From the moment Phil Foden became a familiar name, fans and pundits alike were eager to anoint him heir to David Silva’s throne.
As a teenager he was framed as a specialist playmaker, somebody who could play as a genuine No10 for England, a curious rarity on these shores.
This reputation was in part bolstered by his impressive performances for the Three Lions youth sides, viewed in real time by very few but excitedly discussed in pubs and on social media.
For Man City fans, the succession plan was clear as Foden was coming through at a time when Silva was reaching the end of his distinguished career at the Etihad.
The Spain international is undoubtedly one of the best midfielders in Premier League history, particularly in his distinct role, and so when glowing reports filtered through of Foden’s passing, close control and general left-footed wizardry, supporters hoped their academy had provided a replacement for a legend who at times seemed irreplaceable.
And early sightings of Foden in a City shirt reaffirmed the comparisons as the youngster did appear blessed with a comfort in possession shared by his experienced team-mate.
In 2017, Pep Guardiola suggested that Silva would be a good teacher to Foden and the teenager later used the word ‘mentor’ to describe the Spaniard.
The starlet even inherited the nickname ‘the Stockport Iniesta’ which, while tongue-in-cheek, gave another indication of the type of player he was expected to become.
It was also a doubling down on the notion that his neat footwork was more common among famous Spanish players than English midfielders of recent years.
However, as Silva slipped away and Foden steadily became a more prominent figure for City, it quickly became apparent that the comparison between the two was not quite right.
Guardiola soon realised that Foden had a sharper eye for goal than Silva and, in turn, lacked the full passing style exhibited by the World Cup winner.
Consequently, he began to deploy Foden not in midfield but almost exclusively in the front three, including occasional outings as a false nine.
Naturally, the instincts of City’s decorated coach have proven correct with the two-time PFA Young Player of the Year’s hat-trick in the Manchester derby acting as something of an exclamation point on the matter.
The England international has scored six goals already this season at an average of one every 118 minutes, setting him on course for perhaps his best season yet as a goalscorer.
He scored 16 in 2020/21 and bagged 14 last campaign, making that 36 goals in two and a bit seasons.
For comparison, Silva reached double figures in three of his ten seasons at the Etihad, topping out at 12 in 2014/15.
Foden averages a goal every 3.5 games for City (and that includes his introductory years) whereas Silva averaged a goal every 5.7 games for the club.
What really illustrates the difference between the two players’ roles is that their assist numbers are almost the exact inverse – Silva set up a goal every 3.1 games while Foden averages an assist every 5.1 games.
This is not to say Foden is not capable of being a quality midfield playmaker, it’s just that such a role would not make full use of his shooting ability, something Guardiola has evidently realised.
Similarly, it’s not like Silva didn’t flourish in a more advanced role when given the chance – in fact, he thrived in the final third at international level as evidenced by his record of 35 goals in 125 caps (that’s one every 3.6 appearances).
The point is that Foden does not have to worry about mirroring the legacy left by Silva because he’s turned out to be a different player entirely.
In terms of Dream Team, Foden (£5.7m) is currently the game’s outright best midfielder with 62 points to his name after plundering 23 against Man United.
Gaffers who can’t afford Kevin De Bruyne (£7.5m) may feel the England international is a suitable alternative – there’s frequently enough points to go around where City are concerned.