Three years later, Foden is embarking on a journey with his country’s senior team — no longer that outrageously talented kid tipped for greatness but now a fully fledged member of one of the top teams in Europe.
“I want to keep the shirt and play for England for many years,” the 20-year-old Manchester City midfielder said during his first week of training with the national team. His confidence is high, and no wonder.
By the end of last season, Foden had gained the trust of City manager Pep Guardiola to such an extent that he was deployed as a false nine in the team’s biggest game of the season — against Real Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League.
In his breakthrough season at City, he also played on the left and right wing, and occasionally dropped into his preferred position of attacking central midfield. Long-term, Foden has the attributes to be the replacement for departed playmaker David Silva in central midfield at City — he is left-footed, has a low center of gravity, a wonderful first touch and technique, and can wriggle out of enclosed spaces — although Guardiola currently favors playing him in the front three.
But, for the next week, it’s England coach Gareth Southgate who will be ruling over a youngster who says he will not be overawed by his call-up to the senior squad for Nations League qualifiers against Iceland on Saturday and Denmark on Tuesday.
“If you win youth tournaments, it can give you the experience to go and win one in the first team,” Foden said of the under-17 tournament in India, when he was England captain. “I feel like that World Cup definitely helped me to play on a big stage and not feel the pressure so much.
“I have played many big games at Man City now, and I have learnt to cope with the fans and the pressure.” The same can be said of the other highly rated youngsters in Southgate’s squad, such as 18-year-old Manchester United forward Mason Greenwood — also called up for the first time last week — and 20-year-old Borussia Dortmund winger Jadon Sancho. Mason Mount, a 21-year-old Chelsea midfielder, is likely to be starting against Iceland.
Southgate is eager to get them involved as much as possible before the European Championship, which was delayed by a year until June 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Foden and Greenwood likely wouldn’t have made the squad if the tournament had taken place this year.
They come with no previous baggage of international failure, seemingly no anxiety that shackled the previous generation of England players. “Nothing fazes us,” Foden said of England’s youngsters. “We just go out and play our football. And I think that is a good thing because we don’t think too much. We can start controlling games now because we have the players for that.
“There’s a lot of young players now playing at a high level. It seems like every year, younger players are playing more big games. It’s good to see.” Foden has had to bide his time at City, with Guardiola not rushing a player who he believes will be a regular in the team for years. There were 10 appearances in all competitions in the 2017-18 season, 26 in the 2018-19 season, and 38 last season.
Foden has always found ways to come through the tough times. “When I was younger and at the academy, I was a lot smaller than other players so I had to use my brain more,” he said. “Eventually I started growing and when I made my step to the first team, it was such a step up from the youth team. I had to adapt quickly.
“So I have definitely tried to get to the gym much more now and get a lot bigger. Trying to adapt to the physical side, that was the most challenging thing for me.” Foden’s next challenge is getting into the England team, and staying there for next year’s Euros. Expect him to pass his latest test, too.
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Steve Douglas is at https://twitter.com/sdouglas80