Pep Guardiola has praised Phil Foden as “special” after the 18-year-old’s winning goal against Tottenham. Foden’s fifth-minute header at the Etihad Stadium was his first Premier League goal and his all-round display was impressive.
Foden was a surprise starter for Manchester City alongside Kevin De Bruyne in midfield, with David Silva dropped to the bench.
The teenager impressed Guardiola, who said he never had a young player as good as Foden when he was in charge of Barcelona. In 2011, before a Champions League last-16 second leg game between Barça and Arsenal, Guardiola dismissed the threat of Jack Wilshere saying his reserve team had many young players like the then 19-year-old.
Reminded of this and asked if he had many Fodens at Barça, Guardiola said: “No. He’s special. I trust him a lot, from the first time I saw him. When I first landed here [in summer 2016] Txiki Begiristain [City’s sporting director] told me: ‘Meet one player – he is 15, 16 years old. You have to know him.’
“And I did. After one day, two days, he came to our training session and – wow. I said: ‘You are right, Txiki – this player is good.’ Last season he started to train with us [in the first team], him and Jadon Sancho, and that was the start of us watching him.
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“With young players you have to be careful. As quick as you go up, as quick you go down. Sometimes you have to handle that situation a bit but we didn’t have any doubts. Every time he played he was outstanding, he was the top, he was at the level to be a Manchester City player – and it isn’t easy to be in that team.
“He’s 18 years old and that’s why I am so satisfied. I see him in every training session and he has something special. And I see many players as a manager. So many, and this guy has something that is difficult to find. So he’s special, now comes hard work and you’ll see how far he is going.”
Guardiola outlined what Foden has to do to become a first-choice player. “He has to fight Fernandinho and David Silva, he has to beat Ilkay Gündogan, he has to run and run and run to convince me he can play,” he said.
With the need to bounce back from being knocked out of the Champions League by Spurs last Wednesday Foden’s inclusion showed particular faith from Guardiola.
“On Saturday, it was my inspiration,” he said. “I was in my office and we play a lot of games [at the moment], and I said: ‘I think he’s ready – I want to give him a chance.’ That’s all. Sometimes a manager just has a feeling – and it was a good decision, because we won. But Phil would have remained the same player for me, even if we didn’t win. He trained incredibly well. This is especially hard for the players who did not play a lot.
“Training is never easy and he’s sharp, positive, so focused. And we needed this type of attitude, to be aggressive at the start, because Tottenham are an incredible side the way they get in behind us with the ball, the way they attack our back [line]. Long ball, second ball, they are like Liverpool.
“They play the ball right in behind the full-backs and attack, with Son Heung-min, with Lucas Moura. It’s so tough to play them. We suffered, particularly in the second half.”
Guardiola also praised Bernardo Silva. “One on one he won so many duels. The mental factor was so tough. We spoke about that. The best two days I have had as Manchester City manager has been last Wednesday and today, because of the fans.”
Of the championship race he said: “Liverpool have a strong squad but I’m happy with my team – what they have shown me over two seasons has been correct. I love my team.”