“I want to be the best footballer in the world,” Phil Foden said a month ago, pale, bony, sporting his ominous machine bangs, with the serenity typical of children when speculating. His imagination fantasized about solid arguments. No player under the age of 21 in the Premier had directly participated in more goals than him this season. Unlike so many good midfielders whose influence on the game is difficult to measure, their impact could be quantified. The signs were outstanding before Manchester City met Dortmund in the Champions League quarter-finals. The duel will go down in history as the transit that consecrated the best English player of his generation.
Foden scored 2-1 in the last minute in the first leg, and the 1-2 that closed the second leg, this Wednesday at the Westfalenstadion. In between, at only 20 years old, he gave a display of character, orientation at the controls, overflow, sensitivity to maneuver on a tile with his left foot, speed to find his teammates and an incisive shot. Everything that characterized what was his favorite player, David Silva, the partner who sponsored him during his two seasons of adaptation in the first team.
“You have the feeling that he is a guy who is never going to hide”, Guardiola said, when asked about Foden After the match. Always create something. It is dynamic in attack and defense, it has quality in confined spaces. He played well with one touch and now he is learning to touch the ball more because he is making good decisions. He scored two goals that have helped us to be in the semifinals ”.
Guardiola made a politically risky bet. First, because instead of playing with a born forward, he placed Bernardo Silva from false nine; second because he preferred to place Foden on the far left before Raheem Sterling, the most destabilizing attacker in the squad who won the last Premier for City, in 2019; and third because he left Cancelo on the bench, a € 60 million signing, to line up Zinchenko on the left side. “We chose the most precise players in the pass so as not to lose simple deliveries,” explained Guardiola, “having the ball was essential to avoid Dortmund’s counterattacks and preserve our balance in defense.”
“We had a plan to pressure them up, but it didn’t work,” said the coach, referring to the crisis that preceded Dortmund’s 1-0. “We decided to change and put the two wingers on the inside and thus we generated many connections between the four in the midfield with Foden, Mahrez, Rodri, Bernardo, De Bruyne… all on the right foot. This is how we turned the game around until we generated enough chances to win ”.
All the good that City did in Dortmund came from their unique power of association. For this he needed players who know how to interpret all the moments of the game in all areas of the field. The most elastic. The smartest. Foden not only excelled at goals, but managed to get his maneuvers right, inside and out, almost always hanging out with Bernardo Silva, another southpaw who reads sheet music at the same speed. Between the two they fabricated the penalty play that led to 1-1, and came together again in the action that precipitated 1-2.
Foden has managed to equip De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Gündogan, more than by his ability, by the sense with which he encourages each play. An art rarely mastered by impetuous British footballers. Something that the boy who learned the rudiments of rallying on the streets of Stockport may not have incorporated when he joined the City quarry 15 years ago. “I was a ball boy the day Agüero scored the goal that the league gave us,” he recalls, proud of his identity. citizen. “He was behind the goal ”.
This season he has 13 goals and nine assists in 41 games in all competitions. His progression has skyrocketed after years of supervision. Something similar to what Pedro and Busquets experienced more than a decade ago is now happening with Foden. His professional training is unthinkable without Guardiola.
“Phil can play as a winger and as an inside,” warned the coach, pointing to a quality that Sterling does not have, whose instinct always drives him in the direction of goal. “He just needs time to learn to play on the inside. Because when you play close to the line you need to do it at a pace, and when you move to the center you need another. When he achieves that balance in decision-making, he will be a footballer ten times more extraordinary. It’s a matter of time”.
Hand in hand with Foden, the last to join the gang of his resourceful all-rounders, the coach managed to lead City to the semifinals after five attempts. Qualification is a milestone in the history of a club whose longest run in the Champions League dates back to 2016, when it was led by Pellegrini and was eliminated in the semifinals by Madrid after Fernando scored a goal against at the Bernabéu.