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Monday, 16 November 2009

Could Tottenham offer a way out for Man United's goalkeeper friction?

Goalkeeper is a tough position for all sorts of reasons; outfield players can get some time on the pitch as substitutes or out of position. But for goalkeepers only games started really count. The friction between Manchester United's goalkeepers is getting to be a bit more public than is usual at Old Trafford - Sir Alex Ferguson rarely allows even his elite players to sound off - witness Roy Keane's ending - so when two of United's three international goalkeepers start complaining then something will give.

Many goalkeepers in the English top flight have struggled at the biggest clubs - only to become regulars with strong international careers elsewhere so with Tottenham's goalkeeping situation suddenly in flux following Carlo Cudicini's accident they will certainly be in the market for a goalkeeper in January. David James is suffering from a persistent knee injury and is within the last couple of years of his career in any event so he may make a good stopgap - but little more. Ben Foster and Tomasz Kuszczak are in their mid-twenties and both would offer serious competition to Heurelho Gomes, perhaps displacing him.

Chris Kirkland at Wigan, David James at Portsmouth and Brad Friedel at Aston Villa were unable to make it at Liverpool; Tim Howard at Everton struggled at Man United; even Carlo Cudicini was replaced as Chelsea number one in his twenties. So it will not be a surprise if neither Tomasz Kuszczak or Ben Foster succeed at United - but make a successful Premier League switch subsequently.

At the start of the month a widely reprinted MUTV interview with Tomasz Kuszczak suggested that there were tensions between Kuszczak and Edwin van der Sar:

"I must say this, Edwin doesn't help me. Maybe he doesn't like me ... I hope the best is to come as I've not played too much over the last three years. The question is how long do you want to wait? I try every day, it's a slow process, it's not so easy."

Hardly Keane-o-gate; but still the implied statement is: "when is the big Dutchman going to retire - I'm sick of hanging around".

In the last day or two Ben Foster has made similar comments in the aftermath of being England's goalkeeper against Brazil:

"It's very disheartening not even to be on the bench, but I can't go saying 'I want to leave' or anything like that ... it is everything for a footballer to go to the World Cup but I can't go saying 'I want to leave' or anything like that, I have just got to see what happens."

Both Kuszczak and Foster can see that the goalkeepers jersey at Old Trafford is about to become vacant, and it is interesting that Edwin van der Sar's only moderate form since regaining his place has not had nearly the same amount of scrutiny that the handful of mistakes that Foster made in his stint. Whether either will actually get a shot at it is debateable however with rumours of informal approaches for a bunch of elite European 'keepers circulating.

There is not much to choose between the two men, both are superb shot stoppers, Kuszczcak is a more natural puncher - whereas Foster has the confidence to try to catch crosses, even if it sometimes misplaced. Foster is better with his feet - especially his left - whereas United defenders are rarely confident of a back pass under pressure to Kuzsczak. Both have good experience in the Premier League, Kuszczak spent a season as West Brom's keeper in the top flight (before moving to United) and Foster a season at Watford (on loan); Foster has 4 international caps and Kuszczak 6 - so neither are novices in big games either.

But for this season I reckon that either Foster or Kuszczak will leave in January on loan; the choice of FA Cup goalkeeper is likely to decide the argument. To keep someone happy Ferguson will probably not pick van der Sar in the first week of January - with the loser likely to be available for a loan move, possibly with a view to a permanent switch.

For my money Foster is a better prospect but Kuszczak may be more prepared to be a long term number two - so if Foster is allowed to leave it probably points to a big money signing; and if Kuszczak goes it could be to allow Foster an unimpeded run at the position. Either way Spurs could be the beneficiaries of this friction.

Goalkeeper Stats 2009/10

Ben Foster (age 26)
Man United: 10 games (8 League, 1 CL, 1 League Cup), goals conceded 8, clean sheets 5
England: 2 games (1 qualifier, 1 friendly), goals conceded 1, clean sheets 1

Edwin van der Sar (age 39)
Man United: 6 games (4 League, 2 CL), goals conceded 7, clean sheets 2

Tomasz Kuszczak (age 27)
Man United: 2 games (1 CL, 1 League Cup), goals conceded 1, clean sheets 1

* Who do you think Spurs will sign as goalkeeping cover in January, as Cudicini is unlikely to play again this season. James, Foster, Kuszczak - or someone else? We'd love to hear from you.

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