Phil Foden: How Man City have shown faith after England lapse

Phil Foden: How Man City have shown faith after England lapse
Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden
Phil Foden (right) has been directly involved in 22 goals in 33 starts for Manchester City (12 goals, 10 assists)

Castigated with England, lauded at Manchester City – it has been a month of contrasting fortunes for Phil Foden.

The 20-year-old midfielder has endured headlines for the wrong reasons. Now he can enjoy some for the right ones, after scoring and shining in City’s 3-1 win at Wolves on Monday.

Having their star academy graduate sent home in disgrace from the England squad in Iceland, for a breach of coronavirus restrictions along with Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood, has been a tricky problem to navigate for City.

Their initial reaction was powerful. Blunt and to the point.

“His behaviour not only directly contravenes strict guidelines related to Covid-19 but also falls well below the standard expected of a Manchester City player and England international,” read a statement at the time.

The same point was also reinforced in private.

City felt they had to make a statement that underlined their displeasure – but once it was done, that was it. There was no desire to drag it out while at the same time undermining England boss Gareth Southgate.

Those who felt there might be an extension to the torment when Foden returned from the England camp were wrong.

City as a club – and Pep Guardiola as his manager – believed the matter was a significant and unwanted lesson in the life of a young professional, but were happy to move on.

Asked about it before the game, Guardiola repeated the mantra Foden himself admitted: the incident was “a mistake”.

Guardiola has faith in Foden as a person and a lot of faith in Foden the footballer.

Phil Foden's touchmap against Wolves
Adama Traore (71) was the only Wolves player to have had more touches than Phil Foden (67) during the match

At Molineux, Foden played the whole game. For context, he was only given 90 minutes four times in the Premier League last season, and the first of those did not come until March, just before the lockdown, against Manchester United.

“Since day one he trained really well,” said Guardiola. “Apart from the goal, in the first half he was not that involved, but the second half he played incredibly well.

“All the time he played with us, whether five or 90 minutes, he made an impact and contributed to the team. Today was not an exception.”

Starting on the right of a three-man support team for lone striker Gabriel Jesus, Foden showed an increasing maturity in deciding when to come in from the wing.

He instinctively followed the move he started and arrived in the box with impeccable timing to finish off Raheem Sterling’s cutback and might have had another before the break when he drifted another shot marginally wide.

As Guardiola said, in the second half Foden was more expansive, getting into central positions with increasing regularity, even though City were under pressure more often.

At one point Foden even swapped positions with Jesus and played as a centre-forward, although with such a slight frame it is difficult to imagine that experiment being repeated to positive effect too often.

Eighteen months after he was criticised for his handling of the midfielder, with comparisons being made with the development of Jadon Sancho – who left City for Borussia Dortmund in 2017 and played for England in 2019 – Guardiola seems to have got Foden’s development just right.

Now it is down to the player to ensure lessons are being learned off the field as well as on it.

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