Now, though, he feels Sunday at last marks his chance to fulfil the natural talent that convinced Sir Alex Ferguson not only to bring him to Old Trafford, but anoint him as heir apparent to both Edwin van der Sar at club level and David James for the national side.
He said: "The way my career has gone so far has been dramatic, just constant ups and downs. I started in non-League after being a chef and then went to Stoke. They sent me out on loan to all these mad, obscure teams and then I battled through to sign for the biggest club in the world.
"But when I came back here from [a loan spell at] Watford, it just seemed to be injury after injury. When I did my cruciate for the second time, I knew I would be out for a year and you can accept that. But when you get fit and then go over on your ankle, you're back for a month and you break your thumb, it's a nightmare.
"I don't want to be tarnished with the tag of being injury-prone. It has just been unlucky. It has been heartbreaking to watch United win things, knowing I cannot be involved. But Sunday could be a stage for me to remind people what I am about. I had a reputation but it's faded away in the last couple of years. This is my chance to get my name back out there."