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The ‘most talented player’ Guardiola has ever seen is facing an England dilemma

An early disclaimer; everything Pep Guardiola says must be taken with a pinch of salt.

This is, after all, the man who once said Germany defender Holger Badstuber was ‘perhaps the best footballer I’ve ever seen when it comes to build-up play’.

But Pep’s comments about Phil Foden over the summer need to be addressed.


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Not like Pep to exaggerate…

Times Newspapers Ltd
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Not like Pep to exaggerate…

Back in July these were his exact words: “He has everything to become one of the best players.

“I have said many times in press conferences, Phil is the most, most, most talented player I have ever seen in my career as a manager.”

Hold the phone there, Pep.

This is coming from a man who has had the privilege of managing (to name but a few) Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Arjen Robben, Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne.

But yeah, a 19-year-old from Stockport is the biggest talent of the lot.

These moments have been few and far between

PA:Empics Sport
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These moments have been few and far between

The problem is neither Guardiola or Foden are acting like those remarks have any credibility.

The City academy product has featured just once this season, in the final ten minutes of their opening day demolition of West Ham.

As a result Foden is falling further and further out of the England picture.

Bench warming

Reuters
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Bench warming

Gareth Southgate named his squad for the September Euro 2020 qualifiers last week, with the likes of James Maddison, Mason Mount and Jadon Sancho all given the nod.

That trio are all within a few age groups of Foden, with Sancho starring alongside him in England’s triumphant Under 17 World Cup win two years ago.

And after a concerning couple of years in midfield, just like London buses options seem to be arriving all at one time for Southgate.

Foden won best player at the U17 World Cup

AFP or licensors
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Foden won best player at the U17 World Cup

Jordan Henderson is in the form of his life, while Harry Winks and Declan Rice are now certain starters for Spurs and West Ham respectively.

Dele Alli will always be in the reckoning despite his niggling injury problems while Ross Barkley has been a regular feature in recent squads.

Maddison and Mount’s call ups are well earned after starring in the opening few weeks of the season.

Mount is central to Southgate’s plans

Reuters
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Mount is central to Southgate’s plans

Then there’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who brings a chaos factor to the midfield, AND the returning Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

That’s nine players arguably ahead of Foden in the pecking order, with only Henderson the wrong side of 26.

Foden looked set for greater responsibility this season, particularly after proving a useful asset at the back end of the 18/19 campaign.

A big goal at a big moment

PA:Empics Sport
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A big goal at a big moment

He scored the crucial winning goal at home to Spurs in April, capitalising on De Bruyne’s absence through injury.

But De Bruyne is very much back with a bang, relegating Foden to the bench or worse so far this season.

There have been accusations of timidity and too much respect of late.

“I would like him to talk more to me,” Guardiola expressed last week. “But all the time I go to him and speak to him, so he still looks at me like a little bit respect, like a manager, and after two or three seasons it’s not necessary, but it’s normal.

“He is 19-years-old.”

De Bruyne is very much back

Reuters
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De Bruyne is very much back

In The Sunday Times at the weekend David Walsh said Foden should ‘want David Silva’s place, not his autograph.’

It all poses a difficult question.

Is Foden best placed staying at City, training with and shadowing the likes of De Bruyne and Silva, or is regular game time the key development factor in a young player’s career?

Sancho and Mount will vouch for the latter, with both either seeking new challenges abroad or via lower league loans. Look at them now.

Foden was linked with a loan move to Rangers this summer, but any suggestion it could materialise was swiftly rebuffed by Guardiola and City.

Foden playing for the U21s

PA:Press Association
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Foden playing for the U21s

It’s all hypothetical now, but seeing how much Mount has kicked on under Frank Lampard at Derby and Chelsea, the mind wonders what Steven Gerrard could have brought to Foden’s game.

City seem set on wrapping him up in cotton wool rather than allowing him to test himself in deeper waters.

Understandably Silva is leaving at the end of the season after 10 glorious years, so there’s an opening for Foden.

Will Foden fill Silva’s boots?

EPA
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Will Foden fill Silva’s boots?

But after so much promise in April and May, a failure to kick on this campaign seems like a glaring missed opportunity.

The ‘Stockport Iniesta’ has been dubbed the future of English football before.

The harsh reality is, given his current circumstances and the emergence of others, a future internationally is in doubt.