phil foden england u21 manchester city tactical analysis analysis

Considering Pep Guardiola has managed an array of world superstars, it came as a surprise when the Catalonian claimed Man City academy graduate Phil Foden is the most talented player he’s ever coached. We can only assume he ever said that cause Messi is something else and isn’t human enough to be called a “player”. Right? Well, if Foden is the holy grail of players like Guardiola has reiterated, how has the 19-year-old struggled for game time so far? And if he is that good why are leading bookmakers like betting24.dk shortening their odds on Foden leaving City in January? There have been a surge of bets recently on Foden going out on loan, meaning the bookies are sitting up and taking notice.

And while the frustration for the teenager continues, Manchester City assistant manager Mikel Arteta has insisted that the homegrown midfielder has ‘limitless’ potential, despite his lack of game time at present. Pep Guardiola’s right-hand man reinforced the club’s faith in the teenager and said that opportunities will come.

While he only turned 19 in May, Foden appeared 26 times in all competitions for City last season (Transfermarkt). But the Stockport-born youngster has played only four times so far in 2019/20, with just ten minutes on the clock in the Premier League.

It has led to clamour from some sections of the media for Foden to play more or leave for the sake of his career, with many often citing the example of Jadon Sancho, a player who left City at the age of 17 and is now thriving for Borussia Dortmund and England.

But Arteta is adamant that Foden will get chances because of how highly he is rated at the club.

“His potential is limitless. He is going to set his own limits,” the Spaniard told City’s official website.

“The most important thing is that, as a club and around the team, we have created a really healthy, inspiring and challenging environment. That’s exactly what he needs.”

Arteta added that the ‘door is open’ for Foden, who is ‘going to get opportunities’, and described Pep Guardiola as ’a manager who trusts in young players’.

“With that type of environment, to grow and to always be going in the right direction is the most important thing. I think he’ll be very successful.”

Indeed, there is no doubting that Guardiola thinks similar, with the City boss recently asserting that not even €500m would be enough to tempt the club to sell Foden.

Comparisons have been drawn between the playing time Foden gets at City and the playing time that Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney got as teenagers at Manchester United in 2003 and 2004, but the circumstances were very different.

Ronaldo thrived because of the departure of David Beckham a few months earlier and an early-season injury to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that opened up a place in the team. Rooney, meanwhile, was already a regular starter at international level and was a major signing, despite his age.

A more contemporary comparison has been with Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold, who got his chance as a regular starter for the Reds at 19.

Yet there was little to no competition standing in his way at Anfield. In contrast, Foden is waiting for chance in a midfield dominated by world-class stars that have steered City to back-to-back Premier League titles and 198 points in the last two seasons.

Much recently, Guardiola apologized to Foden about the youngster’s lack of minutes after his cameo goal in Manchester City’s win over Dinamo Zagreb.

As quoted by Sky Sports,  Guardiola said he had personally spoken to the 19-year-old for his lack of game-time, saying:

“He deserves to play. I want to give him minutes. Every time I don’t play him, I am in front of him saying I’m sorry.

“But it’s Kevin De Bruyne there, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, David Silva, Gundogan, I’m so sorry. I know the best way to grow up is to play minutes, but he’s so young.”

Any player, let alone a teenager just starting out, would struggle to command a regular place.

Verdict

Foden is 19, there is no need to rush. As Arteta says, the chances will come and they will come with time. Foden might have “limitless” talent but the afore-mentioned players are all miles ahead of him. Even players like Mahrez, Gabriel Jesus, Bernardo Silva and Gundogan are not guaranteed a starting spot and have to be at their best each game-week to be in Guardiola’s good spot. When you further realize there’s still an injured Leroy Sane on the sidelines, one can only see why Foden can’t just see game time at the moment. Such is the competitive nature of the City squad.

And with City eight staggering points behind leaders Liverpool, no doubt Guardiola will always pick his “best available” options as it stands and would come under fire should he play a 19-year-old Foden and things eventually go south with more experienced players watching helplessly.

Foden has found himself in the most demanding setup he can probably be and he should thrive and take solace in the fact that he’s already highly rated at the moment. David Silva is already closing up the curtains on his City career and it would leave room for one more player to come into the foray and that sets up the perfect opportunity for Foden to show the world what he is made of. All he needs is a little time and he would see more minutes under his belt. Guardiola is probably the best manager he might be privileged to work with and for Guardiola to rate him that high, it surely means he sees a future romance story to come between Phil Foden and the City midfield.