Under pressure, under Pep Guardiola: English media want this player to make national team

October 4, 2019
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The media has long been fascinated by the clamour for Phil Foden to play Premier League and international football as soon as possible. His manager is a two-time Champions League winner with eight national league titles and a history of coaching some of the world’s best players, of which he once described Foden as “the most talented”. But everyone else knows better than Pep bloody Guardiola.

Foden is still 19. Sergio Busquets is perhaps the finest and most relevant example when it comes to Guardiola’s management of a young and promising midfielder: he did not make his Barcelona debut until two months after he turned 20, and started just 16 La Liga games overall in that breakthrough 2008/09 season.

The Spaniard was never anything more than a reserve as a teenager, while Foden already has 14 first-team starts to his name and almost an entire campaign to extend that gap further.

But Andy Dunn of the Daily Mirror comes armed with comparisons and complaints, too.

‘Guardiola has been apologising on a regular basis, it seems, the latest coming as Foden scored after coming on as an 89th-minute substitute against Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday.

‘But the City coach did imply he feels Foden has still had plenty of “minutes” for a player “that age”.

‘There are countless examples of Premier League youngesters who have had a lot more game time at the same age.

‘When Trent Alexander-Arnold, for example, was Foden’s 19 years and four months, he had played 1,152 minutes of Premier League football for Liverpool and 379 minutes of Champions League football.’

He also hadn’t made his England debut yet, so let’s not pretend that ‘Foden must be given the City badge NOW… or he’ll miss out on wearing the Three Lions’.

Dunn himself even points out that ‘comparing Foden with precocious teenagers at other clubs is fraught. Comparing apples and oranges, and all that.’

Or comparing right-backs competing against natural centre-half Joe Gomez and an injured Nathaniel Clyne at a club with aspirations of qualifying for the Champions League with a player behind Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Fernandinho and Ilkay Gundogan in the midfield pecking order for a club expected to win the Champions League.

It’s almost as if there’s nuance involved here. Not just ‘hE’s ReAlLy GoOd WhY aReN’t YoU pLaYiNg HiM fFs?’

Shortly after suggesting it is futile comparing Foden’s case with that of any other player, he brings us literally one the absolute greatest players the world has ever seen in Lionel Messi.

‘At Foden’s age, he had played more than four times the amount of league football and twice the amount of Champions League football.’

At Foden’s age, he was also Lionel f**king Messi. Sure, Guardiola called Foden “the most talented player I have ever seen,” but talent is half the battle. And being Lionel f**king Messi sure helps with the other half.

‘No, Foden is not getting game time because Guardiola trusts a collection of players who have delivered time and again for him. Which is understandable. But that is now providing a dilemma for Foden and for England.’

It is providing a dilemma for you and people of your ilk who are weirdly desperate for this teenager to play as much football as possible as soon as possible (and subsequently burn out in his later career as soon as possible). It is not providing a dilemma for Foden, who is learning from one of the greatest managers ever alongside some of the world’s best players. Nor is it for England, who will pick him when he does eventually start playing more regularly.

Dunn is quite right in suggesting that ‘if the current state of affairs continues, it would be hard to see Foden going to Euro 2020’. But then, ‘the current state of affairs’ are taking place about eight months before Euro 2020, and a hell of a lot can change in that time.

Maybe Gareth Southgate had it right on Thursday when he said that “every player has a different journey,” that “the perfect path…doesn’t exist,” that “it’s different for them all” and that Foden is “still young and developing physically, and sometimes it’s not right to put them in too soon”.

But no, ‘Britain’s best Sports Writer’ is spot on: Phil Foden is unlucky because he’s playing less than Trent Alexander-Arnold and Lionel Messi (but far more than the actual blueprint for a Pep Guardiola midfielder, Sergio Busquets) at the same age.

He should just retire now, while the idea of Phil Foden is a better player than Phil Foden.

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