England go Green to solve keeper problem
Fabio Capello's goalkeeper problem deepened last night when Manchester United's Ben Foster was withdrawn from the England squad with a knee problem that makes Robert Green the lead contender to start tomorrow's friendly against the Netherlands.
The England manager can console himself with the thought that his circumstances are not as bad as those of Sir Alex Ferguson — he is now without his first and second choice goalkeepers for the start of the season — but there is a problem for England.
Foster was unconvincing against Chelsea in the Community Shield on Sunday and he will miss his chance to redeem himself in Amsterdam.
It had been Capello's plan to start the match with Foster tomorrow before he watched the 26-year-old's shaky performance at Wembley, although Foster offered him plenty of reasons why he might wish to revise that decision.
The knee injury that Foster suffered on Sunday was thought to have been picked up when he collided with Didier Drogba and failed to punch clear in the build-up to Chelsea's first goal.
However, it is the wider picture that will trouble Capello. The goalkeeper's role is the nagging doubt in a team that is starting to come together. For years it was the left side that baffled England managers, then it was sorting out Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard and now it is the goalkeeper. And that position can undermine the whole project.
Capello's first choice, David James, is 39 and still recovering from a shoulder operation in June. By the time the World Cup finals come around next June, James will be two months short of his 40th birthday and — unless he can engineer a move out of Portsmouth — potentially having endured the most demoralising season imaginable for a goalkeeper.
James would be England's first choice if Capello had to play a World Cup tomorrow, although the Italian has never made much secret of the fact that he would like another option. In trying to find another he has barely had a chance to see Foster who has only started once for England, against Spain in February 2007 under Steve McClaren, and has had so many injuries that he has been restricted to one cap under Capello.
There is no telling how long James might be able to go on but at his advanced age there is the potential for rapid decline. Ideally he would like a move away from Portsmouth but on his wages and the level of club he would hope for in the Premier League, there is no demand for goalkeepers.
Green did a perfectly good job against the low-level opposition whom England faced in June but there seems an unwillingness among Capello and his staff to believe that the 29-year-old could be a first-choice international goalkeeper. Green attracts great loyalty from West Ham fans, but it is among the England staff that doubts persist.
The fear is that if there was a goalkeeper good enough to usurp James, he would have done so long ago. Joe Hart, on loan at Birmingham City this season, was called up to the squad yesterday to replace Foster but he has not made the great progress once expected of him. Scott Carson's reputation might never recover from the disastrous night against Croatia in November 2007. Paul Robinson is not a serious option.
That is why such store was put in Foster and the longer he was injured with ruptured cruciate ligaments and broken fingers, so his reputation grew: here was a relatively young English goalkeeper good enough to have been signed by Manchester United. Now that Foster has played for United a few times it would be absurd to write him off completely because of that poor showing on Sunday but, to put oneself in Capello's shoes, it was not the performance of a goalkeeper that is too good to be ignored. Now there is the concern that Foster may well be injury-prone rather than just unlucky.