First published in the Manchester Evening Newshttps://i2-prod.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/incoming/article19310270.ece/ALTERNATES/s615/0_GettyImages-1278325597.jpg
Life goes at different speeds for young footballers.
By the time Raheem Sterling turned 20 years old in December 2014, the winger was already a crucial part of the Liverpool set-up, starring during the 2013/14 season as Brendan Rodgers’ side narrowly missed out on the Premier League title.
He also represented England at the 2014 World Cup and slotted straight into Manuel Pellegrini’s Manchester City line-up following his big-money move from Anfield in 2015.
On the other hand, Phil Foden – Sterling’s England and City teammate – has had to exercise patience during the formative stages of his career.
The star of England Under-17s’ World Cup triumph in 2017, Foden’s integration at City has been a much more gradual process.
Even after Pep Guardiola showered the midfielder with praise after an eye-catching debut against Manchester United during pre-season in 2017, describing him as a ‘gift’, Foden spent much of his first three years with City’s first-team on the outside looking in.
Indeed, the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons yielded just three Premier League starts with Guardiola preferring to blood Foden in domestic cup competition.
But having impressed during his sporadic first-team opportunities, Foden’s club career took during the post-lockdown period last season.
After scoring in a cameo from the bench in City’s first game back, a 3-0 win over Arsenal, Foden was handed a rare league start for the visit of Burnley to the Etihad Stadium.
And with creative talisman David Silva having left the club to join Real Sociedad in the summer, Foden has ably picked up where he left off last season with goals against Wolverhampton Wanderers and West Ham United.
Guardiola demonstrated his considerable managerial acumen in his early use of Foden. With players like Silva, De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez already at his disposal, he knew there was no benefit in rushing Foden into the limelight, especially with City engaged in a you-win-we-win title race with Liverpool in 2018/19.
During the latter stages of last season, however, with Liverpool having effectively wrapped up the title prior to the pandemic-enforced hiatus, Guardiola sensed an opportunity to give Foden valuable minutes.
And now Guardiola has agreed a new two-year deal with City, taking him up to the end of the 2022/23 season, Foden looks set to play a major role in the club’s new era.
In the last couple of years, City have lost Silva and Vincent Kompany, two club greats that played a vital role in the club’s four Premier League title triumphs.
This season could prove to be Sergio Aguero’s swansong. Into the final year of his contract, the Argentine’s departure would sever the last link to City’s 2012 title winners.
It would seem a fitting time, then, for a rebuild – with Foden at the heart of Guardiola’s plan.
City’s transfer business over the summer certainly seemed to suggest a focus towards the long-term. Ruben Dias, Nathan Ake, Ferran Torres, Pablo Moreno, Nahuel Bustos, Yan Couto and Issa Kabore, all players 25 or under, were signed, with veterans Silva, Nicolas Otamendi and Claudio Bravo among those to depart.
Guardiola now has a young, hungry squad to work with, and judging by how Dias, Torres and Foden have started the season, the club’s future seems in good hands.
News of Guardiola extending his stay in Manchester will undoubtedly delight Foden. In September, following his first senior-call up for England, the 20-year-old said his club manager’s faith had been ‘massive’ in his development.
“I’ve played in some massive games this year, like cup finals and big Champions League games,” Foden said via Sky Sports.
“They’re the games that everyone wants to play in. Sometimes it’s difficult for young players to be involved in those games. I think he’s been patient with me and played me at the right time. Now I’m learning a lot and feel ready to go.”
Foden’s recent progress suggests he is reaping the rewards of his patience, with his first goals for England in Wednesday’s Nations League win over Iceland.
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Back from international duty, Foden can look forward to an uninterrupted period under Guardiola’s tutelage with England duty being put to bed until March.
And the midfielder can rest easy knowing that Guardiola is sticking around. Under him, he can continue his first-class education. Had the City manager left, there is no guarantee that his replacement would have viewed Foden in a similarly positive light.
A change in manager could have been hugely detrimental for Foden, but with Guardiola committed until 2023, they can continue to work together towards their ultimate goal of regaining the title and ushering in a new era at City.