THE first of a new weekly feature which The Scotsman will be running in association with The Terrace Scottish Football Podcast.
The premise is simple. Is <enter player> generally overrated or underrated by supporters and the media?
To answer the question, each week at least four of the panelists and bloggers from The Terrace will give their opinion and submit an individual vote, with a final verdict being decided by majority rules.
Since he’s just been sold for a huge transfer fee, we may as well start with former Celtic hero Fraser Forster. Is he overrated or underrated?
In his first season at Celtic I was unconvinced by Forster. He seemed to struggle with getting his big frame down to low shots, and he seemed to lack the command of the penalty area which you’d expect a guy his size to have. However, he was a raw youngster at that stage, and over the last couple of seasons he developed both aspects of his game, proving to be a crucial player for Celtic in their Champions League campaign. His performance against Barcelona was perhaps the best performance from a Celtic goalkeeper since David Marshall’s famous night against the same opposition.
He was part of the Celtic backline who broke the Scottish league record for minutes without conceding last season, and indeed it is difficult to think of a notable mistake he made during the entire campaign. Being the Celtic goalkeeper obviously means a reduced workload, but that in itself requires a display of incredible concentration to remain alert during long spells of inactivity.
It will be interesting to see how he adapts to the move to Southampton, where he can expect his workload to increase massively. His involvement in the England squad at the World Cup was testament to his development at Celtic, and if he can hit the ground running at the Saints then he may be able to challenge Joe Hart for the number 1 spot.
Vote: Correctly rated
The ridiculously inflated transfer fees forked out, particularly by English clubs, during the close season makes judging Fraser Forster’s ability relative to his £10m price tag pretty much redundant.
Aside from this, the obvious argument for why some perceive the England international to be somewhat overrated is that, yes, he has managed to break a 92-year clean sheet record but has done so in daft little grounds within silly games. Forget that he managed to go 1,256 minutes without having to pick the ball out of his own net, he spent 1250 of those minutes at the edge of his penalty area while his side pummelled the opposition.
This fails, however, to take into account the stunning saves he did produce during his accomplishment - only a handful of goalkeepers worldwide could have replicated his stop from Sam Stanton at Easter Road. Forster can only defeat what is in front of him and so far he has broken a goalkeeping record that was held for almost a century and has notched up notable displays in Europe’s premier competition. His ability cannot be fairly judged in England’s top flight until he has at least a season’s experience there. Thus, for now at least, he’s properly rated.
Vote: Correctly rated
There is no question that Forster was an excellent signing for Celtic and the move to Southampton was both good for him and his former club. However, I still don’t think he is near the quality of Joe Hart and to be honest there is a case for Artur Boruc to continue as number one at Southampton, though £10m is an awful lot for a goalkeeper to sit on the bench.
He was outstanding for Celtic with the bigger games bringing out the best in him. The Great Wall moniker that was bestowed on him by the Catalan press was apt. His presence between the sticks makes him seem insurmountable to opposition forwards. For such a giant figure he can get down to to the trickiest of shots.
But there are glaring weaknesses. For someone so big he is reluctant to control his box when crosses are slung in. Watch him closely for a long period of time and you will notice that he has a habit of making a motion to come for the cross before hesitating and then throwing his arms up in the air to make himself big, anticipating someone getting on the end of a cross he should have collected.
Another of his weaknesses is his sweeping. Manuel Neur, Hugo Lloris, Victor Valdes have all shown the benefits of being able to swiftly come off your line to help out your defence. Whether it is his size and pace that makes him wary of racing off his line he will likely have to work on this aspect if he is to improve further.
I am swaying between properly rated and overrated. I will stick with the former but the latter could be the overwhelming feeling come the end of the season.
Vote: Correctly Rated
While a transfer fee does not directly correlate to a player’s ability, nor to the level of his reputation, there is still an incongruity of seeing Fraser Forster catapulted into the top half-dozen of costliest goalkeepers ever.
Keeping goal for Celtic requires a specific skill-set revolving around concentration - he made fewer than one save per match last campaign. While his time at Celtic has been successful, it is a specific type of goalkeeping which isn’t necessarily transferable. When he came through at Newcastle, admittedly still at a young age, he was allowed to leave over Tim Krul as the Dutchman, though physically slighter, was perceived to have the better all-round game, particularly in commanding the penalty area.
He is a terrific reflex shot-stopper, like a lot of ‘keepers in Scotland, and he has rightly won admiration for impressive Champions League exploits. Shot-stopping can often be an over-rated part of a goalkeeper’s armoury though, and infrequent games of intense pressure, like those that characterise many of Celtic’s European campaigns, often falsely elevate guys between the sticks to suit a gallant, adversarial narrative. They prove little towards a reliable, week-to-week consistency, which supporters will likely value more in a number one.
I’m not saying that Forster isn’t capable of that, nor that has been anything other than capable for the Hoops, but I still think he has plenty to prove.
There remain a number of question marks about Fraser Forster’s abilities. For most players that statement would pertain to obvious flaws which they need to overcome, but for the big Englishman it’s more a case of genuine unenlightenment from those who’ve been judging him over the last few years. Whatever weaknesses he has they’ve rarely, if ever, cost Celtic in the Scottish top flight.
The transfer fee seems excessive, but is it in relation to what English clubs have spent in the past and will continue to do so in the future? Greater amounts have certainly been slurged on far worse.
His performances on the continent indicate someone who has the ability to not only face up to tougher opponents, but for that challenge to bring out the best in him.
He’s a terrific talent - a rare blend of size and agility - and for now he gets the benefit of the doubt.
Verdict: Correctly rated.
If you’d like to give your own opinion be sure to leave a note in the comments. Feel free to also suggest any players involved in Scottish football to discuss in future editions.
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