Phil Foden is the youngest ever Premier League winner and is continuing to impress for Manchester City. So will he get more action this season? Patience is a virtue but such is Foden’s quality that the wait should not be too much longer, writes Adam Bate.
Phil Foden left the field with a hamstring injury against Bayern Munich at the weekend but only after giving everyone the latest glimpse of his rare potential. It was all there. Bringing the ball down out of the air, slipping through balls behind the defence with both feet and collecting passes on the half turn. Bernardo Silva scored twice but Foden was just as good.
The teenager has a natural ability to find space but even when denied it, his close control is so assured that he can dribble out of danger with ease. It was impossible not to be impressed. “Phil Foden played an outstanding game today,” said Pep Guardiola afterwards. “He is a fighter. He is a guy who runs. He has an England mentality as in he never ever gives up.”
Cynics might say that Foden will need that attitude if he is to navigate a path through to the Manchester City first team given the competition for places in Guardiola’s congested squad. Foden’s five appearances off the bench were enough to ensure he became the youngest ever player to pick up a Premier League winners’ medal last season but it will not get easier.
Time is on his side, of course. Foden only turned 18 in May – having to stick with the soft drinks as the champagne flowed around him during City’s open-top bus parade earlier that month. By any measure, he is ahead of schedule. But life at Manchester City is demanding. Every training session brings opportunity. But every transfer window brings threats.
The signing of Riyad Mahrez means that another big name has arrived looking for minutes and City have also been pursuing another midfielder. The good news for Foden is that Guardiola is clearly a fan. “I’m so happy to have him,” he said last season. “He’s a Mancunian, a City fan, a humble guy. He’s a fighter. He looks skinny but he’s a strong guy.”
0:41 Jamie Redknapp is hopeful that Foden can be a future star for England
Foden’s appetite has already struck a chord with supporters who can empathise with the idea of the local lad playing alongside the superstars. His wide-eyed joy at seeing Sergio Aguero collect his simple pass and slam home his fourth goal of the game against Leicester – thus earning a first Premier League assist for Foden – was a pleasure to witness.
He knows that there is much to learn and, importantly for City, that he is in the right place to do so. “It gives me a lot of confidence that the manager wants to keep me,” he said recently. “He’s always talking to me and letting me know where I need to improve. I just listen to him and see what he can help me with and make me better.”
That is why he opted to go on City’s tour instead of playing for the England U19 team this summer. “I think it was right for me to stay here and try to develop more and become a better player,” he added. “It’s going to be quite difficult. I just need to try and show the manager what I can do in training, work hard and see where that takes me.”
0:28 Foden explains why it was the right decision to stay with Manchester City
Guardiola has been typically enthusiastic about the prospects for City’s youngsters this summer. “You cannot imagine how much I have enjoyed these two weeks with these guys,” he said at the weekend. “The young guys have desire. They open their eyes and listen because they have their whole career ahead of them. I want to say thank you to them.”
But while his positivity about the experience of coaching them providing an irresistible contrast to the downbeat attitude of his Manchester United counterpart and long-time rival Jose Mourinho, many will still be wondering whether these words will be backed up by actions. Will Guardiola give the youngsters more opportunities? Will Foden get his chance?
“People say it depends on managers but it depends on players,” says Guardiola. “I’m not going to put young players in because they are young. They will be in the squad because they have quality.” With every pre-season friendly and every cameo appearance, Foden offers more evidence that quality is no barrier for him. The case for his inclusion grows.
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