“I don’t want to talk about individual performances. But to score a hat-trick in the quarter-finals and semi-finals of a World Cup is a special achievement.”
Steve Cooper, head coach of the England Under-17s, was fielding questions on Rhian Brewster. Everyone wanted to know the secret to Brewster’s lethal goal-streak. Brewster might have scored all of England’s three goals but the man who ran the show was the No 7, Phil Foden.
The 17-year-old Manchester City midfielder may have scored only one goal in India but that should not deter from the fact that he has been pivotal in driving England’s attack from the midfield.
The biggest compliment that social media commentators paid to Foden was that he was distinctly “un-English” in his playing style, passing with an intent to hurt and that he would not have looked out of place in a South American team. The best of the lot? Foden was termed the “English David Silva”.
Quite often, youngsters at the Under-17 and senior World Cups have flattered to deceive but Cesc Fabregas, Toni Kroos, Gianluigi Buffon and Neymar have all proven to be exceptions.
Foden may not end up among those pantheon of greats, but when a 17-year-old leaves Pep Guardiola “speechless” on his first-team debut in a defeat against their bitter rivals, who are you and me to argue about the realisation of this kid’s talent?
If you want further proof that Foden is the real deal, look no further than England’s third goal against Brazil. The No 7 recovered the ball in midfield, turned beautifully, evading two challenges, and drew three Brazil players in, before releasing it to substitute Emile Smith-Rowe on the wing, who put it on a plate for Brewster.
When the City youngster had picked up the ball, it was no more than possession in the midfield. By the time he was finished, Brazil’s goal was gaping and the opponents had been punished.
His ability to turn in small spaces, hang on to the ball and release it at the right moment makes him very efficient and tidy in possession. The simplest things are often the hardest but Foden makes a mockery of these menial tasks.
Against Brazil, Foden was omnipresent in midfield, retrieving balls, recycling possession, picking players out and playing the killer pass. To do it on City’s training ground or at St George’s Park, the English team’s base, would have been delightful. To do it in a World Cup semi-final against Brazil with 63,000-plus backing them was him rising to the occasion.
Indeed, every player in the English team must be praised for producing a mature performance beyond their years. “For the first 30 minutes, Brazil had more of the ball than I would have liked,” Cooper said. “But the boys tweaked stuff on the pitch, they changed their positioning. The fact that they shut Brazil out in the second half is down to them.”
Foden came off to rapturous applause after Cooper decided to replace him with Nya Kirby in the 87th minute, as a partisan Kolkata crowd supporting Brazil recognised the English youngster’s contribution to his team’s success. England face Spain in an all-European affair in the final on Saturday, where Foden will have one last chance to bedazzle suitors and club management alike.
After letting Jadon Sancho move to Borussia Dortmund, one can bet that Guardiola and the City hierarchy would not want to let Foden slip through their grasp.