If Phil Foden’s Premier League debut arrives over the coming weeks, do not expect Manchester City’s diminutive 17-year-old midfielder to be intimidated by the prospect of tangling with older men and bigger physical specimens.
Pep Guardiola has taken a shine to the Stockport teenager, who impressed on City’s pre-season tour to the United States. Having selected him as an unused substitute in the Champions League against Celtic last season, Guardiola is seemingly ready to integrate Foden on a full-time basis from Saturday’s opening weekend trip to Brighton and Hove Albion onwards.
The England Under-17 international’s progress comes as no surprise to Steve Eyre, a former youth coach at City who fondly remembers watching a nine-year-old Foden excel when challenged to mix it with higher age groups from time to time. One weekend, he had an idea.
“I remember a game against Middlesbrough when I was taking the Manchester City Under-14s team and Philip was winning 9-0 on the next pitch with the Under-9s,” Eyre told Omnisport.
“I politely asked the coach of Middlesbrough and the two referees if he could leave one field and come on to the other.
“The game was 1-1, he scored the winning goal and everything was taken in his stride.”
Guardiola said he had no words to describe Foden’s tantalisingly brilliant showing in last month’s 2-0 International Champions Cup loss to Manchester United. Eyre has plenty.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) July 22, 2017
Currently the assistant manager at League One side Chesterfield, the 45-year-old was a long-serving employee at City and worked as part of the academy setup overseen by Jim Cassell.
Shaun Wright-Phillips, Nedum Onuoha, Joey Barton, Daniel Sturridge and Kieran Trippier were among a clutch of players to roll off Cassell’s production line, one that kept City afloat on and – in the case of Wright-Phillips’ £21million move to Chelsea in 2005 – off the field in the pre-Sheikh Mansour years.
Across two decades with the club, Eyre observed these City talents, along with the likes of Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney in their formative years. He believes Foden outstrips them all.
“I was very lucky, I worked with hundreds of players and some have gone on to Premier League and international careers,” he said. “But, in terms of being something completely different, Philip Foden is the best and the most naturally gifted I’ve ever seen. We knew this at eight and nine, genuinely.
“While he hasn’t done anything yet, he’s certainly at the right club and making the right progress. In my opinion, he could be one of the best players in the world one day.
“He can follow the model of world greats like [Andres] Iniesta, Xavi and David Silva because of the way the ball sticks to his feet and the way he plays in 360 degrees rather than up and down in straight lines.”
Guardiola’s reputation as a champion of both youth and midfield stylists from his time at Barcelona means player and manager could be coming together at an ideal time.
— Manchester City (@ManCity) August 8, 2017
But Eyre is keen for any notions of a “Pep protege” to come with some perspective as boyhood City fan Foden makes himself at home among £200m-worth of new signings.
“The fact that Pep Guardiola has recognised Philip is not any kind of success for the manager,” he added. “The talent of Phil Foden is obvious and it’s a gift that Manchester City have got on their own doorstep.
“I’d like his family to get the credit. There’ll be loads [of people] saying, ‘oh, he’s mine,’ but that’s a load of nonsense. He made it because he was good enough to make it by himself, he was that good.
“Without a shadow of a doubt he’s had coach influence and support from the club, but he’s from a tough background. There’s absolutely no doubt about his talent, which I could barely believe with my own eyes.”
Should the rave reviews prove accurate, Premier League midfielders will be rubbing their eyes in disbelief, in much the same way that young Middlesbrough team once did.
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