Foden enjoying the best season of his career and finally becoming a key pillar for City

Sport

When Erling Haaland failed to make the difference for Manchester City against Bournemouth on Saturday, Phil Foden stepped up. The 23-year-old has been doing that lot for Pep Guardiola’s team of late, scoring five goals in his last six games in all competitions. Foden is finally flourishing as the key figure for City many envisaged he would one day become.

The significance of Saturday’s winner against Bournemouth wasn’t just that it kept Manchester City firmly in the Premier League title. Indeed, it was Foden’s 16th goal of the 2023/24 season, making it his best goalscoring season to date. At his current rate, he will easily pass 20 goals for the campaign.

It wasn’t so long ago that Guardiola was facing criticism for not using Foden more. At the start of this season, it wasn’t quite how the England international would fit into Manchester City’s plans following their signing of Jeremy Doku who made hit the ground running at the Etihad Stadium. Foden faced being squeezed out.

Even going back to his teenage years, there was a clamour for Guardiola to give Foden more game time. It was reported at the time that the attacking midfielder was open to leaving Manchester City on loan to gain experience – Borussia Dortmund was reportedly interested in signing the Englishman.

Now it’s clear Foden made the right decision to stay at the Etihad Stadium, progressing from youth academy to the first team. He has been coached by the best manager of his generation in Guardiola and has developed by playing alongside some of the best players in the world. Foden has grown into one of the most influential players in the Premier League.

Until this season, Foden’s versatility counted against him to an extent. Guardiola used him to plug gaps in his team, but the Manchester City boss is now building around him. No matter when Foden is deployed in a wide position or as one of City’s dual number 10s, he has the freedom to have a real influence on every match he plays.

“Forget about the goals,” said Guardiola after Foden’s match-winning performance against Bournemouth. “Of course they’re important, but do you know how he played? How he controls and accelerates. He has become already a top-class football player. He was before a little boy, good actions. Now he has become already a world-class top player. So good. He can play everywhere, especially in the central positions, which is really, really good.”

In his current form, Foden will surely be a key member of Gareth Southgate’s England squad for Euro 2024 this summer. The Three Lions are stacked for top-quality options in the attacking third of the pitch, but Foden is a special talent. He’s the sort of player England should be building around to win major tournaments. He could make the difference for them in Germany.

Brentford manager Thomas Frank recently labelled Foden as the English player most likely to win the Ballon d’Or in the future, and with good reason. Foden is the archetypal modern player in the way he can manipulate the ball in so many different ways. He could have played for Guardiola’s great Barcelona team and not looked out of place.

With Kevin de Bruyne now into the twilight of his career, Manchester City might have to replace the Belgian at some point in the near future, but in Foden they already have someone who is equipped for that role. In past seasons, Foden was something of a peripheral figure at the Etihad Stadium. Now, though, he is a central pillar holding Guardiola’s team up.

Author: Mark Hayes