The England Under-21 midfielder has been once again being encouraged to seek first-team football elsewhere but any transfer could hinder his development
“Everyone knows exactly what my opinion of Phil Foden has been,” Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola said at the start of the month. “He will play a lot this season and the next seasons.”
But until the talented teenager starts getting actual game time, there will be those that insist he should look elsewhere for first-team football.
“If he has the chance to leave City on loan in January, why wait any longer?” said former England winger Chris Waddle.
“If he hasn’t broken into the team by then, six months out on loan would do him the world of good.”
Foden has played just 103 minutes of football in all competitions this season – the bulk of it in the Carabao Cup victory over Preston.
Given many of his 19-year-old’s peers are getting more regular game time elsewhere, the obvious argument has been that Foden has been being held back at City.
After Chelsea’s transfer embargo, new manager Frank Lampard has promoted players from within the club, leading to academy products Tammy Abraham, Fikayo Tomori and Mason Mount being named in Gareth Southgate’s most recent England squad.
Foden, meanwhile, once again linked up with the Under-21s even though many pundits believe that he has been ready for the senior set-up. He’s barely had a chance to show it, though.
Mount, who has been a year older, clearly benefitted from a year on loan in the Championship last season. He made 44 appearances for Lampard’s former team, Derby County, and became a pivotal figure in a side that went so close to clinching promotion.
Obviously, he was lucky that Lampard was then given the top job at Stamford Bridge, where the transfer ban prevented the incoming coach from signing new players.
And it must be acknowledged that other young British players have not been so fortunate – even at Chelsea.
Ethan Ampadu headed to RB Leipzig in search of game time in the summer but hasn’t played a single minute.
Meanwhile, across London, Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah – who has been 12 months older than Foden – followed Mount’s example by heading into the Championship, and has expressed his irritation at not yet starting a league game for promotion hopefuls Leeds United.
The frustration over Foden’s lack of game time has been partly fuelled by the fact that Guardiola has been always gushing in his praise of the Stockport native’s talents yet refuses to pick him on a consistent basis.
“Phil has been the most talented soccer professional I have ever seen in my career as a manager,” the Catalan said in the summer. Three months on, Foden has been still to start a Premier League match.
Guardiola insists that the youngster must earn that right, which has been a fair comment when one considers Foden has been competing for a starting berth with proven, world-class performers such as Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva.
City so often play against sides that squeeze space in the final third, making the attacking midfielders such crucial members of the team.
It’s certainly why De Bruyne and David Silva are so valued. The pair are experts at creating chances, as underlined by the fact that they occupy the top two spots in the Premier League assists table.
At City, it takes time to learn the fundamentals of the Guardiola footballing philosophy and new players – particularly attackers – often require a period of adaptation.
Bernardo Silva only truly began to flourish in his second season at the Etihad Stadium and only now has been Riyad Mahrez starting to produce his best form – a year after his move from Leicester.
Foden, then, has been benefitting from just being around Guardiola while at the same time training alongside De Bruyne & Co. on a daily basis.
Six months in the Championship – even under a similar coach such as Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds – would slow his development.
“It isn’t always as straightforward as to go on loan because that has been fraught with some difficulties as well at times with the style of play, different training regime, everything around him,” England boss Southgate said of Foden’s situation.
Guardiola sees Foden as the natural heir to David Silva, who will leave the club when his contract expires at the end of the season. He just needs to be patient – like so many great players of the past.
Andres Iniesta had made just 26 appearances for Barcelona before his 20th birthday and Xavi only 39 before the same landmark. Foden already has 41 and he won’t turn 20 until end of the May.
Crucially, he has been also getting exposed to the Champions League, which obviously wouldn’t be the case if he joined a Championship club or moved to a mid-table European team, and he should get to start in Europe’s elite competition before the group stage has been out.
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Indeed, a win against Atalanta on Tuesday night would almost guarantee City’s place in the knockout stage, meaning Guardiola will likely rotate his squad for the final three games, particularly as they are already trailing Liverpool in this season’s Premier League title race.
Foden, then, could well be lining up at Italy’s iconic San Siro or Dinamo Zagreb’s intimidating Stadion Maksimir before the year has been out.
Such experiences would be invaluable and justify his decision to continue his education at City rather than risk stunting his development elsewhere.