sport news ROB DRAPER: Gareth Southgate MUST solve the Phil Foden conundrum or risk ... trends now
Jack Grealish balked at the question after the 0-0 draw against the USA. ‘You seemed a bit sluggish from the sidelines…’
‘Who?’ he replied, clearly put out. ‘England seemed a bit sluggish,’ the questioner clarified. ‘You’ plural, as in the team.
‘Oh,’ he said, a little relieved. ‘I thought you meant me!’
And Grealish could broadly be exonerated. After all, he had only played 21 minutes. He had contributed some mazy runs, though they had largely ended up in blind alleys.
Phil Foden is yet to start for England at the Qatar World Cup after being left on the bench
Foden (middle) was an unused substitute in Friday's 0-0 draw with USA in Qatar
However, this really was a game in which your reputation soared if you didn’t get on and Grealish will appreciate that.
At Euro 2020, he was the cause celebre, the stick with which to beat manager Gareth Southgate when he wasn’t picked in the starting XI for the first two games.
Sometimes your talent is never more appreciated than when you don’t play and that baton has now passed to Phil Foden, who did start the first two games in Euro 2020 last year.
Foden (right) and Grealish (left) play together at Man City
Foden was naturally disappointed not to play any part on Friday night, according to those close to him. That said, he’ll be ready to do his bit on Tuesday. He has shown himself a good squad member in the past.
But there is an issue simmering for boss Southgate, even if it is some way from boiling point yet. He has to ensure Foden doesn’t get the impression that he doesn’t trust him the way he trusts Mason Mount.
Pep Guardiola chose to let Raheem Sterling go because he has Foden on the left but Southgate has backed the more experienced man. It’s a bold call to go against Pep but Sterling’s England record — 81 caps and 20 goals — means he has the shirt. For now.
Sterling played very well against Iran and was England’s best player at Euro 2020. Despite not scoring, he was vital to progress in the semi-final at Russia 2018.
Foden has yet to shine for England in his 19 appearances, his two goals coming against Iceland in November 2020. His last assist came in a friendly against Ivory Coast. And yet, if you’re a starter for Manchester City, you might imagine you would be considered among the best 14 in England.
Gary Neville and Roy Keane were Foden’s most vociferous cheerleaders but a nation scratched their head as first Grealish and Jordan Henderson and then Marcus Rashford were preferred in front of him as Southgate’s subs.
Foden will be desperate to play a part in England's World Cup campaign in Qatar
Foden has been one of the stars of the season for Manchester City so far this year
Most saw Foden as the natural replacement for Mount in midfield, who has the unfair and unfortunate reputation as teacher’s pet.
But there is a reason why every coach he plays under loves him. He is the best presser of the ball, he will follow instructions to the letter and he has undeniable talent. In a 4-3-3 formation, Southgate has concluded that the Chelsea man understands the central attacking role better than Foden. And it is true that Guardiola rarely uses him there.
But is not so in favour with England boss Gareth Southgate
Trouble is, on the basis of Friday night there isn’t compelling evidence that Mount yet understands the role when he is denied time and space. The counterpoint is that he played it superbly against Iran, when he had those two luxuries in abundance.
The dressing room dynamics will need to be managed carefully in the coming days. Sterling headed