England manager Roy Hodgson made a stark point with the squad he selected for the visit of Brazil earlier this month. By selecting only two goalkeepers he enabled himself to keep an extra outfield player happy but he also inflicted a clear vote of no confidence in the collective strength in depth of England’s goalkeeping.
Joe Hart and Jack Butland were the goalkeepers named last time out, while Fraser Forster has stepped into the fray as third choice during John Ruddy’s lengthy and ongoing spell on the sidelines through injury. Hart is the obvious first choice, give or take the odd wobble, and Butland is considered to be the man for the future.
Beyond that, Hodgson is hardly over-endowed with options. Forster has found his form since going to Scotland to play for Celtic, a switch that has also afforded him UEFA Champions League football – this season, he’s playing for a team that has progressed further than Hart and Manchester City – but has no senior international experience.
Up until today that’s where England’s available goalkeeping choices ended. Robert Green isn’t playing first team football and David Stockdale (out on loan once again) is yet to get a firm grip of the number one shirt at Fulham.
But even when Ruddy was fit, Hodgson made it clear that the door would be held open for Ben Foster. The former Manchester United goalkeeper retired from international football in 2011 reportedly turned down an opportunity to head to Poland and Ukraine as part of the squad for UEFA Euro 2012.
He cited injury problems upon his initial retirement, but he was hardly a key part of the England set-up and the injuries that forced him out of contention certainly haven’t hindered him since – perhaps that vindicates his decision, because he’s been in excellent form for West Bromwich Albion this season and it has certainly not gone unrecognised.
On merit this is a boost for England. Foster is very probably the second best (if not the best) English goalkeeper on form alone, and is achieving that level in the Premier League. Albion supporters rave about him and he’s looked the part in the handful of appearances I’ve seen him in this season. Perhaps most importantly, he is making big saves in important matches and his reputation is as good now as it’s been at any point in his career.
The downside: I’m not a big fan of players who retire from international football and then agree to come back. The potential return of Paul Scholes was something I found difficult to make peace with as a supporter despite the almost undisputed fact that he’s one of the best players England has produced for decades.
Does Foster’s availability make England better? Of course it does. The real question is whether the opportunity should be open to him in the first place.
(Photo credit: Ronnie Macdonald via Flickr)
Are you an England supporter? You can join our Google+ Community.