It was late Thursday night when Phil Foden came out with a phrase that made you do a double recording. Most of the time, it’s his skill with the ball that puts you in your track, but this time it was just a few short words related to his place in the England squad.
“There are so many great talents in the offensive third,” Foden noted, when asked about the uproar on Gareth Southgate to include him. ‘So I feel a little sorry for him, I have to pick eleven. It is very difficult. All I can do is keep fighting for my place. ‘
Sorry? In some ways there was something endearing about the expression. Many would have tried to pigeonhole Foden as young, selfish and arrogant after his much-discussed crime in Iceland last September, but the reality is otherwise.
Phil Foden has shown that he can be a shining light for England at the European Championship
He is quiet in the camp, respects Southgate’s leadership, and is willing to play when called up. He wouldn’t cause a commotion in private if he’s not in the starting grid, so it would never be a case of him saying otherwise when the tires were rolling.
But if Foden feels sympathy for Southgate and the seemingly endless possibilities he has in the attack, then our sympathies from this point should lie with the Manchester City midfielder if he is used further from the bench.
Southgate has alluded to knowing his starting line-up for when the European Championship starts, with a Wembley date against Croatia on June 14. From what we’ve seen, Foden’s name should be included in that XI.
It’s time to get really excited about this 20-year-old and realize that this is someone who plays football a little differently. Don’t worry if he can withstand the spotlight, he can handle it well – when he was 18, he scored goals that helped City win the title.
Foden’s style is spontaneous, full of enthusiasm and underlines his love for football
You could argue that an ultimately comfortable 2-0 win in Tirana offers no comparison to what will happen in England when this summer’s tournament kicks off, but there were so many flashes that you believed Foden could be a shining light in June.
In those early stages against Albania, when a red wall of stubborn defenders got in the way of England, it was Foden who kept swarming around demanding that he get the ball. Harry Kane made things a bit complicated by constantly plunging deep, but Foden always found space.
What’s great about watching Foden is the natural, instinctive way he conducts his business. It’s spontaneous, full of enthusiasm and it emphasizes that this is a young man who just loves to play football – believe it or not, there are players his age who don’t feel the same way.
To give you an idea, when Foden was with England Under-21 at the European Championship two summers ago, the team was given a day of rest between games. Some players shopped, others went to cafes – Foden spent the day in the backyard of the villa where his family was staying, kicking a ball around with his siblings for six hours.
Gareth Southgate says he knows his first eleven of Euro 2020 – Foden must be in that lineup now
This is someone whose story in some ways reminds you of Wayne Rooney. There’s a fearlessness about what he’s doing, a desire to help the team and you could watch Foden do what Rooney did in Portugal 17 years ago – provided he gets the chance.
Many would expect Southgate’s front three to be Raheem Sterling, Kane and Marcus Rashford, but it is suspected that Rashford would be better through the middle and Foden would buzz in from the right, with his class and deceit on the ball. Give England an extra dimension. .
Foden promoted his claims against Albania, as did Mason Mount, another young man coming of age. England are looking so much better 4-3-3 and Mount definitely thrived alongside Declan Rice, emerging halfway through the second half to score the decisive second goal.
Despite Harry Kane (left) constantly sinking deeply, Foden (right) always found some space
Mount’s English career has been on the rise since last fall, when he scored a winning goal against Belgium in the Nations League, and there’s no question how much Southgate admires what the Chelsea midfielder is doing for his team. There is room for him and Foden.
“We always keep working hard at it, getting better at it, understanding each other better and getting better and better, and that’s exciting,” said Mount. You are excited when you are on the field with players like the players who played (here) and the ones we have on the squad.
‘These are very exciting times, so it is great to keep playing. We work harder every day on the training because we know what’s around the corner. ‘
It is, to be precise, a date with a lottery ticket. These young men are ready to face the challenge – all Southgate has to do is let them go.