One of the things we often forget in football is that everyone is wired differently. Getting the call from England, most footballers will tell you, represents the ultimate honour. The impression they give is they would walk through a plate-glass window to play for their country. Then someone comes along who has other priorities and gives the impression he can take it or leave it.
Ben Foster's story certainly takes us in a different direction to the days when Peter Shilton was so obsessed with being England's No1 he used to tie weights to his feet and hang for hours on end from the bannisters of his parent's grocer's shop in Leicester, all to stretch his arms by a few extra millimetres. John Ruddy offered to postpone his wedding at a couple of weeks' notice when he was called up as third-choice goalkeeper for a friendly against Belgium before Euro 2012. Phil Neville, at 29 with 59 caps behind him, left his wife and kids on a beach in Barbados so he could sit on the bench at the Madejski Stadium for a B international against Belarus in 2006. Stuart Pearce used to have a St George's flag on his lawn. There are countless other examples.
Foster has a different approach, bearing in mind it has taken Roy Hodgson the best part of a year to persuade him to be fitted out for his Football Association blazer. This may not sit easily with everyone but England duty can be a drag for some footballers. Those posh hotels are all very nice but if you are stuck in your room for most of the day you will understand why Steven Gerrard once described them as five-star prisons. When you're the reserve goalkeeper, there's pretty much no chance of playing and when you know you're there simply as a back-up measure it becomes even more wearing.
Foster was 28 when he decided it was too much of a grind, withdrawing for "an indefinite period" and later saying he would not return even if guaranteed the first-choice role. He had had enough, worn down by the travelling, the long hours away and the permanent sense that it was all overrated. He wanted to put his family first and if that meant being called unpatriotic then so be it.
Why Hodgson has refused to give up on him, having been knocked back when he made his first approach before last summer's European Championship, smacks of double standards to some degree bearing in mind the grudge England's manager still holds against Peter Crouch and Micah Richards for declining places on the standby list. At the same time it is surely a good thing that Hodgson's perseverance has paid off when, let's face it, the options are so limited. Of the Premier League games on Saturday, only four English goalkeepers started and three of them, Stuart Taylor of Reading, Mark Bunn of Norwich City and Newcastle United's Rob Elliot, because of injuries to the regular first‑choices at their clubs. Anyone who says Hodgson should have discounted Foster on principle ignores the fact that good English goalkeepers these days are becoming as precious as rare butterflies. It is difficult to think there has ever been another era when the choice has been so sparse.
Hodgson's thinking may also be swayed by the impact it could have – in old-fashioned parlance, a well-timed kick up the backside – on Joe Hart, when, previously, England's first-choice goalkeeper could make mistakes against Sweden in November and there was not even a flicker of debate about him dropping out of the team.
Hart's dip in form this season has been exaggerated in some places but he was as flimsy in Stockholm as an Ikea teapot and, interviewing Roberto Mancini the other week, it was intriguing to hear him talk of someone who "needs to think only of his job". The Manchester City manager didn't elaborate, but the impression he left was that Hart had lost some of his professional focus. Part of the problem, quite feasibly, is that he is never put under any pressure for his place.
Foster is fortunate in one respect, namely that the FA is not the grudge-bearing organisation you may find in other countries, given that he did not inform even a single member of staff, never mind the then manager, Fabio Capello, before showing himself to the door in May 2011.
Plainly he has given it a lot of thought and decided that something will be different this time. Quite what that is, though, it is difficult to know given that England's next assignment is a double-header in San Marino and Montenegro involving nine days away, three different hotels, four flights and, possibly, zero caps. Maybe Hodgson intends to play him against San Marino and keep back Hart for Montenegro. Yet England could probably stick a waxwork model of Fatty Foulke in goal against San Marino and get away with it. However it's dressed up, it looks conspicuously like the same situation now as when Foster could be forgiven for feeling like a spare part.
His issue back then was the classic hard-luck story of the perennial squad‑filler. Foster was on standby for the 2006 World Cup but never made the cut. Steve McClaren brought him in after that tournament but it wasn't until February 2007 that he won his first cap. After that, there was a two-year wait until the next appearance, this time for Capello as a second-half substitute in a 4-0 defeat of Slovakia, and seven months to the next. That was his one competitive match, a World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria, but only because David James was injured in the warm-up and Rob Green suspended.
Foster kept his place for the friendly against Brazil in Qatar the following month but had to wait more than a year until his next game and it was six months later, with five caps in four years, that he decided enough was enough. "It's hard if you are away for 10 days to two weeks and you don't get to see your family in that time, especially when you have kids who are two and three," he said in an interview. "I feel that I'm missing part of their growing up. It's hard to take. With not playing, you feel as if you have lost two weeks of your life for nothing."
Nobody started a campaign to bring him back. Capello never called, and he was quickly forgotten. Sir Alex Ferguson used to say Foster could be the best goalkeeper in England for 10 years when he was at Manchester United but, over time, the management at Old Trafford came to think of him as lacking the competitive edge and force of personality to succeed at the highest level. According to one person who knew him well, Foster used to get down because he considered his training‑ground performances better than Edwin van der Sar's. It never showed under the Old Trafford floodlights and he has talked since of not enjoying the win-at-all-costs mentality that accompanied playing for a club of United's ambitions.
"I don't wish I'd stuck around at all," is one quote. Steve Clarke, his manager at West Bromwich Albion, has said it was the "stress and strain" that put Foster off England when the alternative was to be with his children. This is not someone you would necessarily want when the heat of the battle is getting close to intolerable.
He is, however, a definite upgrade bearing in mind Jack Butland, previously Hart's understudy, has never played a top-division fixture, building his reputation at Cheltenham Town and now Birmingham City, and will be 21 come the World Cup. Hodgson may have had to twist Foster's arm. It may not be ideal and, further down the line, all the old problems may resurface. In England's position, however, they can hardly be choosy.
McCarthy's success exposes Wolves boardroom buffoonery
It's going back a few years ago since Portugal played Republic of Ireland in a World Cup qualifier in Lisbon and, wandering the labyrinthine corridors of the old Stadium of Light looking for a toilet, it suddenly became apparent (genuinely, it's still a mystery) that I had got into the dressing-room cubicles through a back entrance and Mick McCarthy was launching into his team-talk. There isn't a lot you can do in a situation like that other than close the door, try not to make a sound and, paralysed with fear, hope nobody comes in, in particular Roy Keane.
So for five slightly terrifying minutes I sat there and listened to what the manager had to say and, though it didn't sound particularly inspirational (lots of "get bloody close to Figo"), it did the trick. Ireland drew 1-1 and probably should have won. They qualified for the 2002 finals, at the expense of Holland, and were a penalty kick from knocking out Spain to reach the quarter-finals, despite everything that happened in Saipan.
Looking back, it is tempting to wonder whether the Football Association of Ireland regrets being so trigger-happy as soon as the team hit a dodgy patch and Lansdowne Road started singing Keane's name. The same goes for the Wolves owner, Steve Morgan, now his club are threatening to make it back-to-back demotions, going from the top division to the third, and a mutinous crowd is arranging protests against the boardroom buffoonery we have seen at Molineux.
Sacking McCarthy accelerated the relegation process last season under Terry Connor. They were 18th in the Championship when Stale Solbakken was fired, just after going out of the FA Cup to Luton Town, and Dean Saunders has not won any of his nine games. On Saturday they dropped to 23rd.
As for McCarthy, he has lifted Ipswich Town to a position of relative safety since taking over in November when they were bottom of the league, with seven points from their first 13 games. "The last 18 months have been crap," as Morgan puts it. And whose fault is that?
Cardiff naming saga may well drag on
There is a good reason why Cardiff supporters should treat the club's promise not to change name from City to the Dragons with the kind of suspicion that comes from having been here before. On the last occasion, it was when the club's Malaysian owners casually brought up the idea getting rid of Cardiff's blue kits in favour of red and, though they used all sorts of honeyed words about "the symbolic fusion of Welsh and Asian cultures", essentially doing away with 104 years of tradition.
After the inevitable outrage, the chairman at the time, Dato' Chan Tien Ghee, used the club's website on 11 May to announce, almost heroically: "In the light of the vociferous opposition … we will not proceed with the proposed change of colour and logo and the team will continue to play in blue." By 6 June the first photographs of players modelling the new red strip were on the same website. And, believe it or not, you don't just rustle up those kits in a couple of days.
Using the same time frame will take us close to the FA deadline, very aptly on 1 April, for requesting a change of name for next season.
My bet is on the Cardiff City Dragons – not be to confused with the Cardiff Dragons in the Gay Football Supporters' Network League – playing in the Premier League in August and the announcement to come a few days after the club have won promotion.