Phil Foden: Who is England's 17-year-old World Cup hero?

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Pep Guardiola was raving about the Manchester City starlet to anybody who would listen almost as soon as the coach arrived at the Etihad last year

If you're reading this, you will want to know more about Phil Foden. Put simply, the 17-year-old, shrewdly dubbed "the Stockport Iniesta" by one fan on Twitter, is the jewel of the Manchester City academy. 

He is the one young player earmarked to make the huge leap in quality and earn a place in Pep Guardiola's first-team in the coming years.

In fact, he already is in the first team. Such is Guardiola's admiration for his talents, this summer he quietly promoted Foden to the City senior squad. But following his exploits for England's Under-17s at the World Cup in India, where he won the Golden Ball as the competition's best player, there will likely be little chance of the youngster doing anything quietly for the next few years.

Phil Foden England

Guardiola himself, as the man in charge of the youngster's destiny in the coming years, has set out the general approach that we, as fans and journalists alike, should all stick to.

"It’s dangerous to say good things about young players because they are still young, and they have to grow and they have to learn many, many things," Guardiola said of Foden on Friday. "But we have a lot of confidence to help him, because we believe he is a guy who has potential, even if he’s not strong, he’s not tall. 

"I think he has absolutely good potential to be helped, and that is what we do."

A debate has raged over whether Guardiola is quite the nurturer of young talent that he is made out to be, but whether you focus on his unwillingness to use Kelechi Iheanacho and Tosin Adarabioyo, or the impressive job he is doing with John Stones, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane, you would have to say he has strong opinions on which youngsters are worth sticking with. 

And, as sources close to the City boss will tell you, Guardiola has certainly seen something in Foden.

"He is a special player," he added on Friday. "I think he is a special player. The national team is playing him as a wing-back, or a winger on the right, even though he’s more of a midfielder, but even in that position he plays good."

That was before he scored twice in the U17 final against Spain, goals which will have alerted plenty of others to his talents.

Guardiola heard about Foden's ability before he even left Bayern Munich, such was the extensive research he had carried out before arriving in Manchester, and soon after taking charge last summer he was raving about the youngster during dinner with friends and family.

It is why Foden was named on the bench for City's Champions League game last December, when he was just 16 years old. Yet there was a buzz around him long before Guardiola arrived. In fact, there was a buzz about him before Guardiola even retired from football.

Foden signed for City from Reddish Vulcans JFC in 2006, when he was just six years old, and the man who discovered him has since earned himself a full-time position in the club's academy, almost purely because of size of the gem he unearthed.

Foden, like the rest of City's talented youngsters, was schooled at the local St Bede's College in Manchester, but unlike many of his team-mates, whether they are still at the club or not, he shunned the lifestyle that comes with being a prodigious teenager.

Not that he is unsociable; he is very close friends with Brahim Diaz, who is also rated as a serious prospect at City. The two both play as No.10s in the same City age groups, but the only hint of a rivalry between them is when they play FIFA for hours on end when they stay at City's training ground the night before matches.

It is that approach that helped Foden make his City U18s debut when he was just 15, and why he has now secured his status as one of England's most promising youngsters, thanks to his World Cup exploits.

From his No.10 role he is capable of darting past opponents with a quick burst of speed, or carving open a defence with a fine pass. As Guardiola pointed out, he has done a fine job while out of position with England, and as he himself demonstrated in the final, he knows where the goal is.

Phil Foden Manchester CityPhil Foden Manchester City

Moments after he scored his second goal against Spain on Saturday, Guardiola entered the West Brom press room for his City post-match press conference.

"In which position did he play during the final?" he asked, half jokingly. "We'll play him there when he comes back to Manchester."

That may not be too far down the line. Before joining up with England for their World Cup campaign, Foden began the season on the bench for games against Brighton and Everton.

The fact Fabian Delph stuck around following the transfer deadline, and has been playing so well at left-back, has limited the youngster's opportunities for now, but at just 17 years of age he has both time and the belief of his coaches on his side.

City could even have recalled him for Tuesday's Carabao Cup game against Wolves, but decided to let him stay in India and benefit from the experience of playing at an important tournament. For Guardiola, the man who is in charge of his immediate destiny, it is those experiences which are so crucial to young players, and perhaps for the entire future of English football.

"Phil has been with us since the beginning of the season and played unbelievably against United and Real Madrid in pre-season," the Catalan said on Saturday, with the final moments of England's victory broadcasting on a television next to him. 

"He trains with us every single day. He's just 17 but he is a player in our squad. He's in the locker room every day with the guys - it's the best way to learn from the experienced guys that have played at a high level.

"It's so important for Manchester City that he is playing in a high level. He's played a World Cup. England will be World champions in that age. When that guy grows and plays in a World Cup in future, he has lived that situation before and will know what he has to do. 

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"English football needs that. It is the step they need. It happened in Spain. Spain was always last-16, quarter-finals...they arrived in the semi-finals and since then they have won every time. That's why it is so important."

Many of those Spain fans, who have seen their country conquer all age groups in the last decade, were watching Saturday's final in amazement at Foden's talents, with many remarking that he could easily have been brought through Barcelona's famous La Masia academy.

Under the watchful eye of Guardiola and many former Barca employees who have been embedded in the Manchester City set-up in recent years, he is in the right place to develop the kind of continental poise and technique that has got him this far. But make no mistake, he is an English talent, and one worth getting excited about.

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