Phil Foden – Man City’s secret engine in historic Champions League season

Not many people had spotted Phil Foden’s talent but among the few who witnessed his art in training, Pep Guardiola was his biggest advocate. Foden was weaving through Man City’s accomplished defenders and there, there were whispers and murmurs from the senior team about this emerging star. But he was a teenager, finding his feet. A young boy trying to, first of all, get the nod from the best manager in world football. Just enough acceptance to be part of the setup. Even he would not have expected this fascinating rise to stardom.

One of city’s greatest players of all time, Yaya Toure, in 2017 spoke of Foden’s brilliance and told us to expect big things from the Englishman.

Two years ago, David Silva was preparing to leave Man City. He had been the most creative in that star-studded midfield. Silva had woven through many a Premier League defense and was one of the most decorated at the club. His shoes were huge – so huge, it was almost impossible to fill. The number of assists the playmaker contributed to City’s campaign in all competitions was a mouthwatering 141, while also grabbing 77 goals in his time at the Etihad stadium. Silva was a titan in City’s most successful era. Foden was the student, mostly in awe of this master, both in training and when he sat out games, watching from home or the stands.

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City are having their best campaign in the Champions League. Never have they reached the final of the competition and it took Guardiola five years to achieve this. It took even greater resources by the oil-rich Arabian Royals to get them here. An outstanding amount has been spent in transfer windows to get the Citizens to the promised land and although one of those spent on, Riyad Mahrez, was the player who stepped up three times in this semi-final tie with Paris Saint Germain with goals, Foden has been the silent engine of this City team. Foden grabbed the opportunity when Kevin De Bruyne got injured for some part of this campaign. He has grown into a fine footballer, a top player, playing under a very demanding manager. Sheikh Mansour and Co were told by Guardiola, they did not have to invest in another top playmaker, following Silva’s exit in 2020. Guardiola had hope in one of the club’s academy graduates. His brand new Iniesta, who was going to provide the youthful eagerness and Midas touch to take the club to the next level. No one expected that promised land journey to be attained this early in Foden’s quite remarkable start to pro football life. He has been a real livewire for the Citizens and has contributed significantly to their success this season.

Guardiola has made this possible. How Guardiola rotates this team, how he gets his midfield stars to move around the pitch, keep the ball, create spaces, and chances, gives players like Foden the necessary confidence to learn and grow. It’s all Guardiola’s handwriting.

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He has made Foden fun to watch. How many 20-year old players would make the decision to find a teammate at the far post when they had the chance to shoot and make a name for themselves? In the semi-final second leg against PSG on Tuesday, Foden showed his maturity and development. He has been a clever young player and is an absolutely complete player even at 20 years old. Guardiola must be feeling he has won the lottery after seeing Foden’s growth at the club. When he receives the ball, Foden knows when to let the ball get across him, when the shield it from an opponent, and when to make runs with the ball into dangerous areas. There has been a lot of talk for a while about Foden going out to play on loan to get minutes under his belt but he has gotten that at City. City have Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez, Raheem Sterling, and De Bruyne and there seemed to be no space for Foden. But has stood out this season, so much he has superseded Sterling for club and country – England.

If Foden remains injury-free and continues to pick up the lessons from the more experienced teammates and highly skilled manager, you get the feeling he will go all the way, so far as Man City will too after making the Champions League final for first time in their history.

By Thierry Nyann||Ghana