Why Jack Wilshere offers a cautionary tale to Phil Foden at Manchester City
Those who believe City player's progress is slow and steady must recall meteoric rise and fall of fellow Englishman's career
The left-footed midfielder had the feel of a prodigy. His technique and assurance in possession made him an unEnglish player.
He was still only a teenager. He was being tipped for greatness. But Pep Guardiola said Barcelona “have many players like him in the second team".
The year was 2011, the player Jack Wilshere. Fast forward to 2019 and Guardiola was asked if Barcelona’s reserves are packed with players like Phil Foden.
“No,” the immediate reply came. “This guy is special.”
If the impression was cemented on Saturday, when Foden proved City’s match-winner against Tottenham Hotspur on just his second Premier League start, Guardiola was convinced long before then. The tip-off came from an old teammate, City’s director of football Txiki Begiristain.
“When I just landed here, Txiki said ‘you have to meet this boy'," Guardiola recalled. “And the first season he came one day, two days to training and I said: 'You're right, Txiki, this guy is good'.”
There is a perception Guardiola has held Foden back, and the lifelong City fan was surprised to be told on Saturday morning he was starting, but it was his 25th outing of the season. There would have been more but for competition from Kevin de Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, Fernandinho, David and Bernardo Silva.
“I see him every day in training,” Guardiola said. “That's why I know he has something special. I have seen many players as a manager and this guy has something which is difficult to find.”
That touch and ability to pick a pass has been allied with a capacity to get forward. It is a feature of City’s game that their two more advanced central midfielders score what can seem strikers’ goals; some, like Foden’s decider against Spurs, from inside the six-yard area.
“He has the quality to arrive in the box,” Guardiola noted. “Every time he plays, he scores a goal or has chances.”
Foden has another high-profile admirer in Mauricio Pochettino. The Argentine has a reputation for blooding English talent; Harry Kane was a reserve and Dele Alli a League One player before they encountered Pochettino.
“He’s a fantastic player; it’s not easy to play and start at a team like Manchester City," the Tottenham manager said. "When you watch him play, you can feel the quality he has.”
There is a sense Foden could be the successor to perhaps the greatest player in City’s history and Pochettino added: “He’s a player that can be similar to David Silva. He has the characteristics of a No 8 with a lot of good quality to play with the No 9.
"He can score, he can shoot, he has the capacity to read games and find space, to create openings for goals, he is a very clever player.”
City’s other Silva also provides a role model. If many looked understandably tired after the Uefa Champions League extravaganza last week, Bernardo Silva was an exception. “I'm not sure what he ate again,” Guardiola smiled.
Foden, who ran 11.5 kilometres, was similarly active.
That marks a difference with Wilshere. The Londoner has often shown a willing spirit, but has been betrayed by a fragile frame. He made his first appearance in five months on Saturday; at 27, he is an injury-hit substitute for West Ham United. He offers a cautionary tale to Foden.
No parallel is perfect but Wilshere made 49 appearances in that 2010/11 season when his Arsenal faced Guardiola’s Barcelona and the Catalan objected to English hype. Foden has got less exposure at a similar age.
“With young players, you have to be careful because as quick as you go up you can come down,” Guardiola said. “Sometimes you have to handle that situation a bit.
"We will see how far Phil goes in his career. But, hopefully a long way.”
Updated: April 22, 2019 10:48 AM