From the Handbook: Phil Foden
This profile was originally published in the Scouted Football Handbook 2018, our massive, 114-player profile e-book published in March 2018. You can download it for free here.
CAREER IN REVIEW
Phil Foden etched his name into the record books in 2017 with an array of goals, assists and dazzling performances that underpinned England’s U-17 World Cup winning campaign. The Manchester City prodigy arrived in India with a readily established reptuation, in part due to his ongoing success with City at youth level, but more critically because of a summer friendly appearance for the City first team in the pre-season Manchester Derby in Houston.
The creative midfielder caught the eye there, with Pep Guardiola lauding the 17-year-old’s game. “It’s a long time since I saw something like this,” Guardiola said.
“His performance was another level. He is 17-years-old, he is a City player, he grew up in the academy, he loves the club, he is a City fan and for us he is a gift. He will stay with us training with us in the pre-season and maybe he’ll stay with us in season because he is special.”
“I don’t have words – I would like to have the right words to describe what I saw. You are the lucky guys who saw the first game, for the first team for Manchester City, of this guy.”
Phil Foden is the youngest English player in history to start a UEFA Champions League era game: 17 years and 192 days old.
It was a precursor to his U-17 World Cup. There, tasked with leading an attacking unit without the brilliant Jadon Sancho for the knock-out rounds, Foden bossed the competition. The Englishman’s performance in the final was particularly impressive, with his two goals and general embarrassment of Spain’s Guillamón and Juan Miranda leading England to their second youth World Cup of the year.
In recognition of his dominance, Foden received the tournament’s Golden Ball, awarded to the World Cup’s best player.
Since then, before a pre-Christmas injury sidelined the prodigious Englishman, he has firmly entrenched himself in the senior squad. He regularly trains with them, and even started two first-team matches while balancing his time with the U-23 team and in the UEFA Youth League.
STYLE OF PLAY
The 17-year-old is already proving to be a wonderfully clever and versatile midfielder. Recognised most notably as a central player, Foden has since developed a reputation as an extremely incisive wide outlet, capable of drifting inside and scything through defences.
At the U-17 World Cup, he featured in a right-wing role that saw him link fluently with right-back Steven Sessegnon. This worked so well due to Foden’s propensity to latch onto the ball and tuck in from the right. Because of his quality in possession, the 17-year-old often draws more than one opposition marker and, during the World Cup, he created acres of space for Sessegnon to charge into, where the defender was able to create for the tournament’s leading goal-scorer Rhian Brewster.
At times, the Englishman prefers to burden himself with the task of creating, instead of putting others in the position to do so. His ability to play short, defence-splitting passes along the ground is exceptional. Couple this with his understanding of where to position himself either to receive the ball or create a diversion, and defences are never allowed a moment’s rest. The movement is not only fluid, but endless.
All this translates well into his, until recently, natural position as an interior midfielder. There, his defence splitting passes become midfield line-breaking passes. This ability is crucial in breaking down deep defensive blocks and means he is deadly in open midfield spaces on the counter-attack. It is easy to see why Guardiola loves him so much. It is a style that suits City’s current midfield dynamic to a tee as an interchangeable option with either David Silva or Kevin De Bruyne.
Both roles allow him to express his natural creative flair, while tasking him with pressing midfield ball-carriers and wide players without the burden of difficult one-on-one defensive duties. He does not shirk these duties, either. The fact that he is so often able to remain on the defensive side of the ball, despite being such a dangerous attacking threat, is quite impressive in that it allows him to be engaged defensively. It lets him shut down narrow passing lanes through the midfield when playing centrally, or limit the efficacy of speedy threats on the flanks when he is playing wide.
When on the ball, Foden is incredibly difficult to disposses. His combination of tidy feints, turns, dinks and spins make him evasive at his worst and impossible to tackle at his best. He operates excellently as a central player because of this; these skills allow him to weave his way through packs of defenders to create for others, or to fashion shooting opportunities for himself.
In front of goal, The 17-year-old is at times wasteful, but he does tend to score high-quality chances and largely abstains from attempting long-range strikes. He has a striking technique largely based around curling the ball into the corners or finishing across the goalkeeper.
FORECAST FOR THE FUTURE
After recovering from his injury, Foden must set about working his way into the first-team as minutes become available later in the season. He has already made his return, coming on as a substitute in Manchester City's 3-0 win over Arsenal in the League Cup final—his first winner's nedal at senior level. With the possibility of the title being won as early as mid-April, and with ongoing Champions League commitments, Guardiola will likely shift his Premier League focus towards blooding Manchester City’s best young stars.
The English midfielder may be the most promising of all of them, and his ability to play in a variety of roles—he has already played at left-midfield for the senior team against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League—holds him in good stead to be part of such plans.
Throughout 2018, Foden will have the opportunity to help the England U-19 team qualify for the U-19 European Championship in Finland later this year. If England can succeed at that tournament, too, they will qualify for the U-20 World Cup in 2019. That is a competition that, after his U-17 heroics, Foden will surely be eyeing as the next best opportunity to announce himself to the world before embarking on a successful career at senior level.
Scouted Football Handbook: Volume VII is here. Support our independent football writing and buy your copy now.