EXCLUSIVE: Watford goalkeeper Ben Foster opens up on where it all went wrong at Manchester United, what made Sir Alex Ferguson so special and why Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t finished just yet
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Plucked from nowhere by Sir Alex Ferguson with a view to becoming Manchester United’s future No.1, a 22-year-old Ben Foster had the world at his feet. But by the Watford goalkeeper’s own admission, it proved to be a case of “wrong place, wrong time”.
The young stopper was supposed to succeed Edwin van der Sar between the United sticks. He was supposed to go on to become first choice for club and country. But sometimes things don’t turn out as planned. In hindsight, it was all too much, too soon.
Having caught the eye of the legendary Scot while playing from Wrexham, on loan from Stoke, back in 2005, Foster was swiftly snapped up by the Red Devils amid much excitement over his potential. However, the pressure of representing one of the biggest clubs in the world would soon take its toll.
“For me, it was bewildering,” Foster exclusively told Mirror Football while promoting his Spotify Original podcast, Fozcast – The Ben Foster Podcast, in Westfield City, London. “Honestly, I came from nowhere and then all of a sudden I signed for Man Utd and it was like ‘Wow!’ It was crazy.
“Definitely for me personally, it was wrong place, wrong time. I wasn’t ready for that. I just couldn’t deal with the pressure and the stresses and the expectation of playing for a team like Man Utd.”
Foster impressed over the course of a two-year loan stint with Watford, in which he helped the Hornets achieve promotion to the Premier League, prompting Ferguson to announce his intentions to integrate Foster into his star-studded first-team fold. However, the Leamington Spa-born stopper would only go on to make 12 Premier League appearances for United as he struggled to make the step up.
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Though Ferguson was forced to abandon his plans to make Foster his first-choice goalkeeper at United, with a move to Birmingham City transpiring in 2010, the current Watford No.1 remains full of admiration for his old manager. But what is it that makes Ferguson so special?
“His work-rate,” Foster added. “His desire to succeed in every single department within Man Utd, whether it be the transfers, the physical department, the tactics, players getting brought in – no matter what it was, he was the one that oversaw it and he was the one that made sure it was done properly.
“He held everybody accountable and would hold them all to massively high standards. You’ve got to have a massive work-rate to do that. You have got to be always finger on the pulse and he found out about everything as well – no secrets! It was incredible. He knew everything.
“I don’t know if football will ever have anybody like that ever again. That longevity. That long at the top. That much respect in the game. He truly was a one-off. Man Utd was his baby. He ran everything.”
Despite acknowledging he wasn’t prepared for the pressures that representing United would bring, Foster expressed his gratitude for playing alongside some of the game’s greatest names, while admitting his Old Trafford experiences taught him valuable lessons. The 39-year-old added: “Again though, I buzzed off it because I learnt so much.
“Even now, there’s stuff that I have learnt from in the past and it holds you in good stead going forward. Going in every day and just training with literally the best was incredible.
“Even back then, the players were at the top of their game and they were probably the best team in the world. You had the likes [Cristiano] Ronaldo, [Paul] Scholes, [Ryan] Giggs, [Wayne] Rooney – the proper big dogs at the top of their game. It was incredible.”
After departing Old Trafford, Foster went on the help Birmingham to win the 2011 League Cup with the most unlikeliest of triumphs over Arsenal – the third successive time he would fit the trophy having done so twice with United. A commendable career at the top of the game would also see him go on to represent England at the 2014 World Cup following impressive form while on the books at West Brom.
Foster then sealed a return to Watford in the summer of 2018 and has since help steer them back into the Premier League. The opportunity to once again compete in England’s top-flight this season has even seen him reacquainted with a familiar face in the form of old United team-mate Ronaldo.
Despite hitting his 23rd goal of the season in United’s 1-1 draw against Chelsea on Thursday evening, the Portuguese superstar has come in for some heavy criticism this campaign. But for Foster, such reproval of his former Old Trafford team-mate, who he brands an “absolute specimen”, is “completely mad”.
“It was nice to see him up close and then you could see for yourself what the level is,” Foster revealed. “The level is high as you like. For a 37-year-old, he is an absolute specimen. He is still rapid. He is just one of those who is a natural goalscorer. For me, in that eternal Messi v Ronaldo debate, he is still number one for me.
“I think even this season people are completely mad that they think he is finished. He’s not finished. Look how many goals he has scored, that’s incredible.
“For anybody, that is a fantastic season, but because it is Ronaldo, people expect 30, 40, 50 goals. No – he is playing in a team that is not firing on all cylinders so you are not going to score that many goals anyway, but for people to say that he is finished, no chance mate. He is good to go still for another year or two at least.”
New episodes of ‘Fozcast – The Ben Foster Podcast’ are added to Spotify every Sunday. To listen in, please visit the official site here.