Manchester City don't need to rush Phil Foden's development
Phil Foden was given his first senior start for Manchester City in their Champions League defeat to Shakhtar Donetsk. The Premier League leaders lost the match, but it provided the exciting 17-year-old with some experience at the highest level and that will be beneficial for him as he continues his development. The young midfielder was played out of his natural position as he was asked to start at left wing-back. Pep Guardiola received a lot of criticism for how he chose to use the Under-17 World Cup winner, but there were more positives than negatives to take from the selection.
At the age of 17 years and 192 days old, the midfielder became the youngest English player in history to start a Champions League match. It is too soon to get carried away, but he is clearly a huge talent and it is encouraging that one of the best coaches in history is prepared to give him a chance in the first-team. Although it was a dead rubber, it shows the belief that Guardiola has in the player, as he started alongside the likes of David Silva, Yaya Toure and Leroy Sane.
During his career at youth level, the confidence and grace that Foden has in possession has allowed him to stand out. He has excellent ball control and a low centre of gravity that makes him difficult to dispossess when he is running with the ball. There were physicality issues on Wednesday, but he was assured in possession. The 17-year-old completed 84% of his passes and was looking to play positive forward passes, rather than choosing the easy option. He definitely saw it as an opportunity to make an impact and that approach will have pleased his manager.
It is unsurprising that there were some tactical issues, as he was playing out of position and he remains at the early stage of his career. He will need time to develop mentally and understand how to carry out a specific role. At youth level, he can get away with being an individual and focusing on his own contributions rather than the team. That isn’t to say he was selfish on Wednesday, but he has a long way to go to dominate matches in senior football.
Considering he isn’t a defender, he worked hard out of possession and completed two tackles. He applied himself to his role and came out with credit. There were some positional errors, but that is to be expected considering his age and experience.
What is next for Foden?
Foden is far ahead of the majority of players in his age group as he has been given the opportunity to play twice in the Champions League. He is in the thoughts of Guardiola and pushing for further involvement. However, the quality of the Manchester City squad means that he is unlikely to play regularly, while chances in his own position will be rare.
Against Shakhtar, he was used in a left wing-back role, but it could be that Guardiola sees this as the youngster’s best chance of securing further first-team chances. Manchester City have Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva. It would be unfair to put Foden in ahead of those, as it would put needless pressure on him at this early stage of his development. He isn’t at their level and he could lose confidence quickly.
There are few better coaches in the world than Guardiola and if he sees something in Foden, he has the ability to mould him in to a player that best suits the team’s needs. The emergence and impact of Fabian Delph at wing-back underlines this.
The English media are the worst for producing a hype train and the success that the England age-groups enjoyed over the summer has led to increased pressure to play young players. They need to be eased into senior football and not asked to do too much. Guardiola has a good history of developing players to a high level. Sergio Busquets, Thiago Alcantara and Joshua Kimmich are only three examples from this.
The success that these three have enjoyed in senior football show that Foden is in the right place to fulfil his potential. There are some advantages to going out on loan, but if the teenager did leave City on a temporary basis, the quality of his coaching would decrease. He has plenty of his career ahead of him and there are more benefits to being at City right now than being elsewhere.
Foden needs to be patient and apply himself on the training pitch. There is so much to learn from Guardiola and the Manchester City squad that playing regularly isn’t important at this stage. His performance against Shakhtar was encouraging, but he has a long way to go before he is the answer for club or country.