Foden really is the new Gazza: Neil Humphreys
Young star, who helped Man City reach their first Champions League final, will glide all the way to Euros
Phil Foden makes football worth watching again. He brings out the idealistic kid in all of us, mostly because he still plays like one.
He did it again yesterday morning (Singapore time), treating the second leg of a Champions League semi-final like he was messing around with friends at the void deck.
When the Manchester City star collected the ball in the 40th minute against Paris Saint-Germain, he skipped a tackle and any lingering thoughts of a public relations exercise between competing oil-rich nations drifted away.
When he danced past a second PSG shirt, violent protests, game postponements and dodgy super leagues faded from memory.
When he raced towards goal, dropping three markers like a bad habit, the brain became incapable of rational thought. The heart took charge. The game felt giddy again.
This kid played how every kid plays in his head, but he was doing it in the Champions League semi-final against European giants.
This kid looked the greatest English talent since Paul Gascoigne.
Honestly, Foden is probably not the footballer that the industry deserves right now. But he's certainly the footballer that it needs.
He'll celebrate his 21st birthday one day before his side's first appearance in a Champions League final and less than two weeks before the start of Euro 2020. There's every chance that Foden will dominate both.
Hyperbole is a matter of routine in the football media. The next best thing must be constantly compared to the last big thing. But in Foden's case, the comparisons are justified and even necessary.
He really is that good.
The aforementioned jinking run was Lionel Messi-esque, as was his role in both goals. Rio Ferdinand has called him the best young footballer in the world right now, which feels like a simple statement of fact.
He's about to win his third English Premier League title and possibly a second treble if he lifts his first Champions League - all before turning 21.
Gazza hadn't won a trophy before he headed off to Italia 90. Foden will have more winners' medals than Gazza accumulated in his entire career when he heads off to Euro 2020.
But their names are drawn together most frequently because they have the most in common.
Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Michael Carrick all dominated their respective midfields, but none had a raw talent quite like Gazza.
Markers made no difference. He had no weak side, comfortable on either foot and blessed with the incongruous ability to use either pace or power to glide away from opponents. Foden did the same against PSG.
Gascoigne crossed as well as any winger. Foden did likewise for Riyad Mahrez's second goal.
Gascoigne treated every game like it was a privilege to play. He was never intimidated or cowed by the occasion. Nor is Foden.
In his prime, Gascoigne had no discernible weakness. The early evidence suggests that Foden is similarly blessed. What a wonderful, scary, tantalising prospect that is - a Gazza-like luxury item for a new generation.
Like a precious museum piece, Foden must be handled with care.
Only he isn't. Pep Guardiola selects his wunderkind regularly now, clearly satisfied that Foden has developed the necessary upper body strength to prevail (another Gazza trait).
Maybe the story about the City manager is apocryphal, but it's such a Hollywood sports movie in the making that it deserves retelling. Apparently, Guardiola once met with his coaching staff to discuss a replacement for the ageing David Silva.
Guardiola was adamant that the club didn't need one. They already had the kid from the academy. Foden was going to do for Guardiola's City what Lionel Messi had done for Guardiola's Barcelona.
If that scene played out in a movie, there'd be lots of boardroom sniggering and raised eyebrows as Guardiola just smiled knowingly.
Cut to Foden laying on the second goal for Mahrez and guiding City into the Champions League final.
His assist was his 10th in all competitions this season and he's not done yet.
Foden dismantled a midfield that included Marco Verratti, Leandro Paredes and Ander Herrera like it was all a bit of a lark, which it certainly was for anyone fortunate enough to witness his high jinks.
When he plays, we smile. And that'll do nicely for now.