Foster has admitted that he may have to leave Manchester United next season if he is to remain a part of England's World Cup plans. The goalkeeper has been offered a new deal – he has one season left on his current contract – at Old Trafford and is set to start the campaign as understudy to Edwin van der Sar.

If that state of affairs continues, Foster, who is 26 next week, has revealed he will have a difficult decision to make. "You do have to be playing," he said when asked about staying in Fabio Capello's England squad following his call-up this week. "You can't expect to go to the biggest competition in the world not playing regular football. I don't know what the future holds, the next year or so, but I've got to give it my all really, haven't I?

"It's a balancing act. I've got no desire to move away from Manchester United. I love the club. It's a brilliant team to be at. But, on the other hand, I've got ambitions. I want to do things in my career. I'm not happy just to sit around and be the No 2 goalkeeper. So I'll see what happens. It's a bit of a fine line. I'm at Manchester United. I want to be at Manchester United for as long as I can be. But there comes a moment when I do want to be playing also."

Should Foster still be behind Van der Sar by Christmas – he will start next season ahead of Tomasz Kuszczak as the Dutchman's recognised stand-in – he may have to have a difficult conversation with Sir Alex Ferguson. "Edwin kept 14 [consecutive] clean sheets [in the Premier League]," Foster said of the task he faces. "You can't really go knocking on the manager's door when the goalkeeper in front of you is doing that."

Ferguson will also, no doubt, point out that Van der Sar, who is to be offered a one-year contract extension himself, is 39 in October and it could well be that next season is the one in which his recognition as the undisputed first choice at United is challenged. Foster is also, finally, after a catalogue of setbacks which has included two serious knee injuries and, even this season, a twisted ankle and broken thumb, injury-free.

It is why, after his fine, assured display in the Carling Cup final against Tottenham Hotspur this month – where he excelled, not least in the penalty shoot-out, with the aid of that iPod of course – that Capello has called him into his squad for Saturday's friendly against Slovakia and next Wednesday's World Cup qualifier at home to Ukraine alongside David James, who is actually almost three months older than Van der Sar and will be approaching 40 by next summer's World Cup, and Robert Green.

There is a strong likelihood that Foster, who earned his only England cap to date two years ago, will feature on Saturday. If he is also used by United for the forthcoming FA Cup semi-final against Everton, which is likely, and they win through to the final, then it could be that the goalkeeper will make more appearances at Wembley this season than at Old Trafford. So far, at United's home, he has played just three times – twice in the Carling Cup and once in the FA Cup, making six appearances in all.

Capello has long admired Foster and quickly earmarked him, and Manchester City's Joe Hart, as the future of England goalkeeping when he was appointed manager last year. Indeed, the Italian would have selected Foster for England's summer matches last year had he played in the league match against Bolton Wanderers in March. It followed Foster's only appearance of the season, against Derby County four days earlier, and Capello travelled to Old Trafford in the hope of seeing him in action. Instead, perhaps perversely, Kuszczak played, and Foster was on the bench.

"I've got to break into the United team first, that's a major priority for me," Foster said. "Then it will be easier for me to force my way into the England team as well. I'm up for the job. I don't think playing for United guarantees you a spot for England, but it certainly is proving a tough job for me to get into the United squad at the moment."

Understandably, Foster concedes that his club career has not yet got going since his £1m move from Stoke City in 2005, when he was immediately sent on loan for Watford and ended up playing two seasons for the club, including helping them gain promotion to the Premier League and then attempt, unsuccessfully, to fight off relegation. "It was pretty much backs to the wall in each game," Foster said.

So does he envisage having to go on loan again to keep himself in the running for an England call-up? "It was up to Sir Alex Ferguson that I spent this season at United," Foster said. "A loan move was never really a question, to be honest. I think I'm good enough to play for Manchester United. I don't really let things faze me too much. It's Man United, isn't it? The best team in the world. You've got to be up to the job. I'm sure that if and when I get my chance, if I'm not doing the job then I'm going to be taken out. I train with the best players in the world day in, day out and I hold my own."

With his 26th birthday approaching, is Foster concerned that the clock is ticking on his career? After all, he is only a year younger than Liverpool's Pepe Reina and Petr Cech, of Chelsea. "Reina and Cech are a similar age and have a vast amount more experience than me," Foster conceded. "As a goalkeeper I'm 25 and not particularly young, but I'm hoping to have another decade or longer in the game.

"I never really expected to be involved with the England squad [right now] anyway. Obviously, I was thinking further on, when I do get to play regular football, then it would be nice to get some recognition, like a call-up. But just to get this call-up, off the back of the Carling Cup final, is a massive boost. A big moment."

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