Once again Manchester City fan and player Phil Foden has put in a really good performance in City’s first team and, once again, this has led to some commentating on football to claim that Pep Guardiola does not give the player chances. The general comment being that Pep does not give Phil enough starts or opportunities. So I’ve decided to have a look at Phil’s opportunities so far with City.
Firstly, exactly how many games has Phil appeared in? Well since making his debut at the age of 17 years and five months in 2017 against Feyenoord Phil has played in 93 first team games for City. That’s not far off an average of 30 a season during his developing years. Not bad going for a player who doesn’t get a chance!
This season we’re 24 games in and already Phil has appeared in 19 first team games. Only Raheem Sterling (22) and Rodri (23) have appeared in more games for City this season so far. That doesn’t look like someone who isn’t being given a chance to me. In addition, no player has appeared in more Champions League games for City this season than Phil – one of three players (with Sterling and Silva) to have made six CL appearances.
‘Ah, but what about in the Premier League then? It’s okay appearing in the cups, but what about getting his chance in the League?’ is something else that those criticising Pep will focus on. Well, in terms of the Premier League, Phil has appeared in 11 games. Only Rodri (15), Sterling (14), Ederson (14), De Bruyne (14), Dias (13) and Walker (12) have appeared in more Premier League games this season.
‘Okay, but what about his starts?’ is another popular line taken. These days it’s extremely rare for a manager not to use multiple substitutes in a game and the days of the same eleven that start a game ending a game are extremely rare. Nevertheless, the argument has to be considered.
Ever since his first appearance Phil has made 93 appearances in all first team competitions. Of those 93 appearances he has started 45 games, slightly less than half, but that’s considering his entire career. What about this season? Well, so far this in 2020-21 he has started 68% of all the games he has played – and don’t forget only two players have appeared in more games!
Over the last couple of years I’ve been researching and writing the biography of Peter Barnes (due out later in 2021) and the parallels between the two players are important. Like Phil, Peter was given his debut as a 17 year old (Peter was almost 17 years and 4 months old while Phil was a little older, almost 17 years and 6 months) and was heralded as a great, young, local talent who supported City. Both players were twenty when they made their England debuts, with Peter being described as the ‘saviour of English football’ shortly afterwards by those reporting on international football.
The status of both players was similar at the age of twenty yet the main difference is that Phil has actually made more appearances for his club than Peter had by the time he was the same age as Phil is today. Peter had played 88 first team games while Phil has played 93. Okay, some will say that City play more European games today than they did during Peter’s time. Well that is true, although City were competitors in knock-out European competition during Peter’s career. However, there were more League games in Peter’s day than today, so the overall balance is similar.
What I have found most interesting when comparing Phil and Peter’s early careers is that, like Phil, Peter often started a game, put in a great performance and then found himself dropped for the next match. It happened frequently and it did make fans question the management at times, however the media took a different view to fans. They believed and wrote that Tony Book, the City boss at the time, was ‘protecting’ his young star. That no matter how talented Peter was his boss knew how to help his career develop. In essence, the less he played then the better it was for Peter’s development and, ultimately, for his long term England career. With Phil Foden the media perception seems somewhat different – and this at a time when squad rotation is the norm.
Understandably, as fans we want to see every one of our favourite players appear in every game but for managers they have to think about their club’s chance of success, the development of their players and keeping everyone in the squad happy. That’s not really any different today than it was forty years or so ago when Peter Barnes was making his name.
It’s important to note that Peter Barnes’ City career changed considerably when Malcolm Allison returned as coach and moved on the club’s greatest stars so that he could concentrate on building a new team. Peter left, but Allison’s determination to utilise youthful players failed. Perhaps he needed to exhibit some of the care and protection for his young players that Tony Book did with Peter and Pep Guardiola has been doing with Phil.
So, the point of this article was really to say that despite the criticism that still gets aired by some, Phil Foden is being used effectively by Pep. We may want to see more of him but this season so far Pep has played him more than the majority of the squad. His management through Phil’s development appears to have worked and he should be praised, like Tony Book was in the 70s, for his support of young players.
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