“David [Silva] is going to leave this season and we are not going to buy any player in his position because we have Phil. We trust Phil. If we didn’t believe in him, we might go to the market to replace David, but we have Phil.”
Those were Pep Guardiola’s words in the summer of 2020, when David Silva’s departure was seen as the cue for Phil Foden to begin his reign of dominance at Manchester City. The ‘Stockport Iniesta’ was supposed to be City’s creator-in-chief for the next decade, and the club relished the fact they didn’t need to pay for him.
On the surface, it presents itself as another obstacle for Foden to overcome, but it’s actually a smart and (almost) necessary move from Guardiola.
Despite years of having us believe that Foden was the heir to Silva’s throne, the 2020/21 season proved to us that he actually isn’t. Foden’s not a deadly passer and a metronomic tempo-setter, he’s actually a whole lot more than that.
Deployed as a left winger under Guardiola, Foden has taken his game to new levels. He’s been racking up goals and assists at a devastating pace, looking like one of the best players in a City team stacked with some of the game’s finest talents.
What this season showed us is that Foden’s future is out wide, where his performances were so good that they’ve left senior stars like Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva frustrated at their lack of chances to fight for their spot back.
Foden’s actually the heir to Sterling’s throne (which is more like a plastic garden chair in comparison to Silva’s), so now City need to find somebody to fill Silva’s void yet again.
One of the best creators in the Premier League over the past few seasons, Grealish is the dynamic, pass-first player City expected Foden to be. He could slot into City’s midfield perfectly alongside Kevin De Bruyne and replicate the success they enjoyed when the Belgian was alongside Silva.
With De Bruyne and Silva his star midfielders, City tore the Premier League apart. The 2017/18 season, in which Silva bagged nine goals and 11 assists, was one of the best we have ever seen from one team, and Grealish can bring City back to that level.
Forming a double-headed monster alongside De Bruyne, City’s midfield would be back to being the most terrifyingly creative in the league, and that’s before you even factor in what Foden is doing in his new-found home out wide.
Both Grealish and Foden are the kind of new-age midfielder that thrives in a game that does not care about traditional positions. Are they midfielders? Wingers? 10s? Nobody actually knows, and that’s what makes them so good. They can roam wherever, drag defenders out of position and pounce on any space they can find.
Having one player like that is great, but having two? It could be over for the league.
You can argue about whether a £100m spend is right from a business standpoint, but that’s nothing to do with Guardiola. He wants to build a dominant team capable of winning trophy after trophy after trophy, and he’s doing exactly that.
There’s a chance City could lose a lot of their creators this summer. Sterling, Silva and Riyad Mahrez are all growing disillusioned at the Etihad, and Foden’s emergence makes them all somewhat expendable.
If they leave, they’ll need replacing, and it seems as though City are getting a stunning head-start on that.