Phil Foden has revealed how watching Pep Guardiola‘s Barcelona team on TV as a kid helped to shape him into the player he is today.
And now, a decade on from watching wide-eyed as Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta lit up the football world, the 20-year-old from Stockport is about to follow in their footsteps and play in a Champions League final.
There was some cynicism when Foden was dubbed the Edgeley Iniesta for his performances in the Manchester City academy as a youngster, but that nickname no longer looks precocious or laughable.
Foden is up there with Kevin De Bruyne and Riyad Mahrez as the three men who, more than anyone in a hugely talented team, make things happen.
The fact that he was taken off early during the 5-0 win that wrapped up the Premier League season told its own story.
At the start of the campaign Foden was still the player who was sometimes being given minutes at the end, when the game was won. Now he is a premium match-winner.
And as he prepares to face Chelsea in the final in Porto on Saturday night, manager Pep Guardiola can thank some of his old Barca stars for inspiring his latest prodigy.
“When I used to watch Barcelona as a kid, it was unbelievable – the way he set them up and how they played one-touch and two-touch football was unbelievable, and I never would have thought that he would be my coach someday,” said Foden.
“I feel very lucky to have him as a coach. I enjoy it every day, working with him. I just remember growing up and they dominated football for years, winning everything.
“I remember always watching it with my dad and thinking ‘Wow! What a team this is and what a coach they have!’
“So, he (Guardiola) has tried to bring that kind of football here and it seems to be working. Definitely, they played a big part in my career, watching them when I was younger, and it helps as well, now that the manager’s here. I understand how he plays and how he wants to play. It helps a lot.”
Foden turns 21 on the eve of the final and is still hoping his family will be in the Estadio Do Dragao as he lines up for the Champions League anthem, with capacity restricted to 6,000 fans from each side – and it is a pinch-me moment for them, as well.
“They just keep telling me that they can’t believe that I’m going to play in the Champions League final, from watching it when I was younger,” he said.
“It used to be on my birthday, by the way, but it’s changed now. So, yeah, they just can’t believe that I’m going to be playing in the final.
“Hopefully they can make it to the game and watch. They keep telling me how much they miss going to games this year and they’ve got nothing to do.
“So, hopefully they can come to the stadium and watch the final. That would be a special moment for me.”
Foden has taken every challenge thrown at him in his stride this season, conjuring up important goals in big games, not least a strike in each leg of the quarter-final against Borussia Dortmund that swung the tie back City’s way.
If he can go out and express himself in Portugal, he could be a sensation in the final, and he has shown he can cope with any nerves when it comes to the big stage, right from the time he inspired England Under-17s’ World Cup win four years ago.
“That’s what I like to do, you know, not put too much pressure on myself,” he said. “I’m just going to go into the final the same way as any other game – just smiling and saying let’s see how it goes.
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“So, nothing’s going to change how I prepare. Everything’s just going to be the same.”
There have been rumblings of supposed discontent from Foden at the caution with which he has been treated by Guardiola.
But his blossoming into a world-class talent this season has justified the manager’s decision to take it easy in integrating the England star into his team.
Foden agrees: “There weren’t many young kids at my age playing in a team like this. So, a lot of people were complaining about the minutes and things, but, you know, the team that we have here and how many quality players we had at the time, it was very difficult to get in.
“I just kept believing in myself and trusting the manager. This year has been really good for me, playing more minutes and I would definitely say it has paid off.”