Phil Foden Isn't an Emerging Manchester City Talent Anymore - He's Undroppable

Vayam Lahoti
Does Pep trust Foden enough?
Does Pep trust Foden enough? / Alex Livesey - Danehouse/Getty Images
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December 7, 2016 - an unfamiliar name next to the number 80 appears for the first time on a Manchester City teamsheet.

The opponents are Celtic, the competition is the Champions League and the player is 17-year-old Phil Foden.

What we didn't know then is that Pep Guardiola had one of the most precocious young talents in the world on his hands. But what we do know now, almost four years on, is that Foden - as good as he is - has averaged just 420 minutes per season over the past three Premier League campaigns.

That seems bizarre to say, given Foden's obvious talent. We've seen it fleetingly, but unfortunately for the majority of City fans, not often enough. But why?

Phil Foden made the difference for City as they sealed qualification for the knockout stages of the Champions League with a 1-0 win over Olympiacos
Phil Foden made the difference for City as they sealed qualification for the knockout stages of the Champions League with a 1-0 win over Olympiacos / MB Media/Getty Images

Undoubtely, Foden competing for minutes with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Bernardo Silva and İlkay Gündoğan was never going to be an easy task. Jadon Sancho, for example, decided to go his own way, recognising that academy graduates at the club have historically struggled to get a look-in since the club was taken over.

Foden, on the other hand, has played the waiting game, grinding out substitute minutes and bagging valuable experience whenever he can.

Originally an attacking midfielder, Foden can also play as a deeper lying central midfielder, something Guardiola has touched on in the past. But City's abundance of players in the engine room has limited his opportunities in this role, instead seeing the Spaniard afford him time out on the wing.

That has enabled him to learn more about his game and show great versatility, having played on both sides. Of the games played when 'Project Restart' was initiated at the back end of 2019/20, Foden spent the majority of his time out wide and scored five goals and an assist in the space of 40 days, compared to one goal contribution in the seven proceeding months. A huge improvement.

Foden's displays this season have earned him a place in the senior England squad, where he is flourishing
Foden's displays this season have earned him a place in the senior England squad, where he is flourishing / Chloe Knott - Danehouse/Getty Images

Guardiola attributes much of Foden's development to his professional attitude and appetite for learning. But now, with games piling up left, right and centre, the blinkers need to be taken off and the reins that have held him so tight loosened.

It's time for Foden to start games on a regular, consistent basis. He's already shown that he's the man for the big occasion, bossing the Carabao Cup final against Aston Villa in a man-of-the-match performance; one that was made all the more impressive by the absence of midfield talisman Kevin De Bruyne.

More recently, he's been popping up with valuable goals for City, and his link-up play from the wide areas has been nothing short of sensational. He's shown in a very short space of time that he can help shoulder the creative burden that De Bruyne has had placed upon his shoulders since David Silva's departure, and arguably has shown himself to be a more reliable and consistent performer than namesake Bernardo and Riyad Mahrez.

One key attribute to his game is his love of taking on opponents, progressing forward with the ball and looking to break the lines of the low defensive blocks he often faces. What makes him so good, and different from the other options City have, is his low centre of gravity and nimble footwork, allowing him to pivot away from danger and create space.

Now his lack of continued starts could be fitness related - this is a season like no other, after all - or it could just be continued caution from Guardiola. But there's no doubting that City look more dangerous in and around the box when Foden is playing, and their lack of goals in recent months is testament for the need to inject creativity.

So who better than a player who can not only make goals but score them as well - Foden has ten so far this calendar year, more than any other Premier League midfielder.

He's not only been faithful to the club, he's been extremely patient. Foden has stuck around, not wanted to go out on loan and, now, his ability is on a par with his contemporaries. He's done everything that's been asked him on the field, and minor discretions away from the pitch aside, clearly has the tools to perform week in, week out at the highest level.

David Silva is gone, Bernardo Silva is plateuing and Kevin De Bruyne needs help. City need more Phil Foden and the sooner Guardiola allows him to shine, the better.

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