× Startups Business News Education Health Finance Technology Opinion Wealth Rankings Politics Leadership Sport Travels Careers Design Environment Energy Luxury Retail Lifestyle Automotives Photography International Press Release Article Entertainment

In defence of Foden - 'this is a tactical issue, not a player problem'

July 9, 2024

When England beat Serbia in their first game at these Euros, I was a BBC pundit alongside Cesc Fabregas and we discussed Phil Foden, who had played out on the left.

Cesc thought I was just being biased when I defended Foden on the show, because he is a player I love and I know him personally as well.

I wasn’t being biased at all, though. I just thought the England team that night was not set up for him to flourish and, four games on, I still feel the same way.

Like Harry Kane, there seems to be a lot of criticism of Foden on social media at the moment, with people calling for them both to be dropped for England’s semi-final against the Netherlands.

I know they can both play much better than they have done so far in Germany, but I would say the reason they have not been at their best is a tactical issue rather being down to the players themselves.

As for dropping them? Absolutely no chance.

Foden is still the England player who can open up a defence with a pass, or score a goal, if you give him the right role.

Kane is slightly different in that he needs to adapt his game to the way England are set up now, and the players he has around him, but again he is not someone we should be leaving out.

New position, old habits


The easiest way to explain why Foden has not had the same impact for England as he has had for Manchester City is to look at where he is on the pitch when he receives the ball.

In the first four games, when he was on the left, England were so deep that he had no chance to show off his skillset.

For City he is used to playing short and quick passes on the edge of the area and running in behind. You can’t just give him the ball and expect him to dribble past four or five people from near the halfway line, because that just isn’t his game.

I would also argue we did not use him in the best possible way against Switzerland, either.

Along with Jude Bellingham, Foden operated as one of two number 10s in that quarter-final, behind Harry Kane.

I thought he started that game really brightly when the team were playing high up the pitch, similar to what City do, but then England went back to old habits and dropped 30 or 40 yards back.

So although Foden was in a more central position that suits him, the team were still not playing in the areas where he wants to get on the ball.

For some people, that seems to be Foden’s fault and I think that’s unfair.

The main man for City

Part of Foden's problem is that, alongside him, Bellingham is doing what he does so well and he wants to be the main man in this team.

The runs Bellingham makes sometimes are positive ones, but they are making it hard for Foden to get on the ball. It was always going to take time for that understanding to develop, but instead it feels like Foden is being judged already, after only one game in this new role.

I am not saying Foden is above criticism, though. Far from it. England’s warm-up game against Iceland was the perfect opportunity for him to kickstart his international career as a number 10, and he did not play well at all.

When Kevin de Bruyne was injured at the start of last season, I was saying how this was Foden’s chance to show he could play that role for Manchester City and he did it.

He was not an extra, or filling in. He was the main man in one of the best-performing teams in the Premier League, and I have been desperate for him to do the same for England.

He still can. Foden has taken stick for not scoring or creating the way we know he can, but let’s give him a game where he is getting on the ball in and around the area, and then make our minds up.

If that happens against the Dutch and Foden is quiet again then I’d accept that we need more from whoever plays in that position, but right now it is too harsh to judge him and, especially, leave him out.

We should also remember the identity of this team. If we had an attack-minded coach and Foden was not playing well then, again, I would understand the calls to bring someone else in.

Gareth Southgate is not that kind of coach, though. He has had success by being defensive and that is not going to change now.

Be braver with in-game changes


Kane’s situation is slightly different because we know he wants to come deep and be more involved in the game. He is excellent on the ball and can play passes for runners, but now we have Jude Bellingham doing that job.

Gary Lineker put it perfectly after the Switzerland game when he said that now Kane has to stay high, but that’s not what he is used to doing for club or country. It was always going to be tough for him.

I think he just has to trust his team-mates because he doesn’t have to drop anymore, but he can still be the Kane that scores so many goals.

It’s not just Kane and Foden who are having to adapt, either. In many ways the whole team are still working out what they need to do but, despite that, we are into another semi-final of a major tournament.

Hopefully we are not finished yet, but what I want to see more than anything against the Netherlands is for us to be braver when we make changes during the game.

Although I would not drop Kane or Foden I can see the benefits of introducing players from the bench earlier than we have been, to freshen up our attack.

Before the tournament, I’d speak to people who were buzzing because we had a bigger, 26-man squad, and it meant we could bring extra players to Germany who can affect a game.

We have got those players who can come on and impact matches, but we don’t use them as much as we should do - and they could turn out to be the difference against the Dutch.