Foster: Man United 'the wrong place at the wrong time' but Watford FA Cup win would mean everything
Ben Foster has told ESPN FC that FA Cup glory with Watford this season would mean more than the success he experienced with Manchester United after admitting that he struggled to cope with the ruthless drive for silverware under Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford.
Foster, 36, has enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career this term after leaving relegated West Bromwich Albion for Javi Gracia's Watford last summer.
The former England goalkeeper could now have been United's established first-choice after being billed by Ferguson as Edwin van der Sar's long-term successor following his heroics in a League Cup final penalty shoot-out win against Tottenham in 2009.
Ferguson claimed the "future is his" after being impressed by Foster's development, but a loss of form and confidence saw the goalkeeper leave United for Birmingham City just 12 months later and he is now approaching the final years of his career at Vicarage Road.
But with Watford facing Wolves on Sunday (live on ESPN+, 11 a.m. ET) aiming to reach their first FA Cup final since 1984, Foster has told ESPN FC that the joy of winning with a club without the pressure of huge expectancy is something that he relishes after failing to understand the reaction to success at United.
"I won the League Cup when I was with Birmingham [in 2011] and that was one of the highlights of my career," Foster told ESPN FC. "We played Arsenal that day at Wembley and were the underdogs like you wouldn't believe, but we did win and, when you run down the pitch see all the fans going absolutely crazy, you see how much it meant to them.
"That will live with me for the rest of my life and to do something like that with the team at Watford, where it would mean exactly the same sort of thing, would be would be huge for me. I won the League Cup when I was with United, but it was almost a given that we were going to win the game.
"I remember getting back on the coach after the game and it was basically, 'Right, training tomorrow lads, we've got a Champions League match on the Tuesday.' "It was all forgotten as soon as that. It was incredible. There was no celebrating, no kind of really revelling in it and that's the difference for me, you know?
"I just couldn't get my head around the fact that it was just another trophy. Do you know what I mean? But I think, if you win it with a team like Birmingham, West Brom or Watford, it does mean so much more."
Looking back on a career that has seen Foster win three League Cups, a Premier League title and eight England caps, there is a sense that he has not fulfilled the potential that prompted United to sign him from Stoke City in 2005.
Foster now admits that United was a case of too much, too soon, but he insists that his career has benefited from experiencing the unforgiving spotlight of playing at Old Trafford.
"I've been at Man United and it was brilliant, don't get me wrong," Foster said. "It was a brilliant experience and I'll never, ever regret anything that's happened to me in my career. But it was definitely the wrong place at the wrong time for me, you know?
"I wasn't equipped mentally to be able to deal with being at United at that time, but I think it's helped put me in good stead going forward. I can call on those experiences and hard times and know how to deal with it now."
Foster goes into Sunday's clash with Wolves waiting for Watford manager Gracia to decide whether to stick with his policy of using second-choice goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes for FA Cup ties or instead going with his strongest team.
Sources have told ESPN FC that Gracia has yet to settle on who will play in goal, but whatever the manager decides, Foster insists that he has been revitalised at Watford this season after losing his appetite for the game at West Brom.
"I was good to go last season," he said. "I wasn't enjoying it anymore. No disrespect to West Brom. I loved my time there and made some lifelong friends at the club, but I completely fell out of love with it [football]. I was ready to just go out and ride my bike.
"I think I'd been basically stuck in a rut and been there for too long, so when the change came in the summer, it was a hard thing for me to do. I didn't want to move, but I have got to say, hands up, it's the best decision I made in football because this season has been absolutely brilliant.
"I've enjoyed every second of it and it's a big testament to the lads that I come in everyday and everyone seems to have a smile on their face. I've got a massive smile on my face, the environment around the football club is fantastic and it's just a really nice club to be part of.
"Don't get me wrong, we haven't gone winning leagues or winning trophies or stuff like that, but what we've achieved so far is a big deal.
"So I would definitely have regretted it if I'd have gone and done that [retired]. It's been a fantastic move for me. I want to get to the cup with this club. I think we've got the ability to win a cup."