At long last, Phil Foden has the opportunity to take center stage as Pep Guardiola’s top player.


Lionel Messi plays for Barcelona, Mario Götze for Bayern Munich, and David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne for Manchester City. Despite Pep Guardiola’s efforts to recruit Jude Bellingham as his next fantasy football player, Bellingham chose Real Madrid. Now, Guardiola is turning to Phil Foden to fill the role and help build another successful team.

On Saturday at 12:30pm, the 23-year-old will have his most recent audition as the treble winners face off against Liverpool in the highly anticipated Premier League match of the season thus far.

If he is selected, it will be a clear indication of Foden’s status under Guardiola. Foden debuted as a 75th-minute replacement against Feyenoord six years ago when he was only 17. Since then, he has achieved remarkable success, winning five Premier League titles, two FA Cups, four League Cups, the Champions League, and the UEFA Super Cup. However, his manager is still not completely convinced that he can fill De Bruyne’s shoes and become the next shining star in Guardiola’s constellation, which includes Messi (Barcelona, 2008-2012), Götze (Bayern Munich, 2013-2016), and Silva (Manchester City, 2016-2020).

De Bruyne is not yet done, but his hamstring injury suffered in the first few minutes of the season against Burnley in August, which needed surgery and will keep him out until the new year, serves as a reminder to Guardiola that the 32-year-old is approaching the later stages of his career.

Pep Guardiola consistently builds his successful teams around star players such as Messi, Götze, Silva, and De Bruyne. This goes against his belief in rotating players to maintain competition and motivation, as these key players are rarely benched for important matches when they are performing well. In return, Guardiola expects these players to consistently produce exceptional performances. The fact that Foden was left out of the starting lineup for the FA Cup and Champions League finals last season suggests that Guardiola is not yet convinced that he can be a reliable match-winner for City.

Manchester City's head coach Pep Guardiola talks to Manchester City's Phil Foden during the group G Champions League soccer match between Manchester City and Young Boys

When Silva ended a glittering decade at City he was rated by many as the club’s greatest footballer. Three years later De Bruyne’s serial A-list displays allow a similar claim. In January 2020, before Silva’s departure that summer, Guardiola said: “We trust Phil. If we didn’t believe in him we might go to the market to replace David, but we have Phil.”

Pep Guardiola still has Phil Foden on his team, but last season was the first time since David Silva’s departure that his confidence in the young player faltered. Foden was given significantly less playing time, with a total of 3,373 minutes in 36 starts and 50 appearances. Despite this decrease, he still achieved career-high numbers with 16 goals and 10 assists. In the following season, Foden’s stats were slightly lower at 3,184 minutes, 36 starts, 45 appearances, 14 goals, and 11 assists. However, the biggest change came in the most recent season, where Foden only played 2,260 minutes and started in 29 games while providing eight assists. Despite this dip in playing time, he still managed to score 15 goals in 48 appearances.

The player was affected by an injury and an illness, a foot injury during a match against Manchester United in January and appendicitis in March, causing him to miss two months of play. Despite recovering, he did not play in the Champions League quarter-final second leg against Bayern in April or the semi-final first leg against Real Madrid. He was finally able to return as a substitute in the second leg against Madrid, coming on in the 84th minute to help City secure a comfortable 3-0 victory.

I have observed most of Foden’s performances in Manchester City’s team. It is hard to recall a time when he did not perform well. Instead, the image that comes to mind is one of quick and skillful footwork, precise touch, and clever vision. His dynamic runs and contributions have made him a key player in numerous matches.

With De Bruyne at his peak, this is not a disgraceful situation. Additionally, Foden is currently just 23 years old. Guardiola brought in Götze from Borussia Dortmund at the age of 21, which was seen as a predetermined move by Dortmund’s coach at the time, Jürgen Klopp, who referred to the attacking midfielder as a “favorite” of Pep Guardiola.

Foden has frequently played on the wing, limiting his chances to dictate the game compared to De Bruyne, who has been the main orchestrator of City’s dynamic offense in the roles of a midfielder or attacking midfielder (especially last year).

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Can Foden take advantage of De Bruyne’s declining fitness? Guardiola hopes so. In June’s 2-1 Cup final win against Manchester United, De Bruyne was substituted after 76 minutes and Foden was brought on by the manager. A week later, when De Bruyne left the field after 36 minutes in the 1-0 Champions League victory over Internazionale, Foden was once again called on as his replacement.

Phil Foden has a shot saved by Andre Onana during the Champions League Final between Manchester City and Internazionale

Following his underwhelming performance in the 2021 final where City suffered a 1-0 defeat to Chelsea, Foden had a prime chance to demonstrate his capabilities in the top club competition in Europe. While he performed decently at the Ataturk Stadium, he failed to deliver a standout performance. Those who claim that Inter is a formidable team to face only emphasize the necessity for a player to take control of a high-stakes game and steer it in their team’s favor.

Foden still has the potential to succeed, although his age of 23 may not allow him as much time as one would assume. If Bellingham had decided to join City, Foden’s chances of becoming the main player under Guardiola would have greatly diminished, as demonstrated by Bellingham’s impressive record of 13 goals in 14 appearances for Madrid at just 20 years old.

Foden has made 235 appearances for City and has scored 65 times. Improving his finishing rate would strengthen his position. He will aim to do just that on Saturday, as Guardiola’s team, currently in first place, face second-place Liverpool managed by Klopp.

Initially, there will be an uneasy anticipation to see his name included on the list of players for the team, but with Guardiola selecting Foden for the starting lineup in 14 out of City’s 18 matches this season, it is probable that he will be among the first eleven to take the field. After that, as his coach often mentions about all his players, it will be his responsibility.