Phil Foden to the fore at the Euros: Neil Humphreys
Young midfielder could dominate for England, after eye-catching displays for City
Inside the Etihad Stadium, Phil Foden's manager had to be grinning behind the mask.
Pep Guardiola looked pretty happy, too.
But Gareth Southgate suddenly saw a bright future with England, one where Foden comes to the fore in a Three Lions jersey.
If a positive can be taken from a hellscape of pandemics and postponements, it's the tantalising prospect of the stars aligning. Imagine this year's European Championship and Foden, coming together at the right time, just as vaccines and global optimism spread.
Football might be coming home after all, tucked nicely under Foden's arm.
OK, let's not get carried away. The Manchester City midfielder doesn't turn 21 until May and is still a work in progress, according to Guardiola.
But what a work in progress he's turning out to be. Foden's rise is teasing a grateful audience desperate for any kind of teasing. For City, he's already morphed into a dependable utility man, but one that brings artistry as well as an exceptional work rate.
He popped up with a third winner in the English Premier League this season in City's 1-0 victory over Brighton & Hove Albion yesterday morning (Singapore time), but this time from an inside forward position.
Or maybe he was an inverted winger. It's hard to tell with Foden, as he has an enthralling habit of not standing still.
For his goal, he nipped around a defender like an over-eager puppy scampering around an owner's leg, before slipping home a shot with his weaker foot.
Not that Foden really has a weaker foot, or even a weaker position. As Guardiola pointed out, his protege is comfortable with either foot in any area of the pitch.
Through the middle, left or right, behind a striker, or sitting deeper, Foden continues his tuition under a teacher that's taken a shine to his favourite pupil.
For a couple of years now, Guardiola has ignored the demands from a jingoistic English media to make Foden a regular before he started shaving regularly.
The City manager ignored the tired criticism that he wasn't giving homegrown players a chance. By taking a long-term view with the youngster's development, he was doing just that - giving Foden's career a chance.
Guardiola wanted more shades to Foden's game, calling on the young Englishman to play in different positions and at different speeds - a rare, intuitive skill that City lost when David Silva left the club.
Until recently, Guardiola didn't make him a regular starter, making his expectations clear. Midfielders cannot just feature in City games. They must dominate them.
An outstanding performance against Arsenal before Christmas seemed to be the turning point. Foden was heavily involved across the pitch. He didn't follow the play. He controlled it.
Guardiola had clearly seen enough.
Foden started his fourth consecutive game against Brighton, a run that coincided with City's mini-renaissance. He's plugging gaps and compensating for absent friends.
The winner against Brighton was his eighth goal of the season, already equalling his career-best total for a campaign. More importantly, his goals are steering the club through a largely forgotten crisis.
Only recently, Covid-19 spread through the club and left City without a recognised striker when (Gabriel Jesus tested positive. Sergio Aguero has struggled with fitness all season).
Guardiola's campaign threatened to come off the rails.
But Foden stepped up. Against Brighton, he secured another narrow victory in the kind of close, gritty contest that may be the norm in an unusual European Championship.
Sitting in the Etihad stands, Southgate had to be delighted at the serendipity.
At this stage, no one has a clue what the postponed Euros will look like. As Covid-19 continues to devastate Europe, there's no guarantee the tournament will even proceed.
A YEAR OLDER AND WISER
But if it does, Foden will be ready, a year older and twice the footballer. This time last year, he was a bright kid with an uncertain future and a manager behaving like a cautious blind date. Guardiola didn't want to rush things.
Today, Foden has established himself as a versatile, unflappable presence in a title race, adding those different speeds to his game, just as his manager expected.
And what's good for Guardiola is potentially great for Southgate. The England manager may soon enjoy the fruits of the Spaniard's labour.
Postponing Euro 2020 was the worst news for the football industry. But it may be the best thing that ever happened to Foden.