Foster: “The Lads Have Been So Good With Me”
By Kevin Affleck
Ben Foster has attributed Watford's stunning start to the season to their increased levels of fitness, the leadership qualities of the reinvigorated Troy Deeney and the management style of Head Coach Javi Gracia.
In an interview on BBC Radio 5 Live's Monday Night Club, the Hornets' goalkeeper gave a fascinating insight into just what is making the Golden Boys tick this season and what is exactly behind a run of four straight opening league wins, a feat achieved only once before in the club's history.
Foster said the groundwork was laid during the pre-season camp in Austria and carried out on the fields of London Colney.
“It's probably the fittest team I have been a part of,” said Foster. That's some statement as the 35-year-old spent five years at Manchester United and seven at West Bromwich Albion.
“The pre-season training was class, we worked so hard. It was really tough for all the lads and at some clubs there is a lot of moaning and groaning and not everyone pulls in the right direction, but everybody here was top-class all pre-season.
“And even now, we play on a Saturday, we'll have a warm down on the Sunday and then only get the Monday off. But on Tuesday and Wednesday you are talking really hard sessions. The poles will be out all the way round the pitch so you know what's coming, but the lads all get stuck in and all buy into it. We're looking so fit, so strong and we are winning games in the second half.”
It appears during the lung-busting fitness work that a one-for-all and all-for-one team spirit has been fostered. You only have to look at the celebrations at the final whistle, particularly against Crystal Palace and Tottenham, to see everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. Even the unused substitutes and the players not even in the squad sitting at the back of the stand are jumping for joy.
“I've had some good team spirits [in my career] and joining a new team you are always a bit apprehensive, but the lads have been so good with me,” said Foster. “I've slipped right in and it's like I have been here for years. They are just a good set of lads. We've got a good mix of a British core and a good mix of foreign players who are good lads.”
Leading the group is Deeney. By his own admission the captain is sharper, leaner and hungrier this season and is arguably in the form of his life, particularly when you consider the level of the opposition. He turned the game against Spurs on its head by knocking over Dávinson Sánchez, shaking the visitors to the core and getting the crowd going. He then headed in the equaliser just minutes later and the thrilling comeback was on.
“He's worth his weight in gold to Watford,” said Foster. “He's one of the best captains I've played for. He's an absolute leader and won't let anyone get away with anything. He's always one of the first in [to training], always one of the last leaving and is always doing extras. The rest of the lads see that and they don't want to let their standards slip.”
The team is also clearly putting in a shift for Gracia. The Head Coach is getting a tune of this group through a combination of his unflappable style, tactical acumen and arm-round-the-shoulder approach.
“He's so unassuming, he just gets on with his business but he shows you a lot of respect,” said Foster. “He's met my family, met my wife, and he makes a big point of coming over to say hello and welcoming them. When it comes to the football, he's got his style – and for what we've got in our team, it fits us perfectly.
“He wants us to play high tempo, he wants us to press from the front, and when we don't have the ball and when we lose it he wants us racing to go and get it straight back. With the physicality we've got at the top of the pitch in Troy and Andre, it's just a good recipe at the minute. Those two are going to cause a lot of teams problems.”
At the other end, Watford look much more compact and there seems a real thou-shall-not-pass attitude. Daryl Janmaat is playing the best football of his Watford career, Craig Cathcart and Christian Kabasele are the perfect foil for each other while José Holebas is playing like a man possessed.
“I've been really surprised with the back four,” said Foster. “Over the last couple of seasons Watford have a shipped a few leaky goals, so I didn't know what to expect but they have been absolutely top class. All four games we have played we have limited them to just two or three shots on target.”