hen Phil Foden received his first senior England call-up last Tuesday, it did not make headlines. The unfolding Harry Maguire scandal saw to that. The Manchester United captain’s trial in Greece swept almost everything else from the news agenda.
But perhaps the relatively meagre column inches for Foden also reflected the lack of surprise about Gareth Southgate’s decision. The Manchester City midfielder has dreamed of playing for his country since he first kicked a ball in the streets of Stockport and it seems as though he has been tipped for England inclusion for almost as long.
Foden starred for England Under-17s in their World Cup win of 2017 when it was apparent to everyone that he had the raw ingredients to eventually play at the highest level, so how has it taken him until after his 20th birthday to be recognised?
That is not Foden’s concern. He is finally in for England’s Nations League ties against Iceland on Saturday and Denmark on Tuesday and he has brought a sense of clarity and purpose, which is most apparent when he discusses his international ambitions.
“I want to try and keep the shirt and play for England for many years,” Foden says. “I feel like as a team we can go further than we have in the past. I feel really confident with the way we are going and the players that we have got. We need to start winning tournaments – and I hope in the future we can do that.”
Foden was 16 when England lost against Iceland at Euro 2016, which was surely the most chastening defeat of his lifetime in terms of the national team, but much has changed since and he is part of a wave of talent free of associations with past failures.
Foden can draw inspiration from his role in the Under-17 World Cup triumph, when he played with Jadon Sancho, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Rhian Brewster among others, and he does so whenever he sees his medal on display at his parents’ home.
“If you win youth tournaments it can give you the experience to go and win one with the first team,” Foden says. “I feel like winning the World Cup definitely helped me playing on a big stage and not to feel the pressure so much. I’ve played many big games for Man City now and I have learned to cope with the fans and the pressure. It definitely helps you.”
It is remarkable that there are only four survivors from the Iceland debacle in Southgate’s current squad – Kyle Walker, Eric Dier, Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane, although Jordan Henderson, Marcus Rashford and Ross Barkley would have been present but for injury.
“The team we’ve got now – we’ve got Champions League winners, Premier League winners, and we’ve got more experience that maybe we needed that day [against Iceland],” Foden says. “I feel that we’re ready for the tournaments coming up and we can build on the past and hopefully get to the final one day. We are a young team and nothing fazes us. We just go out and play our football.”
There are times when Foden sounds like a long-suffering England fan, namely when he is asked about Paul Gascoigne – to whom he has been compared. “Gascoigne was one of the best England players who played the game so I feel if they had the right coaches around them and played the right football at the time we could have won more trophies back in the day,” he says.
Foden adds that, like Gascoigne, he wants to play in the centre of midfield rather than off the flank – where he has sometimes featured for City – and, with David Silva having left for Real Sociedad, it could be that he gets his wish at club level. Silva is the player Foden most looked up to when he was younger and he has relished the opportunity to work with him.
“He sees the game so differently to other players,” he says. “How he moves into space in tight areas, how he receives the ball and never loses it. I’ve learnt so much from him. I liked him ever since he came to the club [in 2010]. He has gone now but hopefully he could be back one day as a coach.”
Foden describes the step up to the City first team as the biggest challenge of his career, particularly on the physical side – he was a lot smaller than the other players at academy level and says he had to “use my brain more”.
But now that he has made the transition and started in a host of significant games, not least last season’s Carabao Cup final win against Aston Villa, when he was the man of the match, and the Champions League last-16 second-leg victory against Real Madrid, he will have no concerns about Iceland or Denmark.
For Foden, it is the most natural of progressions and he will see it as a chance to express himself. He is itching to do so.