Phil Foden is facing a make-or-break season as he looks to fulfill his potential of becoming one of the world’s top footballers.
The 23-year-old is a first team regular at Manchester City but after incredible amounts of hype as a fresh-faced teenager, the Stockport-born starlet hasn’t quite lived up to the billing.
Pep Guardiola, who has managed stars including Xavi, Andres Iniesta and of course, Lionel Messi once gave Foden the ultimate compliment in a press conference in 2019, saying: “He has everything to become one of the best players.
“I have said many times in press conferences, but maybe not said it in front of him, Phil is the most, most, most talented player I have ever seen in my career as a manager.
“His only problem is sometimes his manager doesn’t put him in the starting XI. Hopefully in the future that can improve.”
No one can doubt Foden’s role as a reliable member of Man City’s side – after all, he’s made 218 appearances for the club, scoring 60 goals and creating 41 while helping the club to five Premier League titles, two FA Cups and a Champions League, including last season’s treble.
But in terms of his individual impact, former Premier League and England striker Darren Bent believes that, as well not being able to get into the starting XI ahead of Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva, he wouldn’t even get into Arsenal’s side.
“I think that Foden is a better player than Gabriel Martinelli. It’s taken a while for Martinelli to get up to the level he’s at, but watching him last season I wouldn’t swap him to put Foden in.
“Martinelli is in better form and he’s been in great form.
“I’m not saying Martinelli is better than Foden. Messi is the best player ever, he went into a system that didn’t suit him and it didn’t work.”
Discussing England, Bent believes it’s a similar issue with Bukayo Saka on the right and Marcus Rashford on either side of the centre forward, while Jack Grealish is there, too.
After making his debut as a 17-year-old in 2017, Foden was kept around at the Etihad Stadium in the belief that he would benefit from working under Guardiola and training alongside the club’s most talented stars.
Few can argue this approach has paid dividends with Foden seamlessly transitioning into a proven player in one of the most successful teams in club football right now.
Guardiola is a manager who loves to rotate his squad, with ‘Pep-roulette’ a well-known nickname for City’s ability to swap out top-level players and replace them with equally effective talent.
But given the player’s reputation as one of the most technically-gifted players in a generation, Guardiola has been forced to answer questions on why he’s not regarded as a key first team player and why he’s so often utilised as a replacement from the substitutes’ bench.
Speaking in February, Guardiola said: “[He needs] to be himself.
“I saw other players better than him at times after the World Cup. He struggled with his ankle after the World Cup, a lot.
“He played an incredible effort, playing with pain and arrived at the moment when he said ‘Pep, I cannot anymore’, so he had to rest and recover. We gave him a week or two weeks off, and after that Riyad was in his best time of the season and Jack made a step forward.
“It’s not about intention, he’s a lovely guy. If you are saying I don’t trust with Phil, forget about it. Phil is our diamond.”
Guardiola added: “Some players after the World Cup struggled a little. All the clubs a little bit. Phil as well, partly the physical situation. But here comes the best part of the season.
“Always I say to him ‘You are so young, next season is a new one. If you drop a little bit this season compared to the previous one, it’s and absolutely normal process.
“How you handle it, is the question. If you handle it well. He is training like an animal, there’s no doubt about that, and he will be back, like he was back at Nottingham, where he was brilliant, perfect. Just to continue.”
While Guardiola believes Foden is still developing, Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher says the time for the talent to reach his full potential is now.
“Phil Foden is not young anymore. Three or four years ago, we were saying he was going to be the best English player.
“It almost feels like Jude Bellingham has become that player, where he’s the one we build this England team around. Foden can’t quite get in the England team and can’t get in the Manchester City team.”
He then pointed out that despite key exits, he still couldn’t force his way into the starting XI against Arsenal in the Community Shield.
“Ilkay Gundogan and Riyad Mahrez have left, and they’re playing in the Community Shield a week before the season begins, and he still can’t get in the starting XI.
“We all know how good he is – what is it that’s stopping him? Pep played Alvarez behind Haaland – that’s a position where Foden could play, but he still doesn’t play him.”
Foden turns 24 at the end of the 2023/24 campaign, an age where it’s widely accepted that most players will reach their peak in terms of growing and development as a professional player.
So with his role for club and country being questioned, it seems that this is the campaign in which Foden must silence any critics and prove that he’s the player capable of living up to Guardiola’s glowing endorsement after bursting onto the scene.
If not, he may just go into the category of players who never quite lived up to the billing of being a potential global superstar.
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