Two overwhelming emotions surged to the surface during England’s 5-0 win over Andorra on Saturday night.
1) Good God, Phil Foden is the undisputed future of this Three Lions team.
And 2) how different the Euro 2020 final could have been if the Manchester City starlet had been fit to face Italy at Wembley.
In fact, we can sleep soundly at night as Foden probably wouldn’t have started against the Azzurri anyway, and if he’d made the line-up he wouldn’t have been tasked with dictating the game from midfield.
But Gareth Southgate handed the keys to England midfield to the 21-year-old on Saturday and he put on one of the most glorious and encouraging performances we’ve seen of him putting on the white shirt.
Foden started the game alongside Jesse Lingard and James Ward-Prowse in midfield, and his role was obvious from the start. Lingard was the shuttle, Ward-Prowse the sitter, and Foden the deep playmaker.
We have seen little of the youngster who tends to play his football wide, play behind the striker or even act as a false nine when there is no real center-forward at Manchester City. So it was exciting to see him gather the ball deeper on the field and get the time and space he needed to show off his formidable passes.
He occupied the right midfield, trying to penetrate a defense that was so clumsy and liked to fend off standard crosses from far that it takes a special kind of pass to take them by surprise.
Foden quickly realized that a slightly diagonal, long-floating pass over the top of the Andorran defense was their weakness after picking out Ben Chilwell with a tester early on. The left-back loosened his lines but it was a warning shot for the hosts and a crack in armor discovered by the guests.
Knowing how to hurt your opponents is one thing, but it is worlds away from actually capitalizing on that weakness. Incredible, Foden did it over and over again and time again.
In the 18th minute, his English teammates benefited from his majesty. Foden fired a missile over the defense of Andorra, which Jadon Sancho read perfectly. The striker controlled the ball, bringing it back to Chilwell, and this time the defender made no mistake.
The hosts continued to give him the time he needed in the middle of the park, and he never took his foot off the penalty pedal. The Man City star rolled another beauty behind the opposing defensive line and found Bukayo Saka in the room, through the gate, and the Arsenal man doubled the lead.
From then on, it was nothing short of an exhibition about moving the ball far, passing at speed, and controlling a game. Foden finished the match with a 95% success rate, 100% of which in his nine attempted long balls. Simply sensational.
Of course, such appearances will come with the caveat: but it was only against Andorra, so let’s not read into it too much.
And that’s not a completely wrong, if somewhat boring, opinion.
But exactly what has held England back over the years is their inability to control games and dominate midfield battle against the big teams in crucial games – which ultimately proved its downfall in the Euro 2020 final as well.
This is not necessarily due to a systematic problem, but to the lack of a player who is able to face the giants of the world and measure them from head to toe. In Foden, England, someone can boast of doing just that.
He may not be physically intimidating, but he can control games at the speed that he plays it with both his mind and his feet. He can set the pace for the rest of the English team and with players like Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips by his side, he can not only win games for his country but also dominate them.
Roy Keane compared Foden to American football quarterback Tom Brady for his unerring ability to constantly find his man with a pass, no matter how intricate or clutching the delivery.
And while any cross-sport comparison is always a little off in a certain way, there is a truth behind it: Brady is widely considered to be the best at his sport, and if he continues to grow in that role, Foden can get into this conversation with England in the years to come .