After two seasons on loan, Fraser Forster is now a permanent fixture in the Celtic team and has just managed the seemingly impossible: being called up to the England squad while playing in the Scottish league. Eyebrows will no doubt be raised south of the border, but Celtic fans would tell you the Geordie Giant is an obvious choice. Either way, he’s come a long way from being Newcastle’s third choice. John Clarke gives us the lowdown.
How Did He Get Here?
When Forster arrived at Parkhead he was raw. He’d had a successful loan spell at Norwich in the lower divisions and that was about the extent of his first-team experience. Upon the departure of Celtic’s ‘Holy Goalie’ Artur Boruc, Forster was brought in on loan to vie with Lukasz Zaluska for the No 1 jersey and ended up in pole position largely because of Zaluska’s failure to impress when opportunity knocked.
Filling Boruc’s gloves was always going to be a big ask and Forster wasn’t an overnight success. He was accepted by the fans but ‘a bit better than Zaluska’ is hardly the most glowing of commendations. He was prone to the odd clanger and his lack of desire to come off his line and dominate the box did nothing to calm the nerves of a Celtic defence that didn’t exactly ooze confidence and authority. Still, his ability as a shot-stopper was already clear.
More than a few league points were salvaged by him bailing a still-shaky back four out of trouble with unbelievable one-on-one saves
By the time he returned for a second loan spell in 2011-12, he had clearly improved. His concentration was better, his kicking was more convincing and the howlers were fewer and further between. He would go onto become a key part of Neil Lennon’s title-winning side and more than a few league points were salvaged by him bailing a still-shaky back four out of trouble with unbelievable one-on-one saves. It was at this stage that people started to whisper the words ‘England squad’ under their breath.
Is He Better Than The Competition?
Celtic boss Neil Lennon moved heaven and earth to get Forster to the club on a permanent basis and has always had immense faith in him. In fact, Lennon has been the main cheerleader in the ‘Forster for England’ campaign. Another Celtic legend Paul Lambert was his manager at Norwich, where he was player of the year, and the former Hoops skipper has also lavished praise on him. When the first calls for Forster to be picked for England began it was perhaps premature, but now he is much closer to being the finished article. His training regime and desire to improve are well-documented. Among other things, he practices yoga to improve his strength and flexibility. This season he has shown a greater will to command his area, coming out to catch or punch with increasing confidence and regularity. When he gets the hang of this, the last rough edges will have been knocked off his game.
With no disrespect to Jack Butland or David Stockdale, he has been playing first-team football for longer and at a higher level, including the Europa and Champions Leagues and that experience has been telling in his improvement. John Ruddy is a decent enough goalkeeper, but has he really been the difference between victory and defeat as many times as Forster? Probably not.
You’d put money on Forster in a one-on-one situation and now that the rest of his game is starting to catch up, all the signs are there that he’s becoming a top-class goalie. England’s goalkeeping coach Ray Clemence last watched him in the Champions League against Benfica, where he saved the day more than once. His selection for the squad shows Clemence was satisfied that he can handle the big occasion. Joe Hart is rightfully England’s No1, but the time is just about right for the man from Hexham to make his way into the squad.
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