From a seemingly innocuous moment at Everton’s Goodison Park back in August, England’s Ben Foster has been sidelined and has, quite literally, just had to put his feet up. One foot anyway.
By Dave Bowler
Presumably that’s the one foot that already seemed to be in Brazil next summer, the goal for a host of footballers in these coming months if their national side has qualified. Having returned to the England fold and played again under Roy Hodgson, it seemed that Foster was all but on the plane to South America alongside Joe Hart, the only question being over who would be England’s third goalkeeper.
Life though is rarely that simple and Foster’s season, and England’s defensive plans, have been thrown into sharp relief by Ben’s absence from the firing line. Let’s start at the very beginning. How on earth did such a serious injury come from out of nothing?
“It was the most bizarre thing, nothing happened, I just went to run, literally it was as simple as that! I didn’t push off extra hard, I just went to run out and scoop a ball up and I just felt a click in my foot. That was it. There’s a small bone there that takes most of the weight when you walk forward, and it snapped. Evolution, it’s not up to much really! When you look at that and how fragile your back is, evolution needs to get back to the drawing board and fix it up better!
“It has been extremely frustrating, I can’t tell you! I had the operation on my foot about a week after it happened at Everton, so it’s up at 12 weeks now since then. The worst of it was, I did so much work this summer as preparation. I was so looking forward to getting going again this season, and then you play less than two games and you’re stuck on the sidelines for three months!
“I literally spent my whole summer working out in the gym, playing tennis, getting fit. My body fat was so low and I was in probably the fittest shape of my life. So for something that wasn’t even a collision, an accident, virtually nothing, just running like you do all the time, something I’d already done a thousand times that day, for that to knock you out of the game and the team, it was incredible. It’s not even as if I wear those lightweight boots, honestly! I was wearing the Nike CTR boots, they’ve probably got the most support out of all of them, it was just a super freak kind of accident.
“For the rehab and getting back to playing, it’s one of those where you can’t push it, you mainly just have to let nature take its course after the operation. You can’t mess about with it and try to hurry it back or you’ll just have the same problem again.
“If you don’t get it right the first time, you can be looking at a much longer period out, so I just have to be patient, get it right and live with the frustration”.
When the injury happened, just two games into what was a slightly sluggish start to the season, for West Brom fans everywhere, it seemed as if it was the end of the world if you lose Foster for a prolonged period. As it’s turned out, a couple of his colleagues have ensured that on matchday at least, he hasn’t been missed – sorry Ben.
“The only positives on the day at Everton were that we got a good result, which was the biggest thing, but that Luke Daniels came on and played as well. I was so pleased for him because he gets so much grief from the rest of the lads for having been here so long without playing.
“We still call him the Junior Baggie! It was great to see him get his chance and to play so well in that game and the League Cup matches, not that it’s any surprise because we all know what a good goalkeeper he is.
“Even in pre-season, Luke was on fire, playing so well, so there won’t have been any worries about him coming on and playing. Luke’s just never had that bit of a lucky break while he’s been here, where he’s had a chance to get a little run in the team, which is unfortunate for him.
“But he’s played a couple of good games now against good opposition like Everton and Arsenal in the cup, and he’s shown people what he can do. He’s done himself no harm at all. I hope he’s grateful for the chance my foot gave him!
“In the league, Boaz Myhill has that bit more experience behind him which is important at a club like this at the level we are playing at. He’s come in and he has been fantastic, he’s performed so well and the results have underlined that. He’s done a brilliant job. He did the same last season when I had that hernia problem, he just comes in and gets on with it.
“He is so laid back, has just such a great temperament and when he gets his opportunity, it doesn’t faze him, he just plays and does a great job. Also, he is great to work with on a day to day level, he’s one of my best friends at the club. I’m so happy for him that it’s gone well, and I think that runs through the club because he is such a good lad.
“The big question once I’m fit is getting back in the team – I might have to lock him in a room or something! Everybody’s been saying, ‘Great, you’ve got the World Cup in the summer!’
“And I’m thinking hang on, I need to get my foot better first and then I’ve somehow got to get past Bo and get back in the team, and then I’ve got to play well once I’ve done that. It’s not all that straightforward to be honest.
“Funny enough, it’s great for me that Bo is playing so well because it takes all the pressure off me to get fit. I don’t need to rush back, I can take my time and make sure it is properly healed because, as I say, this is a tricky injury and you have to be confident it is fixed.
“You have got to get it right and you have to get it right first time, otherwise there could be all kinds of consequences. But with Bo doing as well as he is, I don’t have to rush back.
“What you have to do is get your head around being out. I do try to keep up with the games if I’m ever out injured, I always like to come to The Hawthorns and watch the lads play because they’re my mates, but I do find it frustrating not being able to get out there and play.
“You just have to accept it, there isn’t a lot I can do about it, I’ve just got to bide my time, suck it up and wait until I can start to challenge for a place again.
“Even when we won at Manchester United, people were calling up and saying, “I bet you’re gutted you weren’t playing!” But truthfully, it didn’t bother me. I knew I couldn’t play again until getting on towards the end of the year. I knew I wasn’t going to be involved in that game, so I was just pleased that we won.
“Early on, just after I had the operation on my foot, there was nothing I could do as rehab so the gaffer let me have five days away just to get my head clear really. Turned out that sending me away messed up the annual club photoshoot!
“Not my fault, honest! But it was valuable because a lot of the struggle is a mental one, firstly the disappointment of getting the injury and knowing you are out of the team, but then coping with the boredom. It becomes groundhog day, just the same thing all the time.
“When you are used to going out and training every day, when you are in the dressing room, when every day is something different, it comes as a massive shock to be away from that. Even when you get back in the gym, I was super limited as to what I could do, so it does get a bit soul destroying at times.
“It is just so boring, so I’m lucky I have the family to keep me from getting too locked into that. The kids are all over you at home anyway, so that keeps you busy. You just have to deal with it don’t you, there’s no other option!
“For eight weeks, I wasn’t allowed to put my foot down at all, no pressure whatsoever, so I was on crutches for two months. That was horrific, really miserable honestly! Then I started to be able to do a bit of CV work and then as we got into November, it started to progress. I saw the surgeon right at the end of last month, he looked at the scans I’d had done, and he was very happy with how it was progressing.
“But in terms of fitness work while I’ve been off, it has been difficult. I’ve been able to use the bikes in the gym, I’ve had plenty of biking sessions, but even that didn’t really start until getting into October. I’ve been doing weights as well, it is amazing the stuff they can come up with to keep you fit in the gym – it’s sickening!
“Some of the upper body cardiovascular sessions are brutal. Imagine you do 40 press ups, then straight away you are on to 10 pull ups, then more press ups, stuff like that, constantly for 20 minutes, you’re nearly sick at the end of it, it is horrible.
“Dean Kiely, our goalkeeping coach, has been great, though of course he never got injured when he was playing! I haven’t really seen that much of him until very recently because I was getting in early, before the lads, doing the gym work, swimming, whatever it was they had set up for me, and then getting off before they came back in. But I have a bit of a handling session twice a week with Dean, where I’m literally just sat down on a wooden block and he’s larruping balls at me for 10 or 15 minutes, just to keep my hands in.
“I had a cruciate injury when I was at Manchester United a few years ago where I was out for pretty nearly a year, but this is a worse injury than that one, not necessarily in terms of severity, but just for the rehab really.
“At least with your cruciate, they are encouraging you to move, to get walking on it and to start doing exercise to get the area strong as soon as they can after the operation. With this one, I literally had to leave my foot up for eight weeks and so all the muscles waste, the calf, the quad, the hamstring, they waste away – I’d got like a chicken leg!”
With Ben’s injury right at the start of it all, this is turning out to be a season all about goalkeepers in the Premier League, including goalscoring ones, something he knows all too much about.
“When Begovic scored that goal, as soon as it went in I got texts from loads of people – it brought back a few horrible memories for me from when Paul Robinson scored past me for Spurs when I was at Watford. It’s just one of those freak incidents, but it does happen from time to time. It was the worst feeling in the world, I tell you!
“At least it wasn’t in the first 10 seconds of the game so I didn’t have to stand there for 90 minutes thinking about it, but it was still brutal. It’s just a feeling of absolute worthlessness! It’s embarrassing for both goalies to be fair. Fair play to Begovic, he didn’t celebrate, because he knows on another day, it could have been him. It’s always windy at Stoke with those corners open!”
The biggest saga of them all though has surrounded England and Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart, criticised by all and sundry for a handful of handling errors, then left out of the team by Manchester City. Like every other goalkeeper, Ben knows what it’s like.
“I think as goalkeepers, we all feel for Joe Hart and what he’s going through at the minute. It’s hard to know what to say. Honestly, he is one of the best goalkeepers I’ve ever trained with, he is a terrific player, he’s just had a bit of a bad run. But I think people have heard so much of it that it starts to become much more of a story than it really is.
“The ones he has been criticised for mostly haven’t been huge clangers, but when you are England’s number one, that’s what goes with the territory. Everything is under the microscope, one thing leads to another and it just becomes a huge story all of a sudden.
“The bottom line is that he’s a great goalkeeper. If I was his manager, I’d just put a big arm around him, tell him to go on holiday for a couple of weeks, clear his head, relax, and then come back in the team and carry on doing what he’s been doing for the last few years. He is a fantastic goalkeeper. Like they say, class is permanent and Joe is top class. That’s exactly what I would do, but then again, I’m not a manager!”
Hart’s form and Foster’s injury have thrown English goalkeeping plans up in the air, but as we all know, there’s still a lot of football to be played between now and next June when the World Cup kicks off in Brazil. That said, the lure of being a part of it is getting stronger by the day.
“The chance of being in the England squad and going to a World Cup in Brazil next summer is really exciting, I can’t pretend it isn’t. It’s a huge carrot, I’m buzzing at the thought of it, but there’s so much for me to do between now and then, just in terms of fitness, getting back in the side, playing well if I do. When the lads qualified last month, it was a great feeling, but I really can’t let myself think about any of that at all at the moment. My foot needs to heal, I need to play, then we can think about England”.