Phil Foden: Guardiola invents the ‘Mini-Messi’ | Soccer | Sports


They had just named him MVP. He had scored two goals and had given an assist. Crystal Palace surrendered at his feet when the Premier League television cameras pointed at Kevin de Bruyne and asked him about his game, after the 4-2 draw last Saturday. “People talk about my longevity in top performance,” said the Belgian, blunt, cryptic and honest, pointing to the bench. “But if I don’t play well I won’t be a starter. Phil has been impressive this season and keeps my feet on the ground. He gives me that little push. I’ve known Phil since 2017. He’s not a kid anymore. He is an established star.”

Rarely has the consecrated figure of a team sacrificed his moment of glory with more conviction than De Bruyne when this Saturday at Selhurst Park, at 32 years old, he placed Phil Foden, who had not played a single minute, sitting by Guardiola on the bench , as its direct competitor in the three-quarter line of the most sophisticated attack in Europe. The veteran City playmaker amplified the clamor that spreads from the technical secretariats of the continent’s leading clubs. Foden, born in the great Manchester 23 years ago and a City youth player since he was eight, has made the list of the ten most decisive footballers that exist based on continuous actions in all stages of the game.

No one has made a bigger evolutionary leap so far this season, and no one has done it in more dimensions. Like Messi, the motto that he imitates, Foden dominates the most varied catalog of dribbling, organization in the midfield, and scoring in the entire range of definition. “I think this year I’ve grown in my understanding of the game,” he said last week. “The manager (Guardiola) told me that he would grow if he learned not to rush into every play. I think I’m finding my balance now.”

Like a good English footballer, Foden is generous in defending and impulsive in attack. For years he made a case belli of every ball he touched. Little by little, Guardiola convinced him that Messi, his idol, did not use every ball passed to him to unbalance. Most of the time, he played fast and easy, as if he didn’t care. A secret of truly great players.

His last goal against Aston Villa, the culmination of a hat trick Last Wednesday, he concentrated many of his virtues and his defects. First, she had the courage to get like a man possessed into the square formed by Villa’s pivots and centre-backs, pressed together like a phalanx to prevent leaks. The core of the rival’s pressure, where so few come forward to offer themselves. There Rodri passed the ball to him and the first thing he did was double the bet. Instead of returning the ball face-on, he turned with it sewn to his foot. He faced Diego Carlos, Chambers and Lenglet, and far from relying on Julián Álvarez to return a wall, he decided to advance towards the valley of shadows. Only. He was animated by the spirit of The Charge of the Light Brigade. His British heart put him in a dead end. He ended up on the ground. Lenglet stole the ball. The play seemed dead and Villa was setting up the counterattack when the fallen man got up, reacted like a mastiff, stripped Lenglet and without further delay released the catapult from his left leg. The ball entered the corner like lightning.

“He has a goal,” Guardiola shrugged, “when he gets close to the area he has the gift of the last touch; he overflows on both sides; He has judgment in the middle…he can do everything.”

Foden added a goal and an assist in last year’s Champions League. In the last Premier season, he scored 11 goals and gave five. In the greatest campaign in the history of his club, he failed to have much weight. Injuries prevented him from doing so. He feels that he did not live up to his ability. He wants to make amends. His base statistic reflects this. He has four goals and three assists in this Champions League and 14 goals and seven assists in the Premier League. He has become, along with Rodri and Bernardo, the most influential player on the team. It is in his hands to establish himself as an excellent footballer or get closer to the planet that Messi inhabited.

Mbappé and Haaland are goal specialists. Musiala is a specialist in game generation. Bellingham specializes in coming from behind. They repeat it from the technical secretariats of Chelsea, Liverpool, and Bayern, among others: Phil Foden is the only one in the great echelon of the new wave who can boast of covering all dimensions: winger on both wings, striker and interior midfielder . His visit to the Bernabéu, tomorrow in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals, could be a milestone in the progression of the player with the most resources of the new generation of stars. A mini-Messi manufactured by Guardiola through emotional management, benches and accolades, to take him to the limit of evolutionary speed.

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