The Winter World Cup 2022 kicked off on Sunday, and England’s campaign will begin on Monday afternoon as they take on Iran.
There have always been questions about Southgate’s selection headache. And I believe there is only one cure, Phil Foden.
The fact of the matter is the England squad is full of talent, with some even missing out on a call up. Southgate has been accused of having favourites and choosing players from the “big six” despite poor form.
Even more concerning, is he doesn’t seem to be able to identify his preferred formation and starting XI. There are many England fans that don’t watch club football week in, week out.
However, those that do love football all year round, not just in the summer (winter in this case), will know all too well how important a clear game plan, tactics and partnerships/consistency is for success.
There is one player in particular who could be solving a lot of problems for Southgate, especially in a tournament as big as the World Cup. It’s Phil, Phil Foden; and I am going to tell you why.
The 3 Lions under Southgate have been known to struggle in creating clear chances against top teams, or defensively minded teams on the international stage. The waistcoat loves to play 5 at the back with wingbacks.
What this leads to is a lack of creativity in midfield, and spamming crosses into the box, which can be a problem when the box is packed with opposition defenders. The lack of creativity in midfield means there is no creative connection between the defensive midfielders and the front line.
We saw this in the game against Germany. The front 3 were often left isolated, dropping deep with their backs to goal.
Has this been successful at times? Sure. There are Premier League teams that play in similar ways and experience some success. Is this going to win a major tournament against some of the world’s best? Probably not.
Whilst we talk about the attacking talent every time a selection is to be made, we also have incredible defensive players. The majority of England’s top defenders play in one of the most competitive leagues in a back 4 – so trust them to do the same internationally.
We also have incredible defensive midfielders that can hold their own in front of a back 4. Freeing up the opportunity for more creative players in midfield to do what they do best – connecting the back, to the attack.
This is where Foden comes in. By far one of England’s (and City’s) most creative players. He has played in deeper roles before, for England and for City. He has the intelligence, the eye and the technical ability to create chances from the halfway line.
See his games for City, in particular his assist for Cancelo’s opener in the Champions League vs. Club Brugge. His performance in England’s 4-0 win over Iceland.
If Southgate wanted to be stubborn about the 5 at the back, then again, Foden’s technical and creative ability in midfield would see him link up the attacking players, bringing them into the game – and Southgate can also keep his spammed crosses and overly defensive style.
Ability, intelligence and versatility
It has become common under top managers such as Pep, Arteta, Klopp and Tuchel for players to be able to adapt to various positions. But no more so under Guardiola – Stones in midfield, Ferna at CB, and Foden as a 9.
We could argue that no young player has been more versatile for City than Foden. He’s played both wings, false 9, midfield and we spied him at left back in the Champions League only a few weeks ago – will we ever get that position sorted traditionally?
Guardiola trusting Foden in all of those positions, just to get him into one of the best teams in the world speaks volumes about his ability and his intelligence to adapt, and still be able to influence games.
Last season saw Phil in the false 9 position more than any other forward player, including those with plenty of experience, and he did a phenomenal job. Whether it was assisting, creating space for the wingers or tussling in the box as a small guy to get the ball in the net – he was there.
Since making his debut, he has consistently been up there with goal contributions for the blues. Including getting the ball forward, at the right times which is an important skill in being able to dominate a game and creating chances.
The intelligence to make the right pass at the right time is something that has come with his experience working under the best coach, with some of the best players and this skill is just as important for the defensive work as it enables the team to dominate and recycle the ball if needed.
Guardiola himself has gushed about Foden’s eye for goal and has admitted that he hasn’t appeared much in midfield because he wants him close to goal – though this doesn’t stop KDB.
Along with his sense of goal, his creativity, his defensive ability (see stats), his intelligence and his vision; he is also able to link up with players of varying qualities and skill sets, think Grealish, Sterling, KDB, Jesus, Bernardo – if there is a lack of fluid link up, that’s not on Phil’s ability as he has proven.
His technical ability is something that has had people watering at the mouth, his first touch, his ball control, his ability to dribble and take on players (something he did less of as a false 9) and far outweighs the technical ability of others in the England squad – we all have eyes.
Of the players he is often in contention with, and the ones that get picked ahead of him, he has the most experience on the big stage whilst being successful. He’s been a huge part of 4 Premier League title winning campaigns, arguably one of the most difficult and intense to win due to the consistency required.
Additionally, he has been a significant influential figure in knock-out tournaments with an FA Cup, 4 Carabao Cups and 2 Community Shields. Even more interestingly in the context of the international stage, awarded the Golden Ball in the World Cup WIN for the under 17’s.
Often one of City’s most impressive players in the Champions League, being named in 20-21 UEFA Champions League squad of the season. Scoring, assisting, and shining as the best player against some of the world’s best.
Senior trophies/competitions won by players in contention for World Cup starts:
Foden: 11 Senior Titles; Saka: 2 Senior Titles; Mount: 3 Senior Titles; Maddison: 2 Senior Titles; Harry Kane: 0 Senior Titles.
The point here being that not one of those players has more experience in what it takes to win than Phil Foden.
Some might make the partially valid argument that Foden plays in a far superior and more recently successful team than the others, very true. Nevertheless, those other players don’t get into City’s team, whereas Pep will move our young blue around just to get him in to the side.
Those of us that have seen success at club level know what it takes mentally to be up there winning and competing against the best.
I have spoken on multiple occasions about why I think that Foden, even now, is captain material.
Despite being 22, Phil has displayed elite mentality. Some small things I have noticed from pitch side at the Etihad.
He doesn’t drop is head when things don’t go his way, or the team’s way. He continues to push on, he fights, he defends if he needs to, and he isn’t afraid of trying a little something if it means getting the blues back on the front foot – something I imagine he has learnt from KDB.
We will sometimes see him shouting words of encouragement to his comrades, raising their spirits to keep them fighting.
He “bigs up” his teammates when their confidence is low, or when they are successful. When his teammates score, he makes sure the fans and the world know it is them that deserves the praise.
He supports his teammates in defeat. He was seen comforting his idol, Aguero after the Champions League defeat to Chelsea after a peculiar team selection. He was seen comforting Sancho and Saka after their missed penalties in the Euros.
Foden will also stand by his teammates whilst they receive treatment for injuries. Most recently, Laporte was struck with a head injury at the Etihad vs. Brentford which saw him stay down, bleeding.
The 22-year-old was the first to alert medics and seek treatment for Laporte and stood by his side and did not move until he was back on his feet.
Those of you that have read my articles before will know that I never judge players purely by statistics; stats don’t tell a full story and Grealish is a perfect example of that. However, for the purpose of a balanced argument, I will include some interesting stats below.
Foden: (22-23) 11 g/a in 19 games, (21-22) 21 g/a in 43 games, (overall) 32 g/a in 62 games
Saka: (22-23) 11 g/a in 20 games, (21-22) 20 g/a in 51 games, (overall) 31 g/a in 71 games
Mount: (22-23) 4 g/a in 21 games, (21-22) 23 g/a in 45 games, (overall) 27 g/a in 66 games
Maddison: (22-23) 11 g/a in 14 games, (21-22) 24 g/a in 42 games, (overall) 35 g/a in 56 games.
When comparing some “overall game” stats, we can take into account variables such as games started vs. substitutions. An important variable to consider for the stats below, are positions played.
For example, it is not surprising to see that Maddison playing as a midfielder has achieved more long balls than Foden playing on the wing. But make of the stats what you will.
Foden: shot accuracy 52%, 27 shots,11 accurate long balls, 54 recoveries, 50% tackle success
Saka: shot accuracy 32%, 29 shots, 0 accurate long balls, 0 recoveries, no tackle success recorded
Mount: shot accuracy 27%, 22 shots,18 accurate long balls, 54 recoveries, 54 % tackle success
Maddison: shot accuracy 33%, 39 shots, 31 accurate long balls, 37 recoveries, 40% tackle success
Is it a good or bad thing if City players don’t play?
Some blues will be happy to see our City boys benched for the World Cup in order to save them for the heavy club schedule ahead.
However, I personally would love to see the guys we support each week represent their countries as it is their dream to do so. They train their whole lives to perform on the biggest stages in world football.
To some of us, that might be the Premier League or the Carabao Cup. To others, it might be the Champions League. More importantly, to the players, it is the World Cup.
Footballers have short careers, and I for one would love to see one of our very own go off and achieve it all!
As England confirm their starting XI to face Iran for their first game of the 2022 World Cup, fans are furious:
Why does Southgate not favour the English gem?
It is safe to say that any other top coach in world football would be purring at the chance to work with Foden, just as Pep does, and we could argue that he starts for any of the teams participating in the World Cup – who doesn’t he start for?
I thoroughly believe that if he keeps his head down, keeps absorbing everything he can learn from Pep, KDB, Silva etc, and moved into midfield, we could see him become one of the best footballers ever for the blues.
He has the ingredients; he just needs to bake well! A woman making a kitchen joke, fancy that?
My theory is that Southgate has no clue how to coach someone like Foden. And my view is that the England boss is not a coach at all, he’s a manager, a people person. He is not an elite football coach.
So, this is my take on why Foden “should” be a certain starter for The 3 Lions in the Winter World Cup. But who am I?
Let us know what you think in the comments, blues! What are your World Cup predictions?