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Fear Foden: How Man City star emerged as Europe's finest young playmaker

3:00 PM MYT 26/04/2022
Phil Foden Champions League GFX
The England international has shown he fears no one ahead of Champions League semi-final against 13-times winners Real Madrid

There was something reminiscent of that infamous house-burning meme at the end of Manchester City's Champions League victory over Atletico Madrid.

As a mass brawl broke out on the pitch during the quarter-final second leg, and Diego Simeone tried to pull his players back from the disorder, Phil Foden gave a mischievous grin to his bench as the chaos he had caused raged on in the background.

Suffering a bandaged head and battered ankles, Atleti had done everything to bully the danger man into submission but the City forward just kept bringing it back to them.

And when Felipe clipped him for one last time, earning a second yellow card, Foden rolled off the pitch and back on again and the home side lost all composure.

He may be fresh-faced and have the style and sophistication of a graduate brought through the Pep Guardiola finishing school, but he's a street fighter at heart.

The roads of Stockport may not share the romance and intrigue of learning football on the rough barrios of Buenos Aires, but you still have to show your heart and battle for the ball before you can show your magic.

And Foden is just as comfortable playing in the streets of South Manchester as the elegant surroundings of the Etihad Stadium and only had to be stopped doing so after an edict from the club warning that he was risking an injury.

Atleti had tried to break him too. In the first leg, they switched off for a couple of seconds and he found the space to play a pass for Kevin De Bruyne to score what would be the only goal and winner.

Simeone was determined not to allow him to do it a second time which is why he sent out his bruising henchmen to stop him by any means.

Felipe started with a reckless challenge from behind that required Foden to have a concussion test before his defensive partner Stefan Savic stepped in, trying to intimidate him with an off-the-ball shoulder charge and a volley of comments.

The 21-year-old kept coming back and while it wasn't the sort of performance City wanted, it was the one that was called for.

"It actually wasn’t good what we did but it didn’t have to be," Kevin De Bruyne said. "Sometimes you have these games where it wasn’t a football game in the end.

"We had to cope with the circumstances and we were a little bit lucky with it sometimes. But sometimes it goes that way."

It was a typically selfless performance from Foden, who put his body on the line for the good of the team, just as he has sacrificed himself all season.

Without an orthodox striker following the failed summer move for Tottenham's Harry Kane, Guardiola has had to come up with a system to make the most of his midfielders.

Often it's been Foden who's been thrust into the role, playing with his back to goal and two centre-backs nipping at his legs rather than in his more comfortable position as a number eight or wide forward.

That he has been so effective shows his quality; that he continues to do it shows his desire.

A boyhood City fan, Foden will do whatever is required to be able to wear the shirt even though his long-term future is elsewhere on the pitch - next season he will probably have the more menacing presence of Erling Haaland in front of him.

But for now he remains one of City's biggest attacking threats and will frighten Real Madrid just as much as he did their city neighbours.

Foden in some ways represents the progress of the club in Europe with Guardiola saying they lacked experience when he first joined.

As the club has grown to regulars in the latter stages, reaching the last four for a second successive season, so too has the player.

Foden was a raw 16-year-old when he first made City's substitutes bench for a Champions League clash with Celtic. A year later he made his debut away at a freezing Shakhtar Donetsk and last season he set up Riyad Mahrez for the goal against Paris Saint-Germain that sent City to the final.

"It’s an honour to be here as always in the semi-finals - Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, in the list of history in Europe, they’ve been there many times," Guardiola said ahead of the first leg on Tuesday night.

"We are there, we expect to be there so it's an honour to be here. Two games, tomorrow the first and we see next week."

City no longer have an inferiority complex about coming up against the best in Europe. And Foden has become the leader with no fear of facing anyone.