The face of an Academy programme and a Premier League winner yet still not a regular first-team player for Manchester City, Phil Foden has had an odd start to his career.
Since first being called up to the first-team in 2016 as an unused substitute in the Champions League group stages, Foden’s reputation has continued to rise as the now 20 year old attacking midfielder prepares to make his big breakthrough at The Etihad.
Pep Guardiola is constantly praising the Englishman, who won the U17 World Cup with England back in 2017 thanks to two goals in the final from the man himself. In 2017 during Man City’s pre-season tour of the USA, Foden started the 2-0 defeat to Manchester United and 4-1 win over Real Madrid. Guardiola was quick to praise the youngster, saying “he is a gift.”
“It’s a long time since I saw something like this. His [Foden] performance was another level. He’s 17 years old, he’s a City player, he grew up in the academy, he loves the club, he’s a City fan and for us he’s a gift.“ – Pep GuardiolaPep Guardiola following City’s 2-0 defeat to Man Utd in a pre-season friendly in 2017.
With all the gushing praise for Foden and the obvious ability he has, he doesn’t feature anywhere near as much as he probably should do. To date, Foden has 32 Premier League appearances to his name, but only 6 starts.
Now clearly, Man City have an abundance of talent in their attacking positions. It’s not controversial to say that the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane are ahead of Foden in the pecking order but also in ability. But one position that is most certainly up for grabs is that of club legend David Silva.
The Spaniard has been a wizard during his 10 years with City and has already announced that his time in England will come to an end once this season draws to a close. Yet this season despite Silva’s performances dwindling and City never really being involved in a title race due to Liverpool’s dominance, Foden has barely had a sniff.
Guardiola has preferred to use Bernardo Silva or Ilkay Gundogan alongside De Bruyne, with Sterling and Mahrez out wide to cover for Leroy Sane’s injury. This has left Foden with a bench role yet again, in a season where many thought he could make his breakthrough. Now with Euro 2020 postponed until next summer, Foden has been gifted a lifeline to make the squad – but he needs Pep’s trust and help.
The expectation should be that Silva leaves, Foden steps into his position in the starting line-up and City carry on as they were. However, they are being linked heavily with midfielders for this summer.
Sandro Tonali, Fabian Ruiz and Houssem Aouar have all been linked with a move to the blue side of Manchester, which would further plunge Foden’s development into doubt. While Tonali looks more likely to stay in Italy, with Inter Milan favourites for his signature, Ruiz and Aouar are very real possibilities. The Frenchman Aouar more-so than the others, with Lyon set to miss out on the Champions League next season thanks to Ligue 1 curtailing their season.
If Foden’s pathway to the first-team isn’t clear now after all the praise and a gap opening up in his best position right in front of him, then it may never be clear. At 20 years old and with a contract that runs until 2024, Foden has plenty of time ahead of him but he will surely see his former Academy team-mate Jadon Sancho on the verge of a €100m move and wonder ‘what if?’
If he doesn’t get the call-up into a more regularly starting role for City, Foden may need to begin looking elsewhere for his breakthrough. With Jack Grealish and James Maddison both transfer targets for top-six sides in the near future, that would leave an obvious hole for Foden to slot into and make a name for himself before an inevitable return to the top.
He’s too good not to make it at the top level and his performances when he does play rarely leave anyone disappointed, so it’s simply a matter of time and a question of whether it happens at Manchester City or elsewhere.