Why Phil Foden won’t be constrained by usual shackles on England players

There’s a game you can play that involves listing the most random internet voice to have brought you a disproportionately grave piece of world news. This is something that happens more and more at a time when just having internet access means everyone, everywhere is suddenly a source of breaking news.

And so we get to hear about the abdication of the Queen via a retweet from the bass player in Shed Seven, or discover Europe is about to be consumed by a tsunami through a trending online spat between Fiona Bruce and Darren Bent. This is the way now. The apocalypse won’t announce itself with a flash of light or an asteroid on the horizon, but via a sad-faced emoji from a recently retired New Zealand fast bowler.Can Manchester United sustain revival under Ole Gunnar Solskjær?Read more

It is a process that has loomed large through the current wall-to-wall football broadcasts. It seems fairly obvious that when the end of the world comes, as it should presumably within the next two weeks, the news will be broadcast to the nation by Jamie Redknapp, who is on TV pretty much all the time now offering constant heartfelt opinions. “Jamie, we’re hearing Russia has launched a pre-emptive nuclear warhead strike at key UK targets across the length of the nation.” “To be honest Kelly, I’m disappointed.”

Given a choice I’d probably want Graeme Souness to tell me the world is ending, if only because he could do it with the right level of sneering disdain, as though the world ending is some kind of vanity project for people with hairstyles.

Mainly, though, I want it to be Roy Keane. Firstly because Keane clearly wants this to happen, and would hugely enjoy it. But also because, for all his oddities, the way he appears on your TV screen like some moss-encrusted figure from a pre-modern tribal netherworld, Keane is also fiercely honest, and fiercely constant in his judgments.

This is a roundabout way of getting on to Phil Foden, who played well for Manchester City against Liverpool on Thursday in a game where Keane was a TV pundit. In outline Foden is perfect for Keane, whose key interest in life is bluffers and/or frauds, who is also very interested in English football hype. Here is a player who would seem to fall perfectly into this Venn diagram of obsessions.

As Keane prepared to speak during the Foden segment you could feel the crosshairs narrow, the corn start to stir. But the moment passed. There was neutral praise and murmured approval, a sense of some vital test having been passed; and in the process confirmation of what already seems obvious.

Aged 20, Foden is ready to go. Not only is he a very good football player, but he’s good in a way that seems very likely to stick. This wasn’t a given. Elite football is a thrillingly brutal business, and talent does not always translate into tangible impact.

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