Ben Foster still winces at the memory of the last time he faced Everton.
It was the second game of this season at Goodison Park and after a series of fine saves in front of England manager Roy Hodgson, the West Bromwich Albion goalkeeper felt something suddenly click in his right foot. “I went to push off and run and felt a click and that was it,” he recalled. “I tried to do a side-foot pass across my box and I nearly collapsed. I knew straight away it was serious.”
Foster had suffered a fractured navicular bone, an injury that can be career threatening. Happily he is now back in action and hoping to reassert his World Cup claims when Albion face Everton again at the Hawthorns tomorrow. “I just want to push on now and have a good season with West Brom and then go to the World Cup,” said the 30-year-old.
“If it had happened to an outfield player it’s really touch and go whether you can keep going,” he added, explaining the severity of the injury. “It’s such an important bone and takes so much weight through your foot. I remember the doctor saying if the pin doesn’t take, and the bone doesn’t knit, then you’re looking at fusing the bone together and a year out.”
Foster returned to action in late December with Brazil firmly in his thoughts. He won the first of his six England caps against Spain in February 2007, and after ending a self-imposed two-year international exile last February is eager for the World Cup place that eluded him in 2006 when he was on Sven-Goran Eriksson’s stand-by list. “I’m 30 and I’ve never been to a major tournament. I’ve been fourth-choice and back-up goalkeeper. I remember when I was on loan at Watford and had to come home from holiday to join up with the squad. I was buzzing just to be there. Hopefully it will be my first major tournament and I want to see what it’s all about.”
His immediate task is to impress his new boss, Pepe Mel. The Spaniard, in his official unveiling on Thursday, offered echoes of Julio Geordio, the Spanglish-speaking footballer from the Harry Enfield show, as he told TV reporters: “Fútbol es a language international” – yet he is fast earning his new players’ respect.
“We were told his English wasn’t great, but the first day he gave a full meeting on what he wants to do,” Foster recounted. “To stand up in front of 30 people and speak in a language that is not your native tongue is quite impressive. The lads got up and he almost got a round of applause.”
Mel’s aim is to play a more attacking game, Foster adds. “I would definitely say he wants us to push up a lot higher and start from the front. I am sure his ethos is that the best form of defence is attack.”
Like Foster, Mel has his own unhappy Everton memory – his Real Betis side lost a pre-season friendly there in August – and if Albion are to fare better in his first game in charge, the goalkeeper knows they will have to keep Romelu Lukaku quiet on his Hawthorns return. “It’s just a shame that we couldn’t get him back here,” says Foster of the Belgian forward, whose goals – 17 for Albion last season – have been sorely missed. “We wished him the best when he left because he was a great lad as well as being a great player.
“The fans will give him a really good reception because he did so well for us – he scored a bucket-load of goals and gave his all on the pitch. He’s going to become a monster star and I’m like everyone else, I don’t have a clue why he’s not playing for Chelsea this season.” Football is full of puzzles but Foster’s own motives could not be clearer.
Anelka to learn fate this week
West Bromwich Albion striker Nicolas Anelka will learn the outcome of the FA investigation into his controversial “quenelle” goal celebration within the next 48 hours, writes Simon Hart.
An FA spokesman confirmed that a “substantial update” on the case would come “on Monday or Tuesday”. Albion play Everton tomorrow night and Anelka would be unable to play if the FA pronounce before the game and impose a ban. It is three weeks since Anelka made the gesture – after scoring at West Ham – in support of Dieudonné, a French comedian who has convictions for anti-Semitic remarks.
West Bromwich Albion v Everton is on Sky Sports 1 tomorrow, kick-off 8pm