Reykjavík just the start of Phil Foden's pivotal season for club and country
After a solid, if not spectacular debut, Paul Hassall looks at what could be a pivotal season for Phil Foden.
England's midfielder Phil Foden and Iceland's midfielder Jon Dagur Thorsteinsson vie for the ball during the UEFA Nations League football match between Iceland v England on September 5, 2020 in Reykjavik.
It was a surreal stage, perhaps rather different from the one a young Phil Foden had once had dreams about, but it could yet be the one where he made his first, significant step towards a prominent role at Euro 2021.
Earlier this week, the Manchester City starlet had spoken of how 'every kid on the estate' dreamed of an England senior call-up, but when he was a junior he probably had visions of it being at a packed Wembley.
Instead, it was behind-closed-doors in a post-virus world at Laugardalsvöllur in Reykjavik. Yes, surreal was the word and it pretty much sums up 2020 for many. There was no chance to hear supporters sing his name or take in the sight of a packed crowd, but when he looks back on a tidy if unspectacular 68-minute international debut he will feel pride while simultaneously knowing there is much more to come.
'Like every kid on the estate, I dreamt of playing for England' - Phil Foden on England call-up
That is true for both club and country. Expectation is big for the 20-year-old who was player of the tournament when England U17s won the World Cup three years ago.
Indeed, this could be a huge season for the youngster and he will be well aware of that. So far, he has had to be patient under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City and had Euro 2020 gone ahead, it's debatable whether he would have even made Gareth Southgate's squad.
However, he now has another campaign ahead of him and City have bade farewell to club legend, David Silva. The Spaniard's remain big boots to fill, but Foden's talent is such, that City fans are desperate to see him fulfil his potential and seize the opportunity. If he does, that will also be great news for England.
Guardiola has shown his faith in the youngster, starting him in some of the club's biggest games in 2019-20, including the Carabao Cup final where he produced a man of the match showing. In that Wembley encounter he featured on the right, but also operated from the left when football resumed post-lockdown and as a false nine in the Champions League versus Real Madrid. He is comfortable on the ball, can beat a player and also has an eye for goal. He is undoubtedly versatile, but sees his best position in the midfield in the role of Silva, a player he idolised as a ball boy before going on to join him as a teammate in the first-team set up at the Etihad.
In truth, we didn't see much of this Silva-esque quality against Iceland in a match that was largely played at a slow tempo with a pre-season vibe about it. However, there was enough in his demeanour and range of passing to suggest the minutes and time spent integrating with the England squad will be invaluable for the future.
hil Foden of England runs with the ball during the UEFA Nations League group stage match between Iceland and England at Laugardalsvollur National Stadium on September 05, 2020 in Reykjavik, Iceland.
Image credit: Getty Images
It is very much in-keeping with Southgate's philosophy of giving talented youngsters opportunities to shine and improve England's chances of success further down the line. Foden wasn't the only player who made his debut either. Manchester United's Mason Greenwood also came on late in the proceedings and injected some urgency into England's play. It was a brief cameo, but he's clearly another one who has a big future for his country and will have his eye on securing one of the forward berths at next summer's tournament.
The Three Lions are well stocked in Foden's midfield area with the likes of Jordan Henderson, Harry Winks, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, James Maddison, Dele Alli, Jack Grealish and Mason Mount all among a host of names hoping to be in that Euro 2021 line up. Foden knows that competition for places will be stiff and the hard work to truly ignite and begin to live up to the hype will only intensify now he is a full England international.
Laugardalsvöllur will have whet his appetite, but now Foden must make the most of a postponed tournament and a departed club legend to emerge as the midfield maestro Southgate simply can't leave out.