Maybe by the time the next World Cup in Qatar comes around, four years from now, Phil Foden will be a key figure for England. The young midfielder is already a World Cup winner at Under-17 level, winning the Golden Ball award at last summer’s tournament for the Three Lions.
He is considered the brightest spark in England’s emerging crop of youngsters.
And yet there are still questions over his club future. Foden broke into the senior squad at Manchester City last season, making 10 appearances for Pep Guardiola’s side. However, all five of his Premier League outings were off the bench. He is a peripheral figure at the Etihad Stadium and so it has been suggested that the teenager could seek more game time elsewhere next season.
Recent rumours have linked Foden with a loan move to Leeds United, with new manager Marcelo Bielsa thought to be a fan of the 18-year-old.
Indeed, his technical style and ability on the ball, as well as his energy, would make him a natural fit for the legendary Argentine coach, and at Elland Road he would surely be a key figure.
Foden can flourish among City stars
Those rumours have since been extinguished somewhat, and with good reason. City might be by far and away the best team in the country at the moment, but Foden offers them something that they could use through the middle of the pitch. Guardiola wouldn’t just be giving a youngster a chance for the sake of it. Foden would be an asset to City as a first-team figure.
Guardiola favoured a 4-3-3 shape last season, with Fernandinho anchoring a midfield three consisting of the Brazilian alongside Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva. It provided City with the perfect balance as they went on to break the 100-point mark as Premier League champions. They all compliment each other.
Foden exists somewhere between De Bruyne and Silva. He, too, can drop deep to collect possession, like De Bruyne, while also possessing the ability to pick the passes right on the edge of the opposition box, like Silva.
Averaging 80 successful passes from a total of 88 per 90 minutes in the Premier League last season, Foden is something of a budding pass-master, but his movement is also what makes him different, what makes him special.
The comparison is natural when it comes to a young talent like Foden. He is a central midfielder who likes to break forward into the final third, averaging 1.97 touches in the opposition box per 90 minutes in the Champions League last season.
That, for a player of his type, is a rather high average, particularly at Champions League level. In the Premier League, he averaged a massive 10 touches in the opposition box per 90 minutes. It reinforces the parallels that have been drawn between him and Frank Lampard, who was another central midfielder who played much of his game in the penalty area.
But Foden also averages 1.97 successful take-ons per 90 minutes in the Champions League. In the Premier League last season, he averaged six successful take-ons per 90 minutes.
He is a player who likes to drive at opponents and in that regard he is more like an Andrés Iniesta figure, or maybe even a Lionel Messi – as outlandish as that comparison might seem – when the Barcelona forward drops deep to pick up the ball, as he tends to do more and more as he gets older.
Guardiola is a self-proclaimed fan of the 18-year-old, singing his praises on more than occasion last season. “I don’t have words,” the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss said after one particular game. “I would like to have the right words to describe what I saw. You are lucky guys, believe me, you are the guys who saw his first game in the first team at Manchester City.
“I’ve not seen something like I saw today for a long time. His performance was another level. He’s a City fan and loves the club. He’s a gift for us. He’s special…he played against [Paul] Pogba, [Ander] Herrera and after that [Michael] Carrick.”
Not since the emergence of Wayne Rooney as a teenager at Everton has there been such excitement over a young, English talent. Foden is destined for the top of the game and in Manchester City he has the perfect environment to grow and develop, and in Guardiola he has the perfect mentor.
But rather than being one purely for the future, Foden can offer Man City something right now, in the present. At 18, he is still inexperienced and raw, but if he is as good as so many claim, Guardiola will give him a chance, not just as a token, but as something that will benefit all parties concerned.