Gareth Southgate has a question to ask if his aim is to convince us that England are not at risk of abusing their more To the point of being one of the most talented players, this question is even more relevant today.
It’s about the player who makes Guardiola’s eyes sparkle whenever the conversation moves in his direction. The player in question is wearing Manchester City colours. He was, in Guardiola’s words, “phenomenal” and “incredible”, a four-time Premier League winner with a style and talent so natural, one gets the impression his attitude on the ball must be worthy of the name of.
So why not trust Phil Foden in an England shirt and make him as important to the national team as he is to the club? Why should England stop him? Why isn’t a player of such talent a mandatory first-team option for his country?
It wasn’t just a knee-jerk reaction to England’s goalless draw with the United States, and it wasn’t just a performance that could be summed up midway through the second half by the statistic that Harry Kane had more touches in his own box than he did. The number of touches with the ball inside the own penalty area. opponent’.
If anything, the question could even be raised ahead of Friday’s game, as Foden had to wait until he became a two-time Premier League champion before being called up for his England debut.
Typically, any English player who makes such a positive impact on a top-flight Premier League team is quickly snapped into the England squad. Not in this case, though. Foden made his City debut almost three years before he made his England senior debut.
At City, Guardiola would puff his cheeks in admiration and tell us there aren’t enough superlatives to describe the boy’s talent. For England, the situation is different. Foden never seemed to be one of Southgate’s real favourites. He was never the automatic first choice when the team lacked creativity.
They have been together as coach and player for two years and there is still a palpable sense that Southgate is experimenting rather than relying on a player who has achieved so much during his club career.
All of this can be confusing, to say the least, when Foden is clearly a different man.
“It’s a real shame for Phil Foden not to play in the England XI because he’s a man of great talent,” TV pundit Gary Neville, who usually backs Southgate’s choice, said on Monday. Five reports said. “He’s our best player, our best talent, by a mile, and he should play.”
Unfortunately for Foden, Southgate doesn’t seem to fully subscribe to that line of thinking.
In fact, in Foden’s national team career, he only played a full game four times. The 22-year-old Foden has made 19 appearances. However, who would disagree when Neville said that if Foden had come from Spain instead of Stockport?
“For me, his talent is huge,” Neville said. “I’ve never seen anything like it (in Team USA games). I know we have (Jude) Bellingham, (Jack) Grealish and others. Gareth prefers (Mason) Mount, he prefers (Bukayo) Saka , he prefers Sterling. But for me… Foden not being in the starting XI – and he didn’t come off the bench – was interesting.”
It’s safe to say that in this case, “interesting” is a polite way of saying Southgate is seriously wrong. Others will inevitably speak in more literal terms. Southgate has often been described as overly conservative and if there is a sense of deja vu here it is because many of the same arguments apply to Grealish’s prolonged absence at Euro 2020 last year.
Southgate, in order to give him his due, could argue that his selection in that game took England to the final for the first time since 1966. But such is the nature of the job, he has realized that England, as Sven Goran Eriksson used to say, is a country of 60 million football managers. It’s one of the reasons Southgate hasn’t posted on social media since 2015 and advises his players to avoid Twitter, especially during games.
Still, when many argue that England’s biggest problem against the US is their lack of creativity, and – well, you know what – their most creative players are left on the bench, there are still Reasonable questions to ask.
Southgate explained that, first of all, he wanted to keep an unchanged team after the big win over Iran. The reason he had Jordan Henderson as his first backup was because he wanted to gain more experience in midfield. Rashford came on to add pace, while Grealish was asked to carry the ball further up the pitch.
All of this sounds good until you remember that Foden has the added magic of unlocking opposition defences. As good as Grealish was, Foden was ahead of him at City. However, he started just two games at Euro 2020 and has been limited to just 19 minutes at the World Cup so far.
Some will remember Foden being sent home from England for breaching COVID-19 rules and wonder if that still works against him. Two years on, though, that’s unlikely.
Is it simply because the England manager is spoiled for choice?
Playing Foden against the United States would likely require keeping Saka out of the mix, and after Arsenal’s players scored twice against Iran earlier in the week, not many will go for it.
Yes, Sterling was largely useless on Friday, but don’t judge the Chelsea player on a bad night. On other occasions, Southgate was asked about Sterling’s chances of becoming a Ballon d’Or winner. Sterling made 81 appearances for England in 10 years, which is the evidence that Southgate chose him.
So, how do you fit into Foden? Or more importantly, does Southgate think it matters that he is willing to make changes for Monday’s game against Wales?
Many observers would argue that it should have come at the mountain’s expense. However, Southgate has shown in the past that he will not bow to outside pressure. And that must be Foden’s biggest worry.
Most of all, it’s deeply unsatisfying that a player with such rare talent doesn’t have the chance – or more chances – to show what he’s capable of at the World Cup.
These players don’t come around very often; that’s what makes them special. When they do, it’s important to cherish them. England, like Manchester City, should make the most of it.
(Photo: Mike Egerton/PA Images via Getty Images)