England must build around Phil Foden like City have this season

Sport

Not many players are operating at the level Phil Foden is right now. In fact, Pep Guardiola believes the Manchester City midfielder is currently the “best player in the Premier League” after netting his 17th and 18th goals of the season in Sunday’s derby. Manchester United had no way to stop Foden.

At international level, though, Foden has struggled to find the same form. Gareth Southgate hasn’t always had a firm grasp of what the 23-year-old offers and this has resulted in Foden being a peripheral figure for England. At the 2022 World Cup, for example, Foden had to wait until the end of the group stage to start a match.

England boast one of the most talented squads in international football at this moment in time, but even accounting for this Foden is special. Southgate must build around the City midfielder to give the Three Lions the best possible chance of ending their long wait for a trophy at Euro 2024 this summer. Foden could make the difference.

Even when Southgate has used Foden, he has faced criticism for deploying him on the wing. Some supporters want Foden to be harnessed in a central role where he can get on the ball most often and have the biggest influence on matches. They want Foden to be as prominent for England as he is for City. Southgate, however, has pushed back against this notion.

“He doesn’t [play centrally] for his club,” Southgate argued when asked about Foden’s position for England. “Presumably there is a reason for that. It depends on the level of the game. In the middle of the park, everyone wants to talk about the ‘with the ball’ but there is a lot of detail without the ball.

“You have to be spot on with pressing angles, your responsibilities and if you don’t, you don’t get the flow of the game. You’d have to speak to Pep, who is the best coach in the world, who plays him from wide. He’s always got the freedom to drift if we play him wide. That’s important.”

While Southgate (who has reportedly sought out Guardiola for his view on Foden) is correct to point out Foden’s position for Manchester City, his comments highlight a fundamental mis-understanding of the 23-year-old. Against Manchester United on Sunday, for example, he was given freedom to find half-spaces and cut inside from the left and right sides. He didn’t operate as an orthodox winger.

In Southgate’s rigid system, Foden has been restricted in most matches he has played for England. For City, he is liberated and essentially position-less. For the Three Lions, though, there is more emphasis on Foden being part of a structure that makes England hard to beat, but often surpasses their attacking talent.

Despite this, Southgate has buckled to pressure in order to fit in a player before. He did it with Jude Bellingham who was made a central pillar of the England team for the 2022 World Cup and flourished as one of the players of the tournament. Southgate has changed his midfield structure to get the best out of the Real Madrid superstar.

Now, he must do something similar to ensure Foden carries his club form into Euro 2024. Between Bellingham, Harry Kane, Bukayo Saka and Foden, England have the potential to be the most dangerous attacking outfit in Germany this summer. To fit them all together and ensure Foden isn’t an afterthought, as he has been in the past, Southgate should look at how Guardiola’s methods. England must be more like City to truly give Foden a platform.

Author: Mark Hayes