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Sport Wes Foderingham's Sheffield United story: Forgiving Slavisa Jokanovic, new nickname and Di Canio

10:30  17 april  2022
10:30  17 april  2022 Source:   examinerlive.co.uk

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It may have been a long time coming, but the wait has certainly been worth it for Wes Foderingham. The Sheffield United shot-stopper has had to be patient, perhaps more patient then he would have liked and certainly more than most keepers would have been.

However, it's now his time to shine. Arriving in the summer of 2020 on a free transfer from Rangers, it would be 12 months before he would make his league debut. Indeed, in that first season he would feature just once - an EFL Cup match at Burnley early in the campaign.

For that first season he had to watch on from the bench behind £18m Aaron Ramsdale, who had also arrived from Bournemouth that same summer. There was no sign of a chance coming as Ramsdale held on to the number one shirt but when the now England keeper left for Arsenal, Foderingham sensed his opportunity had finally arrived.

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He was handed two league games to try and impress new manager Slavisa Jokanovic - the 2-1 defeat at home to Huddersfield and the goalless draw at Luton. Michael Verrips was also handed an opportunity but did not quite cover himself in glory as much as Foderingham.

He could have been forgiven for thinking he would get the nod over the Dutchman, but on deadline day, United swooped for Swedish international Robin Olsen from Roma. The Bramall Lane door that had been opened for the first time had now been slammed shut. It left Foderingham wondering if his time at Sheffield United should now come to an end.

"That was probably the only moment where I thought I might not get an opportunity here, but it was a difficult decision for Slav [Slavisa Jokanovic] to make at that point," he told Yorkshire Live.

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"When Rammers left he only had a few weeks with me and Michael, he hadn't seen us play in a game. Once Rammers leaves that decision is difficult. Do I stick with these two keepers I haven't seen enough of or do I bring someone in who on paper is good enough for this level?

"That's where I can forgive him for that. It was a difficult decision and I understood that. So that's why I tried to refocus and tried to make sure that the more he sees me the more confident he will be to put me in.

"It can be hard, don't get me wrong. There are times you get frustrated and times you think 'I deserve a chance here' and it doesn't come or loss of form with the goalkeeper and you think 'maybe I can get in here' and again it doesn't come. Those are the moments you can get a bit disheartened but when you know you have the ability, the other part is the manager deciding to pick you, which you can't control.

"That's when you just need to make sure you are ready because it might be a case of you get one game to come in and show what you can do. If you don't do yourself justice you are not a worse goalkeeper for it but you are not going to get in the side.

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Wes Foderingham saves Brennan Johnson's penalty during the 1-1 draw at home to Nottingham Forest. © George Wood/Getty Images Wes Foderingham saves Brennan Johnson's penalty during the 1-1 draw at home to Nottingham Forest.

"There's the pressure to hit the ground running. That was something I thought about when I got my opportunity. There was never any doubts of do I have the quality? I have never doubted myself in that regard, it was a case of can I show I am this good straight away.

"Fortunately I was able to do that. The guys have helped me massively with that by being so solid and I have been able to continue that. Hopefully, I can keep going."

Foderingham again had to play the waiting game in the hope he could nudge the door open once more at some stage in the season. A far from convincing spell between the posts from Olsen saw his form come into question, but again Foderingham had to watch and hope from the bench.

His big moment finally arrived when Olsen returned from international duty in November with an injury and Foderingham returned to the starting line-up. And he's been an ever-present since then. Olsen was moved on in the January window, with his loan being cut short in order to move to Aston Villa, and Foderingham had also seen off the challenge from Verrips, who left in the same window.

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It was now his number one shirt and his patience has more than been rewarded. He has kept 16 clean sheets in just 28 league appearances and come up with some big saves at crucial times - such as penalty stops in back-to-back home games against Blackburn and Nottingham Forest.

Those clean sheets have been instrumental in United's rise up the division into sixth, earning him the nickname Clean Sheet Wes. It's a play on a comment made by Paolo Di Canio, who once labelled him League One Wes following a match during their time together at Swindon, when a young Foderingham was subbed in the first half.

His reaction led to a furious bust-up with the Italian, who hit out at his keeper in the media afterwards. Foderingham is aware of his new name among the United fanbase and says it's credit to how well he and those in front of him have done in shutting the door on so many occasions.

He joked: "It's probably a better nickname than League One Wes! It's testament to the job that I have done, the defence has helped me out massively with those clean sheets. There are games in there where I have not had much to do and games in there, like Blackburn, where you have had to come up with a big save. It's a defensive effort as a collective and that nickname is definitely better than League One Wes, even though I do enjoy it."

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Looking back, that period under Di Canio was a defining one for the now 31-year-old. Aged just 21, Foderingham took exception to being humiliated by the manager, being brought off after 21 minutes with his team 2-0 down at Preston. The comments from Di Canio afterwards have followed him throughout his career but he has been able to move on.

"I enjoy the banter side of things, football is as much mental as it is technical, so the bad experiences that I have had and got through give you strength. You can look back and think maybe that wasn't as bad as you thought at the time or it was a bit of character building for you and that's one of those situations.

"Even in that season I ended it in the PFA team of the year. I was a 21 year old boy, early part of my career. I handled that situation how I wouldn't handle it now. If you spoke to Paolo he may say the same. In fact, no, he would probably handle it the same way!

"We had a great relationship even after the situation we had a chat and there was no love lost there, it was more a case of how funny it was that made it bigger than it actually was."

With four games remaining, United will be hoping he can come up with more big saves and more clean sheets as they look to secure a play-off spot. Having grabbed his chance with as much ease as he collected Brennan Johnson's penalty against Forest, Foderingham is proof that good things come to those who wait.

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