Celtic's Fraser Forster Ignores Hype, Begins Auditions for Club and Country

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Celtic's Fraser Forster Ignores Hype, Begins Auditions for Club and Country
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Fraser Forster is on the verge of a first England cap

It looks increasingly likely that later this month, Fraser Forster will become the first Celtic player since Alan Thompson in 2004 to represent England at the international level.

Forster, a 25-year-old goalkeeper who began his career at Newcastle United, has already come a long way.

Loaned out four times while considered a promising prospect on Tyneside, it was the last of these loan spells that turned into a permanent switch.

Forster initially joined Celtic on loan in 2010, having previously progressed through stages of his education at Stockport County, Bristol Rovers and Norwich City.

A successful first season—coupled with the presence of Steve Harper and Tim Krul at St James' Park—saw Forster enjoy a second year-long internship in the 2011-12 campaign before finally agreeing permanent terms in a deal worth roughly £2 million in the summer of 2012, as Newcastle decided Krul (a few weeks younger) was the man they were going to go forward with.

Now, just over a year on from that decisive move, Forster looks set to make his international debut this month—quite probably against Chile at Wembley on Friday but, if not, against Germany the Tuesday after.

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Joe Hart's form has created an opportunity for Fraser Forster

Last month, as England qualified for next summer’s World Cup, Forster was among the substitutes at Wembley as Joe Hart played both matches. But, with Hart’s current form issues well-publicised and his national team understudies (Forster and Norwich’s John Ruddy) having been exposed to limited international action, England head coach Roy Hodgson appears set to experiment somewhat.

"I understand why Roy went with Joe,” Celtic boss Neil Lennon told The Guardian on Tuesday, “because he has played very well for him throughout the tournament, and you show a bit of loyalty to your No. 1 at times, no matter if they have a rocky period or not.

“But he did intimate that he may look at Fraser for these friendlies and I hope that is the case.”

With Hart currently on the bench at Manchester City—an exile that could end tomorrow, or could continue for a few months yet, depending on Manuel Pellegrini’s view and Costel Pantilimon’s form in the Englishman’s stead—it is easy to assume, or speculate, that Forster now has a great opportunity to stake his own claim to be England’s No. 1.

In truth, it is not that straightforward. Hart has been error-prone but continues to have the support of Hodgson (his mistakes, while not limited to club matches, have tended to come in that area), while it is also not just Forster who will consider himself worthy of a shot at being the Three Lions' No. 1.

Ruddy, for example, appears to have been the de-facto No. 2 in recent months—returning immediately after a broken finger caused him to miss Euro 2012.

But he is now failing to avoid mistakes in a struggling Norwich side—and, unlike Forster, he has never been tested at the highest level of European competition, surely the closest thing to the international arena.

On Wednesday evening, Forster travels with Celtic to Amsterdam, where the Scottish champions face perhaps the pivotal contest of their group stage campaign. Beat Ajax, as they did two weeks ago in Glasgow, and the Bhoys can entertain realistic hopes of reaching the knockout stages at the expense of AC Milan.

Lose, however, and they face the very real prospect of missing out on even the consolation prize of a Europa League berth.

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Forster has played plenty of Champions League games

Forster played a key role in that win, at Parkhead—making a smart save just minutes before Beram Kayal’s eventual winner.

That is why Lennon wants his talented charge to focus solely on the job in hand, rather than the fact he may also be entering an audition for international recognition.

“Three years ago there is no way you would have envisaged Fraser being in the England squad," Lennon said. "But he has just improved year in and year out. I have said this to him already. I said, 'You have just got to stay in the moment now.'

“Just keep this form going at this level and I can't see him not being picked for one of the friendlies coming up. I think he deserves the opportunity regardless of Joe's form.”

Forster has been a key part of Celtic’s recent success, improving his reputation as the club have won successive Scottish Premier League titles and, last season, reached the last-16 of the Champions League.

He is big, even by goalkeeping standards (6’7”), yet has good reflexes and a strong command of his area. Both his distribution and desire to come for crosses needed extensive work when he first arrived at the club but, working closely with coach Stevie Woods, those areas have improved considerably.

Adding those fundamentals to a natural reflexive gift—aided by his sheer size—for saving shots, and Forster has quickly proven himself to be a well-rounded goalkeeper.

Nevertheless, partly as a result of where he plies his trade he has only been on the fringe of the England discussion—at least until Hart’s performances begun to dip.

Now, he has a chance—however slim—of forcing his way into the first-team prior to next summer’s World Cup. It will require him to be almost perfect in his performances; starting on Wednesday, where an England scout will be at the Amsterdam Arena on behalf of Hodgson.

"I don't want to put extra pressure on Fraser by saying, 'You have to play well’,” Lennon added. “I think he is really in a good place.

“I have said before I don't want this to be a short-term thing for him. I want it to be a long-term thing for five, six, seven years of him being England's No. 1 or No. 2."

Forster has his supporters, including ex-Manchester United shot-stopper Edwin van der Sar, who believes Celtic’s custodian has everything it takes to play at the very highest level.

Now a director at Ajax, the club he started his career, Van der Sar told the Daily Record this week:

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I’m really impressed with Forster. I was down at pitchside when he came out for his warm-up in Glasgow before the Ajax game and I was really struck by his size.

People look up to me, they always say I’m a big guy. But he is something else with his enormous frame. I found myself looking up to him.

Of course there is more to him than that. He’s playing really well at the moment, especially in the big European games which means he’s getting quite a reputation.

But he’s earned that with his all-round game. I’ve played in Italy and England and Forster could definitely do well in either of those leagues, no problem.

He could play in the very best leagues in Europe without any struggle.

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Whether or not playing for Celtic is holding him back internationally, it seems probable Forster will move on from Scotland before too long.

He has even been tipped as a possible candidate to replace the departing Victor Valdes at Barcelona, a suggestion that has not been scoffed at by the club’s own players.

"I think the players all know about the Forster interest—and it is a player we know very well," Xavi said last month, according to Metro. “I can’t say that I watch him every week – but when we have played Celtic he has shown that he is a world-class goalkeeper. From what I have seen he has everything to succeed at a club like Barcelona.”

Barcelona. England. There could be some big changes in Forster’s career over the next few months—as long as he does what he is paid to do, and just keeps his eye on the ball.

“That's all for the future,” as Lennon concluded. “I need him at his best [against Ajax] and he seems to thrive in this environment."

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