Foden’s facing a Messi future if he continues to handle the hype

Phil Foden of Manchester City looks on during the UEFA Champions League Semi Final Second Leg match between Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain (Picture: Getty)

Phil Foden’s performance against Paris Saint-Germain — the latest in an imperious run of form from the Manchester City youngster — sparked articles arguing how the Champions League finalists now have no need to try to sign Lionel Messi this summer.

Me, I watched the viral clip of Foden evading the midfield lunges of PSG, riding the tackles like a surfer rides the waves, and was reminded of Bryon Butler’s famous line as Diego Maradona embarked on the goal of the century against England at the 1986 World Cup: ‘Maradona, turns like a little eel, he comes away from trouble…’

Messi and Maradona, just two of the greatest players ever to do it. Jack Grealish can have Paul Gascoigne, because when it comes to comparisons, Foden is operating in a different galaxy and, after Tuesday night, the hype is going to be stratospheric as well.

This is the bit where I should be urging caution and advocating taking the pressure off the 20-year-old’s shoulders but I’ve just compared him to Diego Maradona so it’s a little late for realism. And, if Foden can shrug off the attentions of Champions League hardmen and Premier League battlers, why shouldn’t we be comfident he can handle heightened expectation? After all, he has been living with it all his adult life.

He had already sat on the City bench before leading England to glory in the Under-17 World Cup in 2017, earning recognition as player of the tournament.

Manchester City’s English midfielder Phil Foden vies Paris Saint-Germain’s Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera (Picture: Getty)

Since then, Foden has been brought along carefully by Pep Guardiola — too carefully for some — with pundits and fans often accusing the City boss of stymying the midfielder’s progress and urging him to either play him or loan him out to gain experience. With his contemporary in the City academy and England U17 team Jadon Sancho leaving for Borussia Dortmund even before that World Cup triumph, it is obvious Foden would have had offers.

But Guardiola knew all about Foden’s potential and his sparing use of the youngster should not have been seen as indifference to his talents.

And, despite all the accusations of slow progress, Foden is about to turn 21 with more than 120 senior club games under his belt, six senior caps for his country and seven major winners’ medals in his sock drawer.

With the title almost sewn up, Foden can look to a Champions League final the day after his 21st birthday and then the challenge of carrying English expectations at Euro 2020.

When England last embarked for a major tournament the young midfielder at the heart of their plans was Dele Alli, talismanic for club and country and being linked with Real Madrid. Three years on, just getting a game for Tottenham represents an achievement for the 25-year-old. Foden has all the talent but the strange stagnation of Alli shows just how hard it is not only to realise your immense potential, but to remain at that level year after year.

So for Foden, there are no guarantees. But you suspect the softly-softly approach employed by City and the high-quality players and coaches surrounding him offer the perfect environment for sustained excellence and at least ensure that, if we’re still talking about a player at the top of his game in five years’ time, we will be looking at an all-time great.

MORE : Man City star Phil Foden the best young player in the world on current form, claims Rio Ferdinand

MORE : Pep Guardiola reveals what he told Phil Foden after Champions League stunner vs Borussia Dortmund

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