Despite all the general feeling of excitement and anticipation surrounding Manchester City’s Champions League quarter-final second leg with Borussia Dortmund, there is also a tinge of disappointment.
It should have been the opportunity to compare former City teammates Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho.
But Dortmund winger Sancho was ruled out by the muscle injury that kept him from playing for a month.
And that’s a shame.
City, 2-1 in the first leg, can be relieved to have been spared by someone they helped develop.
But the prospect of seeing Foden and Sancho face off in a competitive game for the first time would have been appealing, given the interdependence of their respective careers.
This is how two players, who started in the same academy, took different paths to reach the top.
Foden reste, Sancho part
In his 2017 season-ending speech, city president Khaldoon al-Mubarak praised Foden and Sancho, predicting the two would make Pep Guardiola’s first team.
Along with Brahim Diaz, the duo were seen as the shining lights of an academy which remains the envy of most Premier League players and which had helped City reach this year’s FA Youth Cup final.
” Watch [Jadon] Sancho, you watch Phil Foden you watch Brahim Diaz, these players are extremely talented, ”Khaldoon said.
“If you ask Pep today he will tell you that they can and will be first team players at Manchester City. “
Sancho and Foden are now both England internationals and have played over 100 senior matches at the highest level.
However, Sancho never made a single appearance for City.
Last month, city manager Guardiola said he had “no regrets” about Sancho leaving for Dortmund in August 2017.
“We wanted him to stay but he decided to leave,” Guardiola said.
But there was more to it.
Guardiola had previously claimed to have shaken hands with a new £ 30,000-a-week deal with Sancho in the early months of 2017. It was almost two years before Foden signed one of similar value.
But over the weeks, Sancho and his advisers began to doubt Guardiola’s commitment to bringing the young people through.
The player refused to sign the deal, which sparked Guardiola’s decision not to select him for this summer’s tour of the United States. Sancho then stopped showing up for training and City said they would sell him, but not to an English club.
Throughout this time, Foden has stayed with City. Unlike London-born Sancho, he’s a local boy and a lifelong fan. He didn’t want to go anywhere.
There were plenty of loans on offer, but Foden took Guardiola literally when he said he would help him become the player he clearly has the ability to be.
Sancho’s decision seems misguided – but only briefly
At first, Foden seemed to be right and Sancho was wrong. Then it turned out that the roles were reversed. Now they both benefit from their very different decisions.
When Dortmund paid £ 10million for Sancho they gave him their precious number seven jersey – suggesting he had an immediate future in the first team.
In the end, he had to be patient. Sancho was limited to a few Under-23 games as Dortmund awaited international clearance.
He was part of the England squad for the 2017 Under-17 World Cup in India and scored three goals in three group matches, then returned to Germany on orders from the club. England won the trophy and Foden was named player of the tournament.
A six-minute senior debut against Eintracht Frankfurt on October 21 and another late appearance against Bayern Munich two weeks later was a payoff, but as autumn turned to winter, Sancho remained at the difference.
Meanwhile, the freshly exhausted Foden in India had made his first-team debut under Guardiola and started games against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League and Leicester in the EFL Cup.
Sancho’s status at Dortmund started to change in January 2018, when he started three straight games. By the end of the following season he had become one of Europe’s most prominent teenagers and a full-fledged international in England.
The Bundesliga defenses were struggling to keep up with Sancho, whose speed and confidence to run directly at opponents is a bit of a throwback for the old-fashioned winger. A return of 12 goals and 14 assists was enough to make him crown the “assistance king” of the German elite and have him named to his team of the year.
England boss Gareth Southgate took note and gave Sancho his first call-up to England in October 2018. Until last month’s absence due to injury, he has been a part of every senior squad since and has counted. now 18 selections.
Now it was Foden’s turn to have to wait. In June 2019 he was part of a disappointing European Under-21 campaign, starting two games and scoring once as England came out in the group stage.
The midfielder’s first Premier League debut in 2018-19 did not come until April 3. Prior to that, he had played a total of 98 minutes in the league that season, in 10 replacement games. Now it seemed that Foden and his camp had called it wrong.
Foden is catching up
Questions regarding Foden and his handling by Guardiola didn’t start to be answered until the fall of 2019, when he started to start key games and his substitute appearances got longer.
Just before the UK’s first lockdown – and a three-month suspension from English football – in March 2020, Foden completed the full 90 minutes of the EFL Cup final and the Manchester Derby. At the end of the season after his resumption in June, he has appeared in 12 of City’s last 14 games.
A league debut against Liverpool in July and another against Real Madrid in the Champions League in August was further proof of Guardiola’s growing confidence in Foden and recognition of tangible progress in his development.
This development has continued. Still considered a creative player, Foden has taken his goal to another level this season.
At City, only Ilkay Gundogan, Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus topped the midfielder’s total of 12.
In a 27-game winning streak, which saw City break out of the Premier League and give them a chance to become the first English team to complete the quadruple, Foden started 17 times and made seven other replacement matches.
He didn’t make his international debut until September, but he has become a key man for the club and the country.
Guardiola demanded a lot, especially in terms of awareness and decision-making. He believes this would allow Foden to be as effective in the middle as he attacks from larger areas.
And now, it seems, his handling of the youngster has been perfect.
There are years to come at the top
Foden is only 20, Sancho only 21, but the two are now at a stage where they are giving examples to others.
The two know they face a lot more scrutiny now than when they first emerged. Three years ago, the pair were dropped for an Under-19 game in England as punishment for being late in training. Such behavior would attract a lot more attention now.
During his rise to the top, Foden relied on the advice of Richard Green and was deeply affected by the death of the former Liverpool legal adviser linked to Covid earlier this month. The pair were close; a devastated Foden paid an emotional tribute to Green on social media.
However, both Foden and Sancho have given all the signs that they have what it takes to be top-notch players for years to come. Both have been exceptional so far in 2021.
Sancho’s success has proven that it is possible for a young English player to be successful in another country. It is a path that was followed by Jude Bellingham, now teammate of Dortmund and England.
“Jadon is a great example to someone English and my age,” Bellingham said recently. “We all try to play, but in particular we all try to take the next step in the European top flight. Jadon did it perfectly. “
With speculation on Sancho’s future intensifying, it is surely only a matter of time before the pair are on the same ground, vying for supremacy.
It might not be as he expected, but Khaldoon was right in 2017 when he said Sancho and Foden were destined for the top.