Well, it wasn’t quite as draw out a transfer saga as the ‘Victor Wanyama Episode’ last summer, but with Celtic’s Champion’s League reprieve it began to feel like it would never happen, but he is here and I think everyone involved is relieved!
Welcome to St. Mary’s Fraser Forster!
Linking up again with Goalkeeping coach Dave Watson from the England setup, Forster has built a formidable record as Celtic goalkeeper, breaking records along the way and now the stopper ranks at Saints look to have far more depth.
What can you tell us about Forster from his time with your club?
ST ‘Fraser has developed into a top goalkeeper during his time in Glasgow. He arrived at Celtic from Newcastle in the summer of 2010, initially on loan, having just been awarded the Norwich Players’ Player of the Year award the previous season (coming second in the Supporters’ award), and claimed the Macron Golden Gloves Award for keeping the highest number of clean sheets in League One, 18 in 38 appearances.At just 22 years old, some fans, myself included, were a bit wary that our new number one had played just one full season of first team football, especially with it being in League One. However, Forster displayed his capabilities that year, keeping 24 clean sheets from 44 appearances in all competitions. At times he looked his age though, he seemed quiet for a goalkeeper, often afraid to come off his line to claim the ball, and while he was a giant of a man, standing at 6 ft 7 in, he did not possess the commanding physique that he does now.In his second season with Celtic, again on loan from Newcastle, he continued in much the same vein, a very impressive shot stopper, this time earning 26 clean sheets from 47 games, but still culpable to high balls into the box.It wasn’t until Fraser was signed on a permanent basis in 2012 that I believe he really began to fulfil his potential. I don’t know whether it was the added confidence that being trusted with a four year deal had given him, or if it was merely because he had spent the past two seasons as Celtic’s number 1, but Forster seemed to have much more of a presence about him. The SPL is obviously the bread and butter of a Celtic players’ season, but it is the Champions League nights that the fans really crave, and this was where Forster stepped up to the plate. As fourth seeds in the group stage, and being drawn against Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow, we had no right to qualify for the Last 16, and without Forster in goal we would have had no chance. His performance in the famous 2-1 win over Barcelona at Celtic Park was inspired. He was like a man possessed with the Spanish press labelling him “La Gran Muralla” or “The Great Wall”. Messi and co. could not believe their luck as Forster denied them again and again. The stats from the game read that Barcelona had 14 shots on target, the fact that Fraser only finally succumbed to a stoppage time Lionel Messi rebound having pulled off yet another great save tells you all you need to know about his performance that day. It wasn’t just in the victory over Barcelona that Forster showed his class though. I was at both the Nou Camp and the Estadio da Luz for our away fixtures against Barca and Benfica where Fraser kept us in both games, almost clinching us a famous point in the Nou Camp with another majestic display.The season just past was not a great one for Celtic. We were outclassed and embarrassed at times in the Champions League, yet in that competition Forster was still our one shining light. Our solitary victory came at home to Ajax and once again Forster earned us that 3 points with some big saves, including a late one v one with the Ajax man looking certain to score.
In the league Forster kept a Scottish record 13 clean sheets in a row, culminating in 1256 minutes, just 55 short of Edwin van der Saar’s all-time UK record. I know people may think it is easy to keep clean sheets playing for Celtic, especially since Rangers demise has left the SPL a one team league, but if you have seen us play over recent years you will have noted how ropey our defending is at times, and on numerous occasions it has been left to Forster to bail them out.’
GG ‘Top goalkeeper. He was at City, on loan from Newcastle, during the 2009/10 season and was brilliant. Paul Lambert had a dabble in trying to keep him but, at that time, him and Tim Krul were vying for the no 1 shirt at St James’.Eventually they decided Krul was the man but by then John Ruddy had been acquired from Everton to be City’s no 1, and Fraser disappeared north of the border.But the ghost of Forster remained for some time and coupled with Ruddy’s slow start here, many fans yearned for Fraser – which was never going to happen.He’s still remembered very fondly in these parts.’
Does he have any particular strengths and weaknesses we should be aware of?
ST ‘Forster is a great shot stopper. He will always save the shots he should be saving, and more often then not pull out one of his giant paws to stop what had seemed a certain goal. He is also very good in one on one situations. I have countless memories of Fraser staying big to out fox the striker as they bare down on goal. Another major strength is he seems to rise to the occasion. The big games are when you can count on Forster to turn up. The Spanish press have been so impressed with him, in what seem to be our yearly meetings with Barcelona, that as well as dubbing him “La Gran Muralla” they also awarded him with the “El Oscar” award last season, which is a weekly prize given to a footballer for outstanding contribution to their team. I would also say Forster is very good at saving penalties. It seemed as though we waited about two years for him to save one, yet since then I can barely remember the ball going past him from the spot. In fact, even though we were granted a 3-0 victory over Legia Warsaw in the second leg of our Champions League qualifier following their fielding of a suspended player (thank you UEFA!), we would still have gone out were it not for Forster saving one of two missed penalties from Legia in the first game. Remember what I said about being a man for the big occasion?Regarding weaknesses, Forster still can be susceptible to crosses into the box, especially a quick, whipped in delivery, although I am not sure what goalkeepers are good at dealing with them. His kicking can also be a weakness at times. Since he first joined Celtic it is clear that he has been trained to use both feet when clearing the ball, often alternating between left and right foot for goal kicks. The only problem is where they go, when he strikes them cleanly he can send them to the opposite end of the field without any problems, and at times they can be pin point, but on the odd occasion with a striker chasing him down he has been known to scuff a clearance straight into the path of an opposing player. The worst part is it seems that once he has done a few poor clearances he can lose his head and begin lashing waywardly at the ball.’
GG ‘His all-round game is excellent and, as you would expect of someone of his stature, he commands his penalty area superbly. He is also a brilliant shot stopper. The only weakness I can recall is his kicking off the ground, which was a bit wayward. I’d expect that to have been rectified by now.’
Despite England recognition, having spent the majority of the career in the SPL, some are worried he might not have been tested. Do you think he is ready for the Premier League?
ST ‘Without a shadow of a doubt. As I have said previously, Forster rises to the occasion. He seems to relish the added pressure that the big games bring and I believe he will step up to the increased quality of opposition he will be facing without too much difficulty at all. I have witnessed him produce incredible displays against the best teams in the world over the past two seasons so have no worries about his ability to perform in the Premier League. If anything his worst displays at Celtic have come in games were he has not been involved much and has appeared disinterested or bored. ‘
GG ‘I don’t have even the slightest hesitation that he’s ready for the Premier League. In my view he was ready for the PL four seasons ago. If he pitches up at St Mary’s he’ll be brilliant. You’ll love him and wonder why he’s been so overlooked by England for so long.’
What have you made of Saints’ turbulent summer?
ST ‘I have felt for Southampton fans this summer. As a Celtic supporter I know all about what it’s like to lose your star players. The difference with Southampton though, is it appears you are going to reinvest the money you have brought in. Tadic and Taider look promising, exciting young players, and I believe Forster will be a great signing for you (does this mean we can have Boruc back?) As long as you continue to replace quality with quality I believe you will continue to progress.It was a shame to see Pochettino leave for Spurs but in Ronald Koeman you have a great footballing man who has managed some top clubs and won trophies along the way. I also have big expectations for another of your ex-Celtic contingent, Victor Wanyama, this year. I know he didn’t set the world alight last season, but fit and on form he can control a midfield with his sheer strength; I have witnessed him bully Xavi and Iniesta with my own eyes. You must continue to replace the key men you have lost, if you do that then I don’t see why it can’t be another great year for Southampton. ‘
GG ‘I really feel for you. To lose a couple is understandable for clubs the size of ours, but when it turns into a mass exodus that hurts. But Koeman is a shrewd operator and I expect him to spend the money wisely even if it’s occasionally on players you’ve barely heard of!To coin a phrase, you really have been victims of your own success but, if nothing else, it’ll make the visit of Liverpool a tasty one. I hope you batter them.’
There has been talk of Virgil van Dijk making the move from Celtic Park to Saints to. Has there been much talk at your end?
ST ‘Yes, there’s been a lot of talk in the Scottish press and the gossip column’s regarding van Dijk’s potential move to Southampton. He is one player I really do not want to see leave. van Dijk is a classy ball-playing centre half who alongside Forster and Commons stood out like a sore thumb in the SPL last season. He is young and hungry, and after being snubbed by van Gaal for the dutch World Cup squad I can see him leaving in order to gain international recognition. I just hope we can keep him for another year. If he is to go this summer though I suppose I wouldn’t mind seeing him joining Boruc, Forster and Wanyama on the south coast. I guess we owed you some good ones after Jos Hooiveld and Danny Fox.’
There has been talk of Nathan Redmond making the move from Carrow Road to Saints to. Has there been much talk at your end?
GG ‘Hands off! Redmond has potential to be a fantastic player, although he’s a little way off at the moment. His final ball and decision making still need work, but the raw materials are there for a future England player.He’s a little like Raheem Sterling in his playing style but probably a year or two behind him in terms of his development.If he does come to St Mary’s he’ll both frustrate you and have you on the edge of your seat. He’s that type of player, but will one for day go on to play for a top six side in my opinion.’
So there we have it! Another new face at St. Mary’s and finally it would seem we have competition for the number one spot!
While Liverpool are busy signing Johnstone Paint Trophy winners, Saints sprung the surprise of the summer with one the papers didn’t get hold of, bringing Champion’s League winner Ryan Bertrand to the club from Chelsea on a season long loan with the option of a permanent move. Interestingly the Merseyside club had been trying to secure a deal for the defender but couldn’t agree a fee.
With Luke Shaw gone to Man United, left back was clearly somewhere the club lacked depth and Bertrand who started for the Blues in their triumph over Bayern Munich in 2012 looks a solid signing.
As always, through the heady mixture of ignorance and laziness I have got two experts to give us the lowdown on the new man.
I caught up with Chelsea fan David Dickson and given that Bertand has spent most of his Stamford Bridge career on loan, Aston Villa fan, freelance football writer and Club Metro colleague Andrew Raeburn.
Bertrand started in Chelsea’s Champion’s League final win, but has never made it as a regular at Stamford Bridge. What did you make of him?
DD ‘Firstly, Bertrand will always, always receive a hero’s welcome back at Stamford Bridge, especially now he hasn’t been shipped off to Liverpool and had to perform the ‘biggest club in the world’ PR initiative in his first interview. I remember the slightly baffled/borderline stunned reaction to hearing his name in the starting line-up that night in Munich from all involved, and his outstanding performance against Bayern in his first ever European appearance for anybody is testament to the balls the guy has. He always struck me as a try-hard; far from a player likely to dislodge Ashley Cole from his throne but enough about him to carry on regardless, taking his opportunities when they arose.’
Bertrand spent some time at Villa last season. What did you make of him?
AR ‘Left-back had been a massive problem for us in the first half of the season, so when Bertrand came in we were all chuffed, considering his background and pedigree (starting in the CL final, etc). He was excellent on his debut in a 2-2 draw at Liverpool, and had several other good games early in his loan spell. But after having to sit out our 1-0 win over his parent club in March (when Joe Bennett came in and was excellent at left-back), Bertrand really struggled. Partly this was down to our own defensive naivety, which appeared to infect him too at times and partly it was down to being shunted between left-back, left midfield and left wing-back. But there were occasions when he was our weakest link. I’d say overall he was solid without ever being spectacular, but disappointed because he was never as good as his Chelsea background suggested he should be.’
What would you say are his significant strengths and weaknesses?
DD ‘As stated previously, Ryan seems to enjoy a complete lack of fear on the big occasion. Following Munich, he was thrown into some of the bigger games towards the end of the (sigh) Rafa Benitez era and performed with similar aplomb. He is quick, with the ability to go forward at pace, whilst also reading the game relatively well, but his defensive ability seems to suffer as a result. He never seemed particularly strong and, as a result, his ability to simply make a tackle never really stood out. He would, on occasion, be caught out of position too, but when pushing up in a good, attacking side, this may be expected and can be forgiven.’
AR ‘One of the real plusses of his loan spell was how well he got forward and linked up with Fabian Delph on the left hand side of Villa’s central three in midfield. His crossing can be hit and miss but he knows which passes to pick out. Defensively, he struggled when isolated one-on-one. Whereas on his debut at Liverpool he was excellent against Raheem Sterling, who runs straight at people, he was given a real examination a couple of weeks later by Everton’s Aiden McGeady, had problems with Ashley Young and got into all sorts of bother against Stewart Downing. Unlike Sterling, all three of those dared to cut inside and go outside to try and beat him. It may be he just needs more support defensively.’
Do you see him as a player that has yet to reach his full potential, having been backup at Chelsea for some time?
DD ‘Sad as it is to say, but I feel his potential may not extend beyond his exploits for Chelsea. He still has a decent ten years left in him, obviously, but Ryan seems to be caught between not being technically good enough for a top side, but not able to defend well enough for a less-than-top side. He was exceptionally popular at Norwich, Reading and Forest by the sounds of things, and has long outgrown being a Championship player, but it is hard to see him doing anything but bouncing between mid-table clubs unless someone devotes the time to getting the best out of him. In a Chelsea side with Ashley Cole and the resources to bring in more experienced and better overseas players after Cole’s departure, that role was never going to be taken up by Mourinho, Benitez, Di Matteo…etc. (I’m sure this article has a word limit, so I won’t list them all).’
AR ‘Very much so. Until his loan spell at Villa, he had never really been given a proper run of starts at Premier League level, which is what you need to develop. Obviously he’s had his path blocked by one of the best left-backs England has ever seen, so he’s been unlucky in that regard. Until Cesar Azpilicueta became Ashley Cole’s main backup, Bertrand could never be sent on loan so he had to bide his time. He started 14 PL games in 2012-13 but all in blocks of three or four, never enough to make a mark or develop your game. I actually saw his only Chelsea start last season as well, by sheer coincidence. I was covering the Chelsea-Cardiff game for West London Sport and in the player ratings described Bertrand’s display as: “Always keen, got up and down and provided solid support for Eden Hazard but lacks the self-assurance and attacking penetration of Ashley Cole.” Trouble is, after a half-season of regular games at Villa, I’ve seen no improvement on that. However, I do think he just needs to settle down somewhere, as a trusted, starting left-back and get a full season of regular games under his belt. The only time he’s done that was for Reading in the Championship five years ago.’
What do you make of the goings on at Saints this summer?
DD ‘I find it all relatively extraordinary. Yes, players from unexpectedly successful sides are regularly burgled (arf) by sides with larger budgets the following season, but the sheer extent to which Liverpool (and seemingly, Spurs) have pilfered every player with ability you have is far beyond anything I’ve seen since the great Leeds exodus of the early 2000s. Ronald Koeman has moved in, and shortly after someone has nicked his fridge, shed, boiler and roof. I am sure there are financial nuances (zzz) to this masterplan, but it is hard to see how any replacements could fill the gaps that have been left and this season could be a real struggle for you chaps, unfortunately. You’re quite nice when you’re not moaning about little smoke bombs…’
AR ‘It’s inevitable really, once the bigger clubs started circling. We got the same treatment after coming 6th three years in a row under Martin O’Neill (you were trifling with the likes of Exeter and Stockport at the time, how things change!). We couldn’t keep Gareth Barry (£12m) and James Milner (£26m) away from Man City, nor Ashley Young (£17m) from Man Utd, nor Stewart Downing (£20m) from Liverpool. The only difference was it didn’t happen all in the same summer. Sometimes that can be worse, as it appears to the fans the club won’t ever keep hold of their best players. But that’s the way football is these days – even Everton, who contend for the Champions League spots, wouldn’t be able to prevent their top talent leaving if the title challengers came knocking. The important thing is reinvesting the money you earn, otherwise you end up like us. I can see why some Saints fans may be angry – it seems, from the outside, that the club isn’t doing much to stop the top players moving on. But when players sense the grass is greener (or their agent convinces them it might be) then you can’t stop them. Speaking of which…’
Can we have some other Chelsea players? Please.
DD ‘Rickie Lambert’s gone. You need to replace him with another reliable goal-machine. We have this lad, Fernando… And I’ll bloody drive Ramires to you.’
Can we have Ron Vlaar? Please.
AR ‘No. Leave Concrete Ron alone, please. He’s got a phobia of the sea, anyway. Hopefully.’
So there we have it. Thanks to David and Andrew for their contributions. Let’s hope I need some more contributors soon!
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