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Amongst the international flavour present in the expansive array of talent at the Etihad Stadium, it’s hard not to be drawn to the homegrown prodigy just on the outskirts of the established XI. Already considered an important piece of the wider jigsaw by a man widely acknowledged to possess one of the finest football brains the world has ever seen in Pep Guardiola, the natural technical ability of Phil Foden is developing under the watch of a zealous home nation.
Foden has been with his boyhood club since U9 level and has always been a much-heralded talent at youth level, renowned for his technical attributes and natural ability at a club which is now synonymous with those qualities. A young man who has often defied his tender years, Foden has already tasted substantial success for club and country at youth level, with his crowning moment undoubtedly coming in Toulon as an integral part of the England U17 World Cup winners, picking up the coveted Golden Ball trophy in the process.
The talents of Foden had been earmarked for future glory before the genius of Pep Guardiola arrived on these shores, with Foden impressing as he advanced through the City academy. Most commonly deployed as an attacking midfielder during his development days and under Guardiola, Foden has always impressed with his intelligence on the field, particularly his brilliant ability to spot a pass which has been evident from his early years. Born in Stockport in the Millennium (May 2000), Foden was somewhat of a late developer in terms of physicality, but never in terms of ability and has always seemed destined to play a starring role for the club he grew up supporting.
Foden has been eased into the first team fold by the Spaniard, who has claimed at times he has been “lost for words” at the youngster’s talents, so it should be no surprise that he is the third youngest player to ever be included in a match-day squad for City. Since his first inclusion in the squad against Celtic at 16, Foden has been a regular on the bench under Pep and it is clear that Guardiola has a big vision for his future with the Citizens.
Since his gradual introduction to the senior side, Foden has been mostly restricted to cup appearances, although this includes Champions League fixtures. This year Foden has already exceeded his appearance total for Manchester City, almost doubling it in-fact, with eighteen compared to last year’s ten. Eight of those eighteen have come in the Premier League, although he is yet to make a start in the league. In his fleeting minutes on the pitch this season Foden has shown he isn’t just there to make up the numbers, having a modest impact with three domestic cup goals. Delving further into the figures, Foden has had more of an impact in Europe from his midfield role, with an average of 1.6 key passes from 3 appearances. Despite his gradual introduction leading to limited minutes, Foden has shown evidence of his exceptional technical talents, with an impressive overall pass success rate of 88.6% showing he more than belongs among the talent surrounding him at City.
Foden has been one of the spearheads for the renaissance of the National teams at various levels, with his aforementioned success during the U17 World Cup the clearest example of this. England has had fantastic results across age groups for the past two years, which ultimately culminated in the senior sides run to the semi-finals in Russia. Foden’s high pass success ratio is a fine indicator of how vital he is to the national side’s future, with the current set-up crying out for someone to not only hold on to possession but also capable of carrying the ball further up the pitch. Despite not yet owning a senior cap, Foden is a perfect candidate due to his accurate passing figures and his positive movement both in and out of possession. It’s apparent that Foden has a mammoth international future ahead with England, and the fact he will be evolving his skills at one of the country’s finest clubs under a manager like Guardiola is something that should enthuse everyone.
There is an increasing clamour for young English talents from abroad due to the profound impact wonderkids such as Jaden Sancho and Reiss Nelson are having in the Bundesliga in particular. Sancho was a team-mate of Foden both domestically and internationally but bravely departed Manchester for regular first-team football in Germany. Now at Dortmund, Sancho has flourished breaking his way into the senior England squad. With a similar transfer saga rumbling on with Callum Hudson-Odoi at Chelsea and Bayern Munich, Guardiola could eventually come under more pressure to hand more substantial minutes to his young magician. Foden is regarded as the long-term successor to David Silva, but with the Spaniard having an excellent season, it remains to be seen where the minutes Guardiola has promised will arrive. As an avid City fan, and perhaps rated as the more talented of the duo by insiders at the club, this could help avoid a similar Sancho situation coming to fruition.
Despite being surrounded by such a vast pool of talent in the City squad, Foden hasn’t looked out of place and plays with a confidence and maturity well beyond his years at times. There’s no doubt he has the capacity to become the cornerstone of both Manchester City and England’s attack for years to come, with his stirring development so far likely to be a healthy indicator of what he can produce in the future. Having recently penned a new multi-year deal until 2024, Foden’s prodigious talents are in the perfect environment to fully evolve into the kind of virtuosity that surrounds him at the Etihad.