Foster shines as Ferguson wins cup with new talent
Alex Ferguson's lowest priority in Manchester United's chase of five trophies this season was the League Cup, but winning the competition has strengthened the manager's confidence he has the players to maintain the club's current supremacy. No player did more to grab Ferguson's attention than 25-year-old goalkeeper Ben Foster.
Foster conceded just once in the penalty shootout that was required to separate United and Tottenham on Sunday, having been unbeaten in the preceding 120 minutes.
The Englishman's assured display in his first major final _ saving well to block shots from Aaron Lennon and Darren Bent _ was all the more encouraging for United given that this was only his seventh appearance since joining the world champions almost four years ago.
Foster seized the opportunity after Ferguson continued resting Edwin van der Sar in the second-tier knockout competition, despite the fact the 38-year-old Dutchman has not conceded a Premier League goal since November.
Now the 67-year-old Ferguson expects the understudy to be a regular for club and country.
"The future is his," the Scottish manager said. "The present belongs to Edwin van der Sar, that's obvious, but given that experience in a final it only strengthens my belief that Ben will be England's goalkeeper for the next number of years." To reach this stage, Foster had to bide his time during two loan spells at Watford, and layoffs with cruciate knee injuries. "It takes a tremendous amount of sacrifice to get through that and recover to do what he did today," Ferguson said. He was also aided by an innovative approach to the shootout resulting from a meticulous intelligence operation. Anyone who had ever seen Tottenham's squad take penalties was quizzed in advance and videos gathered.
So when Jamie O'Hara took the first Spurs kick, Foster knew to dive to his left to keep it out _ just as the Czech Republic's under-21 goalkeeper had done successfully against England in November.
"We got things to look at over the last couple of days," Foster said. "And me and the goalkeeping coach, Eric Steele, were looking at little iPods just before the penalties were taken. It had video showing where players put the things.
"I've never seen anything like it before _ it's a fantastic tool for us. You saw today it helped us out."
And it helped Foster end a "bit of a nightmare" in his career to date by finally capturing a winners' medal.
Foster benefited from the Ferguson's philosophy that also ensured starting spots were handed to center back Jonny Evans and midfielder Darron Gibson _ both 21 _ along with 18-year-old forward Danny Welbeck after they propelled the team to Wembley. "The manager been very brave," Foster said. "He could've just put the usuals in and it could have been a bit easier for us, but he's kept faith with the young lads all the way through." It's nothing new. The 18-year-old Ryan Giggs was selected for the 1992 League Cup final and won his first medal by setting up Brian McClair for the winner against Nottingham Forest. Over the last 17 years the Welsh winger has become United's most decorated player _ adding to the collection Sunday by scoring in the shootout. Rio Ferdinand, who captained United on Sunday, hopes the "Fergie's Fledglings" blueprint continues.
"It's brilliant," the defender said. "I love the way the manager was true to his word by playing the young players. Danny Welbeck has been useful in the season, doing well and showing glimpses about why he has been in the first team. "Gibbo has been the same working tremendously hard with himself off the pitch in training. Jonny Evans has come on tremendously this year."
After giving them a taste for the big occasions, Ferguson acknowledges that it will be "difficult to keep them all patient." "They have all come on a ton for us. They've emerged and earned their right to be considered first team players," Ferguson said. "We have seen they have the temperament to do it." But now they could largely be restricted to the sidelines as the Red Devils, who won the Club World Cup in December, look to stay top of the Premier League, defend the Champions League and win the FA Cup to complete a five-trophy haul.