Phil Foden is clearly blessed with the requisite technical ability, vision, flair and composure to emerge as the best player of his generation. Yet opportunities for him to shine in the Man City first team have been limited over the past couple of years. Foden has therefore grown accustomed to fielding questions about whether he should agitate for a loan move in order to further his development.
Former players, pundits and fans have repeatedly urged him to seek a short-term move away from Man City in order to get more minutes under his belt. He insists he is happy to bide his time and continue his development on the training pitch, but the clamour for him to go on loan shows no signs of dissipating.
Offers have come flooding in over the past two seasons. Man City have reportedly knocked back advances from Tottenham, Everton, Newcastle, Southampton, Bournemouth, Rangers and Roma, among many others. Should he push for a move this summer, or would it make more sense to stay and fight for his place in the Man City first team?
Cause for Optimism
Pep Guardiola has previously referred to Foden as the “most talented player I’ve ever seen”. That is high praise indeed when you consider that Guardiola formerly managed Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi at Barcelona. However, critics have used Guardiola’s words against him, arguing that he should give Foden far more opportunities to shine after praising the youngster so effusively.
This reached a fever pitch in November 2019, when Foden had played just 21 minutes of Premier League football in the season. He continued to bat away questions about whether he should move on loan and rejected proposals to make a move in the January transfer window. Foden had only played one full Premier League game when the Premier League was suspended in March due to the Covid-19 pandemic, suggesting that his decision to stay put had backfired.
Yet Foden enjoyed a lot more playing time after the restart in July. He came on for 25 minutes in a 3-0 victory against Arsenal and then started in a 5-0 rout of Burnley. Foden was then handed a starting berth as Man City thumped newly crowned Premier League champions Liverpool 4-0, and he contributed a goal and an assist to justify his selection. He featured in every subsequent game – four starts and two substitute appearances – and that suggested that he is now ready to play regular first-team football for Man City.
Filling a Giant’s Shoes
Captain David Silva left the club after enjoying a trophy-laden decade at Man City this summer. Replacing him will be a key priority for Guardiola this summer, after bolstering his defence with the arrival of Nathan Aké and bringing in Ferran Torres in place of the outgoing Leroy Sané.
Foden looks perfectly capable of stepping into Silva’s shoes and leading the club into a glorious new era. He remains inexperienced, but he would be playing with seasoned players like Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri in the midfield, and he has the quality to light up the Premier League.
Much will depend on Man City’s transfer activity. If they sign a like-for-like replacement for Silva, it would clearly represent a blow to his chances of breaking into the first team. However, they have not yet given any indication that they plan to bring in another creative midfielder, and their priority seems to be adding more defensive steel and searching for a striker to replace Sergio Aguero. That could spell good news for Foden.
The Jadon Sancho Effect
Jadon Sancho is frequently touted as an example of what a young Englishman can achieve by pushing for a move away from Man City in search of regular first-team football. He played in the youth team with Foden, but grew frustrated with a lack of opportunities and fought hard to engineer a move away from the club. He signed for Borussia Dortmund in the summer of 2017 and quickly shot to superstardom.
Sancho has banged in 30 goals in 78 Bundesliga games for Dortmund, and he is now a regular starter for England, despite only just turning 20. Foden is the same age as Sancho, but he is yet to earn a senior England cap, and he has a lot less big game experience. Now Man Utd are said to be readying a bid of more than £100 million for Sancho, and fans enjoy speculating on what Foden could have achieved if he too had left the club in 2017.
Yet there is another school of thought. You could argue that Guardiola deserves credit for using Foden sparingly, and thus helping him avoid burnout later in his career. The most talented youngsters regularly dazzle with their brilliance, but then struggle when they reach their late 20s. We saw it with Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen, Cesc Fabregas and many more exciting youngsters that burst onto the scene as teenage superstars.
That is much less likely to be the case for Foden. He is still developing physically, and he had not ravaged his body with 50-game seasons while going through this process. Guardiola may have enjoyed more short-term success by playing Foden on a more regular basis, but you could argue that he has helped Man City enjoy a generational talent for a longer period of time as a result of his caution.
For all the talk of Sancho’s development, he has not actually won anything at Borussia Dortmund. Foden is already a double Premier League champion, with several cup winners’ medals too. At the age of 20, he has played 41 league games for Man City, and they are the favourites to win next season’s Premier League with leading bookmakers like Unikrn.com.
By avoiding loan moves and sticking around to compete for a first team place, Foden should enjoy more game time with each passing year and pile up many more medals. After turning down various moves in the past, it would be surprising to see him leave Man City now that he is on the cusp of replacing Silva and helping his club in their efforts to return to the summit of the Premier League.
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