Man City's best player? How Pep carefully developed Foden into a world class player
There’s very little doubt that Phil Foden is one of Manchester City’s best players. Not only is he the club’s second most valuable player but in terms of goals and assists he’s undoubtedly one of the best players in the Premier League. And yet, there's something peculiar about the way he fits into Pep Guardiola’s squad. Unlike other clubs, that would put their star playmaker front and centre of their team, Guardiola has been particularly careful with Foden’s development and gone to extra lengths to ensure the England international isn’t overplayed and in turn burned out in the early years of his career. We can see this attention to Foden’s game time when we look at his minutes for Man City over the past four seasons.
Biding his time - Guardiola’s careful use of Foden
Naturally, in his first full season, Foden only started nine games and featured in about one quarter of Man City’s games. But it was in his second season under Guardiola that Foden would have perhaps been expected to become a starting figure for Man City. Instead, Pep used the playmaker sparingly and while his number of appearances and overall game time doubled, it still only amounted to about half the available minutes in the Premier League that season.
After establishing himself as one of the most promising players in the world, Foden naturally saw his game time leap up to 24 starts in the 21/22 campaign and an overall game time of around 62% of the total available in the Premier League that season. However, even that was still less than the likes of Bernardo Silva and Kevin de Bruyne. And only slightly more than players like Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus, who would be deemed surplus to requirement at the end of the season.
And this season hasn’t been any different. While Pep has explained that the lack of game time was due to Foden coming back from the World Cup with an ankle injury, he’s only been left out of the squad entirely on two occasions. And the Man City manager has been more reliant on Kevin de Bruyne and Jack Grealish. As a result, Foden has only featured in 58% of Man City’s game time in the Premier League this season.
Explosive and efficient in front of goal - how Foden thrives at Man City
But there is some logic to this. And while Foden may not be starting for Man City each and every week, he has developed into an excellent, efficient goal threat for Guardiola to use if and when he chooses. For example, when it comes to total goals and assists in the Premier League this season, Foden is 12th in the table. But when we break that down to goals and assists per appearance, the 22-year-old ends up averaging 0.87 per 90 minutes.
To put that into context, that’s a better return than Harry Kane, Bukayo Saka, Mohamed Salah and Marcus Rashford in the Premier League this season. And goes some way to explaining just how effective Foden is for Man City when he’s kept fresh and doesn’t get overplayed. What’s more, since nailing down a first team role in Man City’s starting XI in 2019, only four players at the club have bagged more Premier League goals and assists. Guardiola may not start Foden every week but his management of the young player’s game time has undoubtedly got the best out of the England international and ensured that Man City don’t burn out a remarkable young talent. And that’s why Foden is well on his way to becoming one of the world’s best players.