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Big clubs will come calling for 'world-class' Forster

PUBLISHED: 14:48 27 January 2010 | UPDATED: 07:45 02 July 2010

David Cuffley

If goalkeepers are all supposed to belong to the same union - admittedly a kind of spiritual brotherhood rather than a body likely to be affiliated to the TUC - then how many currently playing have at some time or other been members of the Norwich branch? Trawl through the weekend fixtures and, leaving aside the involvement of Fraser Forster, Declan Rudd and Jed Steer in City's own League One and Academy matches, I can find at least 10 ex-Canary 'keepers on the teamsheets for key games, four of them on FA Cup duty.

David Cuffley

If goalkeepers are all supposed to belong to the same union - admittedly a kind of spiritual brotherhood rather than a body likely to be affiliated to the TUC - then how many currently playing have at some time or other been members of the Norwich branch?

Trawl through the weekend fixtures and, leaving aside the involvement of Fraser Forster, Declan Rudd and Jed Steer in City's own League One and Academy matches, I can find at least 10 ex-Canary 'keepers on the teamsheets for key games, four of them on FA Cup duty.

Scotland international David Marshall, ever-present for the Canaries for the past two seasons, helped Cardiff into the FA Cup fifth round as they beat Bristol City 1-0, while former City youth player Arran Lee-Barratt, who has just signed an 18-month contract with Ipswich, was in the Town team beaten 2-1 in their tie at Southampton.

Ben Alnwick, on loan at Carrow Road earlier this season, was on the bench for Tottenham in their televised 2-2 draw against Leeds, and Jamie Ashdown, on loan during Peter Grant's reign three seasons ago, was Portsmouth's substitute 'keeper as they knocked out Sunderland.

In the Championship, Joe Lewis featured in Peterborough's 2-1 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday, and Matthew Gilks was one of the substitutes as Blackpool beat Watford 3-2.

In League One, Steve Arnold, on the bench during Glenn Roeder's spell in charge of City, was a substitute for Wycombe in their

1-1 draw at Southend, having joined the Chairboys last week.

Go north of the border and former Scotland international Paul Gallacher played for St Mirren in their 2-0 Scottish Premier League defeat at Motherwell, while Stuart Nelson - David Marshall's understudy last season - was on the bench for Aberdeen in their 1-0 victory over Kilmarnock.

Add Scott Howie's appearance for Wroxham in their 1-1 FA Vase draw at Armthorpe Welfare and we are into double figures.

Go back a week further and England star Robert Green kept a clean sheet for West Ham in the Premier League at Aston Villa, former City loan signing Lee Camp helped Nottingham Forest beat Reading 2-1 in the Championship and, back at local level, Danny Gay played for Needham Market in their FA Vase victory over Kirkley & Pakefield.

With Andy Marshall (Aston Villa) and ex-loanee Tony Warner (Hull) currently part of Premier League squads - and with apologies to those I may have missed - it adds up to a huge amount of goalkeeping talent to have passed through Colney, and most of them still involved in the professional game at a high standard.

After two years as unchallenged number one at Norwich, David Marshall's exit in the wake of relegation from the Championship at first looked to have triggered another period of uncertainty and chop-and-change over the goalkeeping position, similar to that which followed Green's departure to West Ham in 2006.

But after a crazy few weeks when Michael Theoklitos, Alnwick, Forster and, briefly, even Cody McDonald donned the gloves, the problem was solved and in 21-year-old Forster, City appear to have secured a diamond of a 'keeper, at least for the remainder of the current season, and with two young gems waiting eagerly in the wings in Rudd and Steer, the goalkeeping picture again looks very rosy.

From the day Forster arrived from Newcastle in August, manager Paul Lambert hailed him as a player with a very big future in the game, and he reiterated the point before and after Saturday's 1-0 win over Brentford, the giant 'keeper's 14th clean sheet in 25 appearances for City in all competitions.

Lambert is not a man to freely throw around phrases like "world-class" but he was not holding back when he discussed Forster's performance against the Bees, which included blinding saves from Ryan Dickson, Marcus Bean and Kevin O'Connor.

"I think he'll be a world-class goalkeeper, I've always thought that," said Lambert. "For somebody who's 21, some of the saves that lad makes are extraordinary.

"You get to the point where you think 'I don't think he's going to get beaten'.

"He will one day but you have that feeling he's unbeatable at the moment.

"He's been brilliant. For somebody 21, he's definitely one of the best I've seen."

Lambert has seen his share of top-class 'keepers after winning the Champions League as a player and playing in the World Cup finals, but that is praise indeed.

Goalkeeping coach Paul Crichton has described Forster as "absolutely magnificent" and made the point weeks ago that "one of his big strengths is that he makes big saves".

Crichton used the one-handed save from Tranmere's Paul McLaren to illustrate the point but there have been numerous examples since then at crucial stages of games to back up that argument - from Keigan Parker and Dan Whitaker late in the Oldham game, from Jordan Rhodes of Huddersfield, from Alex Russell of Exeter, and, from Anthony Wordsworth early on in the Colchester game when a goal for the home side might have made for a more difficult afternoon.

The one negative effect of all the praise coming Forster's way, not least from Lambert, is the fact that if Newcastle were prepared to part with him in the summer - though it ought to be a big "if" - bigger clubs than Norwich are bound to take notice. And no, I don't mean Stoke.

Tottenham and Arsenal were both reported to be watching Forster around Christmas, and it would be surprising if they are alone.

There is, of course, a precedent for the Canaries taking a highly-rated young goalkeeper on loan then making the switch permanent - most notably Chris Woods and, after a delay through injury, David Marshall. They have also converted several successful loan signings into improbable permanent deals, never better than in the case of Darren Huckerby, a move deemed so unlikely by one well-known radio presenter that he promised to run naked through the city centre if he ever signed full-time.

I'm not making any such rash prediction regarding Forster, but if City regain Championship status, is another season-long loan too much to hope for?

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