Even as a coach who witnessed the rise of Lionel Messi at Barcelona, Pep Guardiola was rendered momentarily speechless by Phil Foden’s debut for Manchester City.
‘I would like to have the right words to describe what I saw,’ Guardiola told us at Houston’s NRG Stadium in July after Foden had starred against Manchester United. ‘You are the lucky guys who saw the first game.
‘It’s a long time since I’ve seen something like this. He’s 17 years old, he’s a City player, he grew up in the academy, he loves the club, he’s a City fan and, for us, he’s a gift.’
Manchester City youngster Phil Foden appears to be on a fast track to footballing stardom
Foden was named as the player of the tournament at the Under 17 World Cup
Guardiola knew of Foden’s prodigious talent even before he left Bayern Munich to take over at City. England manager Gareth Southgate, too, has been tracking Foden’s progress since he was 14.
Now the whole world knows about the Stockport-born midfielder who inspired England U17s to victory over Spain in the World Cup final in Kolkata, scoring twice to clinch the player-of-the- tournament award.
For those who have followed Foden’s career from the start, it has come as no great surprise.
Joe Makin, the recruitment co-ordinator for City’s burgeoning youth academy and football development officer at Reddish Vulcans, first came across him at the age of six. When he left Reddish to sign for City nearly three years later, Makin posted a photo on the club website with the words: ‘Phil Foden — remember the name.’
He has followed Foden’s progress closely ever since in his role at City, and noted how he has developed into a two-footed player even though ‘the left is still the magic one’.
The youngster played for City’s U18s at the age of 15 and a year later was named on the bench for the final Champions League group tie against Celtic.
Foden has only been a professional for less than a year and signed a contract in the summer
He was rewarded with a first professional contract worth around £4,000 a week in the summer before playing against United on tour in Houston.
That figure is expected to rise above £10,000 a week when he turns 18 in May, and Foden’s recent exploits in India will only increase his value.
His ambitions are unlikely to stretch far beyond the Etihad, however.
‘When he used to play for Vulcans, the scouts always hovered after the game but there was never a danger Phil was going to sign for any club other than City,’ said Makin.
‘I see him like a Paul Scholes. He’s a Manc and that’s it. He signs in each day, trains, toddles off home, job done.
‘He’s the quietest in the group even though he’s the one training with the first team.
Pep Guardiola described Foden as ‘a gift’ and has been impressed with his attitude
‘His younger brother trained at Vulcans a couple of years ago. Phil came down coaching the five- and six-year-olds in a plain tracksuit, not his City one. Some of the parents had no idea that he’s a star in the making, though I’m sure a lot of them will now.’