Foden the phenomenon comes of age

  • Phil Foden turns 21 today

  • He is out to cap a memorable season in tomorrow’s UEFA Champions League final

  • We look at his rise from U-17 world champion to senior star

“The most talented player I have ever seen in my career as a manager,” is quite a compliment. When the man paying it has coached the likes of Andres Iniesta, Arjen Robben, Kevin De Bruyne and the one and only Lionel Messi, people tend to sit up and take notice.

Pep Guardiola uttered these words in 2019, when Phil Foden – who turns 21 today – was still just a teenager. Two years earlier, Foden had offered a tantalising glimpse of his long-discussed potential when he was named player of the tournament as England won the FIFA U-17 World Cup.

Joel Latibeaudiere, a team-mate in that world-conquering team, described him at the time as “a different player from another planet”. Guardiola, for his part, had already fielded Foden in a pre-season match against Manchester United, telling the press afterwards: “You are lucky, believe me - you are the guys who saw his first game in the first team. I’ve not seen something like I saw today for a long time. He’s special… a gift for us."

But despite these gushing compliments, Guardiola’s “most talented player” claim was made at a time when he rarely found room for Foden in his starting XI. Plenty of pundits, in fact, were calling for the City youngster to quit his boyhood club, pointing to the vastly increased opportunities Jadon Sancho – another U-17 World Cup winner – had benefited from since engineering a move away.

Foden, though, stayed put, remained patient and is now reaping the rewards. Having added a third Premier League winner’s medal to his collection, and emerged as a star man – and regular starter – in City’s title-winning campaign, he is widely considered the player to watch in tomorrow’s UEFA Champions League final.

With the youngster also expected to be a central figure in the England team that goes for glory at the UEFA EURO and sets about securing a place at the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™, we looked at what the stats and experts tell us about the rise of this former U-17 champion.

Foden in numbers

26
Foden has played a direct role in 26 goals (16 goals and 10 assists) for Manchester City this season – second only to Kevin De Bruyne (28).
20
At 20 years and 174 days, Foden became the youngest player in the long history of England’s national team to score more than once in a game at Wembley when he grabbed a brace in November’s 4-0 win over Iceland.
17
Foden first lifted the Premier League trophy 15 days short of his 18th birthday and remains the youngest player to win the competition.
16
He has scored 16 times in all competitions this season. In Europe's top five leagues, only one U-21 player has a better tally, with Erling Haaland having found the net on a whopping 41 occasions.
6
Foden has already scored six times in the Champions League – the most by any English player before the age of 21.
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 04: Phil Foden of Manchester City looks on during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg match between Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain at Etihad Stadium on May 04, 2021 in Manchester, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
4
This season provided Foden his fourth taste of the Champions League knockout stage before the age of 21. In the competition’s history, only two players – Arsenal duo Cesc Fabregas (2004/05-2007-08) and Theo Walcott (2006/07-2009-10) – had previously accrued this level of experience by the same age.
2
The City youngster became just the second player under 21 to score in both legs of a Champions League quarter-final tie. The first? Kylian Mbappe in 2016/17 for Monaco. Incidentally, both players managed the feat against the same opponents: Borussia Dortmund.

Foden in words

“I would say Phil Foden is the best young player in the world right now." Rio Ferdinand

“Phil has become one of our main players throughout the season. He's improved in so many details of his game, mainly making the right decision at crucial times. At such a young age it is really impressive. I wouldn't recommend him to change anything.” Ilkay Gundogan

"He is a guy who never hides. He always creates something. He is dynamic offensively, defensively, with quality in the smaller spaces… He is a guy who likes to play football 24 hours a day." Pep Guardiola

2020/2021 Premier League Season Package File photo dated 14-04-2021 of Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola celebrates with goal scorer Phil Foden and Kyle Walker. Issue date: Friday May 21, 2021. FILE PHOTO Editorial use only, no commercial use without prior consent from rights holder. PUBLICATIONxINxGERxSUIxAUTxONLY Copyright: xPAxWirexviaxDPAx 59912128

"He’s just a very good player; very exciting, a player who is intelligent in his positioning. He has skills to receive the ball under pressure and take players out of the game with his tight control. He has a lovely range of passing. And what’s most important is he has a real eye for goal and a hunger to score." Gareth Southgate

"In a couple of years, if he goes the right way, he’ll become one of the best players in the world." Kevin De Bruyne

"City have given Foden his chance and he has shown he is unbelievable, that he is in the same category as Lionel Messi. He is not exactly like Messi as a player – no-one is – but with his stature, his height, his quickness he is the same. He is a wonderful player and I've loved watching him." Ruud Gullit

"He will do amazing things in the game. He has huge talent." Lionel Messi