Can Foster and Obertan cut it at United?

By Online Editorial    

With Sir Alex Ferguson preparing to replace Edwin Van der Sar with the relatively untried Ben Foster, Manchester United’s weird summer just got weirder.

Eric Cantona is always considered the signing that began the Manchester United glory era. There’s another school of thought, though, which says the arrival of Peter Schmeichel was more critical.

More recently Cristiano Ronaldo has been the glamour player at Old Trafford. But it was the arrival of Edwin van der Sar which actually shifted the balance of Premier League power back away from Stamford Bridge.

Brian Clough used to say that a good goalkeeper was worth a dozen points a season. There’s another saying that while strikers win you games, goalkeepers win you titles. So it’s curious this morning to learn that Sir Alex Ferguson is preparing to push Ben Foster up the Manchester United pecking order this season.

Van der Sar is in the last season of his contract and Fergie, who has just tied up Foster to a new four-year contract, has been talking about how the young star with a couple of England caps is ready to take over. He’ll get more games this season with the aim of being ready to be undisputed number one by next.

Now there’s no denying that Foster is a goalkeeper of immense promise. But there’s a huge difference between that and being ready to be number one at a club like United. He’s still only 26, and if there’s one thing that experience should have taught Fergie it’s that the man between the sticks needs maturity and – well, experience.

Schmeichel was the rock around which United were built throughout the 1990s. When he moved on World Cup winner Fabien Barthez who helped bring two titles in three seasons. But when for the next three years Fergie cast around for promising keepers with less experience, the trophies dried up.

United finished third in 2004 with Tim Howard, third again in 2005 with Howard and Roy Carroll, but once Van der Sar arrived have been second, then first three years running.

It’s been a curious summer for Old Trafford signings. The £80million departure of Ronaldo was supposed to have been followed by the recruitment of other marquee names to replace him – yet Carlos Tevez has been allowed to leave and so far the replacements have been at the bargain end of the market.

Michael Owen for free looks good business, but there are question marks about young French midfielder Gabriel Obertan who arrived yesterday for £3million.

Certainly former United defender Laurent Blanc, now in charge of Obertan’s club Bordeaux, has his doubts. Blanc has told today’s Daily Star: “He has the potential but he must overcome psychological and mental challenges,” which is hardly a ringing endorsement.

The big fear for United fans is that this is the start of a pattern of money saving by the Glazers who still have a massive debt to service. United are 3.1 favourites to collect another Premier League title, but until they show they are still among the game’s top spenders I’d be more inclined to lay that.

Five things you might not know about Ben Foster:

1. His first senior team Racing Club Warwick get their name because their ground is next to the racecourse

2. Signed by Stoke, he was on loan at Wrexham when Sir Alex Ferguson went to watch son Darren play and first spotted Foster’s talent

3. Sent out to Watford on loan, he was regularly in trouble with goalkeeping coach Alec Chamberlain for arriving with seconds to spare to start training even though he lived only two miles away

4. He turned down lucrative sponsorship offers from both Nike and Adidas to stay loyal to tiny Wakefield based company Sells who sponsored his goalkeeping gloves

5. He ran through footage of Tottenham’s penalty takers on an ipod before helping United win the shoot-out at the end of last season’s Carling Cup final.

Reproduced with permission from © The Sporting Exchange Limited

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