Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster has finally been called into the England squad. It is a call that is long overdue, well deserved and incredibly exciting. Ever since his penalty save against Hearts last season, the former Newcastle keeper has been nothing short of sensational. With every game he has gained confidence, and he has become easily the best goalkeeper in the Scottish Premier League.
Forster, and Celtic goalkeeping coach Stephen Woods, have ironed out some earlier weaknesses in his decisiveness when crosses came into the box. That improvement, combined with Forster's six foot seven frame and brilliant ability for shot-stopping has earned him an England call-up. It is Forster's success, but the contribution of Woods should not be forgotten. He has also been the subject of praise from Artur Boruc and Lukasz Zaluska, Celtic's other goalkeepers during this tenure. Especially in the goalkeeping department, these coaches can make all the difference. They work solely with one or two players and also have a significant influence on scouting for their chosen position. Forster cited Woods as a major factor in his decision to sign a full-time contract with the Bhoys, and Celtic's decision to recruit Woods for their coaching staff has paid dividends.
Forster probably would not have received a call from England manager Roy Hodgson had it not been for the England under-21 team wanting Jack Butland for a critical play-off match. I am of the belief that Forster should be England's number two goalkeeper. Butland is a keeper of undoubted promise but his rise to prominence is baffling. It is not the quality of the opposition that Butland was playing against when he initially was called up that I object to, but rather a simple question - if he was that talented, why was he not in the Birmingham team? Similarly, Norwich's John Ruddy is a good goalkeeper, but not of the same quality as Forster. Ironically, Forster was replaced by Ruddy as Norwich goalkeeper. Paul Lambert made his admiration of Forster clear, and was open in admitting that he was disappointed to lose him.
Whether Forster is number two, three or four for England, the simple recognition of being in the squad is huge. Every single Celtic player and coach tweeted their congratulations. It was clearly a success not just for one man, but the entire Celtic squad. Additionally, with one swift call, Hodgson has probably tripled Forster's value from the £2 million fee paid to Newcastle.
Forster's benefit is, in all likelihood, to Gary Hooper's detriment. The English striker was Celtic's star man against Spartak Moscow last Tuesday. Hodgson has four strikers that are justifiably ahead of Hooper in Danny Welbeck, Andy Carroll, Jermain Defoe and Wayne Rooney. If one of them gets injured, I still doubt that Hooper will be called up.
An anti-Scottish attitude has been embedded in the English game for far too long. Hodgson may have slightly altered this perception with the Forster call-up, but he would have been wary of the intense criticism he could have been subject to had England failed to win either of these games, given his two 'controversial' picks. Joe Ledley was right to claim that Forster's pick might help bring Hooper into the England squad, but it will take time. Barring an injury, Forster will not make his way off the bench. If Forster is picked for the friendly against Sweden, and impresses in that game, that may help to clear the path for Hooper to be included.
The Celtic striker could also help his chances with a couple of goals in the Nou Camp on the 23 October 2012. Yet it is ridiculous that domestic form alone won't be good enough to get him into the squad. Jay Bothroyd and David Nugent have made it to the squad from the Championship. In fact, Hooper scored more goals in one season in the Championship than £35 million Andy Carroll managed to, and he achieved that while playing for Scunthorpe. Nevertheless, it is only through further Champions League goals that Hooper will be able to break into the squad.
The inclusion of a Scottish-based goalkeeper may also be easier to justify then that of a striker. Goalkeepers are far easier to subjectively compare and analyse, regardless of their league. Shot-stopping, kicking, the number of mistakes made, positioning and so on, can all be demonstrated regardless of the opposition. That's why picking Butland, regardless of his division could be justifiable, but it also simultaneously reinforces my belief that Forster should have been included in the squad far earlier. Conversely, strikers are far more affected by the defences in front of them. Any goals can be attributed to a lack of defensive ability of the opposition. That lack of comparability will mean that Hooper's team will be held against him more than Forster's will be.
This is a buoyant moment both for Celtic and all of Scottish football. As Celtic manager Neil Lennon pointed out, for far too long the Scottish media has talked down our national game. There is plenty of talent north of the border, and hopefully this can be a watershed moment for that particular self-realisation. Even if that does not occur, it is still a personal triumph for Forster. His decision to join Celtic has been vindicated. With England call-ups, Champions League successes and the backing of a superb coach, Forster has the potential to be spoken before the names of Bonner and Boruc, as Celtic's greatest modern goalkeeper.
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