It wasn’t too long ago that fans, pundits and journalists were questioning why Phil Foden’s game time at Manchester City was limited. Dubbed the ‘Stockport Iniesta’ by manager Pep Guardiola, the young English midfielder had immense talent that was clear for all to see.
Despite not featuring as often as many expected, Foden has not only played more games, but he has contributed to more goals and assists and has developed phenomenally in each passing season since making his debut in 2017.
Options to move abroad or spend time on loan elsewhere were constantly mentioned, but staying put at the Eithad has already helped his development in the short term and will ultimately benefit his long term career.
Phil Foden’s Game Time: Patience Has Been Important for Manchester City Star
Phil Foden is Still Developing
It is easy to forget that Phil Foden is only 20-years-old. Despite his age, the Manchester City man is into his fourth season at the club. During that time, he has won eight trophies.
Even this season, with 14 goals and ten assists from 47 appearances, Foden is still not the complete player, but his development and performance levels have improved massively since he first burst onto the scene.
In his debut season, Foden provided one assist from ten games in all competitions. The following season, the midfielder added seven goals and two assists from 26 outings.
Last season, Foden turned out 38 times in all competitions and his goal contributions had massively increased, with eight goals and nine assists. As stated, the figures have got far better this season.
A Move Abroad for Regular Game Time
There was plenty of talk regarding a move abroad, or even a loan move elsewhere, to ensure more regular game time. While it worked for the likes of Jadon Sancho, it may not have worked for Foden.
Pep Guardiola always intended to integrate the youngster into regular football at a slower pace to sustain his development. While Foden possesses the qualities, the Manchester City boss isn’t short of options in allowing Foden a rest on a regular basis.
Being around these other players in training and being tutored by Guardiola have helped shape Foden into the player he is quickly becoming. A move abroad, or even a loan elsewhere, may have hindered his progress.
As for Sancho, he left the Etihad in search of regular football and has since surpassed 130 appearances for Borussia Dortmund. The move was successful for him, with several clubs targeting a nine-figure transfer sum last summer.
Competition for Places at Manchester City
One reason for his lack of game time is largely down to the competition for places at Manchester City.
Even though he is closing in on 50 appearances this season, Guardiola still has the likes of Ilkay Gundogan, Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling, Ferran Torres and Riyad Mahrez competing for the numerous positions that Foden can play. Not only does this give Guardiola rotation options, but it gives all of his players time to rest and recover to ensure full match fitness before they are needed.
Going back to his first season, the 17-year-old was faced with competition in the ever-present David Silva, Fabian Delph, Yaya Toure and Leroy Sané, in addition to the likes of Sterling, De Bruyne and Gundogan. Training alongside this calibre of personnel has helped Foden massively, while a move elsewhere could have resulted in playing alongside ‘lesser’ players.
Risk of Burn Out
A final reason for not giving Foden too much game time was down to Guardiola not wanting the youngster to burn out.
Phil Foden has earned six senior England caps since making his debut in 2020. To put that into context, Wayne Rooney had already managed 36 appearances for his country by the time he reached Foden’s age.
While Rooney went on to become a world-class player, breaking both England’s and Manchester United’s top goalscorer records, he ultimately burnt out and moved to the MLS at 32.
As an 18-year-old, Rooney was playing for club and country twice, sometimes three times a week. He also had the added pressure of being the countries ‘golden boy’ and was often a scapegoat when England ultimately failed on the international stage.
There is no reason Foden can’t become the next with that label, but his slower integration into both domestic and international football could prolong his career, where he can maintain his standards into his 30s.