DAILY MAIL 🔵 Foden’s hat-trick shows why he HAS to be the Footballer of the Year – Shango Media
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DAILY MAIL 🔵 Foden’s hat-trick shows why he HAS to be the Footballer of the Year

If there are any lingering doubts among voters as to who should be crowned Footballer of the Year for 2023-24, Phil Foden underlined – three times for emphasis – why this is an open and shut case.

It should be the same when the PFA Player of the Season vote comes back around.

There have been some fine campaigns elsewhere this season. Alexis Mac Allister has been brilliant for Liverpool; Declan Rice has been the conductor for Arsenal’s title bid; Ollie Watkins is tied second in the scoring charts in the Premier League and is tied for first in the assist table; Jarrod Bowen has 15 goals in a hit-and-miss West Ham side; on his own team, Rodri has been magnificent, as he so often is.

But Phil Foden is the Footballer of the Year regardless of the metric you want to use and his mesmeric hat-trick against Aston Villa, the third of his career by the age of 23 and his second of the season after Brentford away, only further strengthened his case.

‘He can do whatever he wants,’ Pep Guardiola said, barely able to mask his smile, afterwards.

Phil Foden scored a stunning hat-trick in Man City's 4-1 win against Aston Villa on Wednesday

Foden's superb display outlined his status as the best player in the Premier League this season

Foden’s year-on-year improvement goes beyond Pep Guardiola’s probing and encouragement

‘I think he’s a really top class player and we know it.’ 

Foden’s year-on-year improvement

2018-19 – 7 goals, 2 assists

2019-20 – 8 goals, 9 assists

2020-21 – 16 goals, 10 assists

2021-22 – 14 goals, 11 assists

2022-23 – 15 goals, 8 assists

2023-24 – 21 goals, 10 assists

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This is Guardiola, though. There’s always room for improvement.

‘He’s open minded,’ he said. ‘He still has to focus on things, sometimes he’s distracted with what to do defensively, but he has a natural talent, a gift. He’s so special when he’s in a central position.

‘He has goals in his veins, and we have to use him.’

Foden’s year-on-year improvement goes beyond Guardiola’s probing and the encouragement and challenges of coaching staff. It even goes beyond his own professionalism and in-built work ethic.

He is highly motivated to be the best in the game, obsessed even. That’s what separates him.

Joleon Lescott reminisced of how he even had to take a ball away from Foden such was his obsession with honing his craft when away with England’s Under-21s a few years ago.

‘I worked with him at England U21s and we had to ban him from doing extra sessions after training because you couldn’t get him off the pitch!’ Lescott said.

‘He always wants to work on his technique, put himself into game scenarios and develop. He probably loves the game as much as I love my kids! He is just obsessed.’

For all the praise showered on Foden – and he more than holds up his end of the bargain to receive it – many in the dressing room are quick to load him up with fresh motivation to get even better; they know exactly which buttons to press.

Kyle Walker did just that away to Everton when Foden, who he calls ‘The Sniper’, was told he could and should be much more clinical in front of goal. Last night against Villa it was his defensive work Guardiola picked up on.

‘He didn’t start well,’ Guardiola said, ‘but I think the goal helped him a lot for the mood.’

Goals, the sheer volume of them, is what has taken Foden to a whole new level.

His hat-trick here made it that only four players – Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen (seven), Harry Kane (six) and Erling Haaland (five) had scored more Premier League hat-tricks than him by the same age. All of those are centre forwards and bonafide goal-getters. Foden is in a class of his own.

In 2018-19 he managed seven; a season later it was eight and by 2020-21 he was up to 16 goals and 10 assists as he won PFA Young Player of the Season.

In 2021-22, when he defended his PFA title, he bagged 14 goals and 11 assists; in 2022-23 it was 15 goals and eight assists; this time round he’s already on 21 goals and 10 assists with as many as 15 matches remaining.

‘I’m just loving my football at the moment, playing with a smile on my face and trying to help the team. I know I am capable of scoring goals, and today I showed that so I am delighted,’ Foden told TNT Sports after.

‘I always set myself [the aim] to do better than last season, get more goal contributions. I think I am up this year so I’m doing well.’

The Man City star's in-built motivation to be the best he can be separates him from the rest

Several other players have enjoyed fine seasons like Liverpool's Alexis Mac Allister

Declan Rice has also been crucial in Arsenal's title push, but Foden deserves to be rewarded

Guardiola was keen to stress afterwards that Foden and Kevin De Bruyne, left on the bench to rest here, can co-exist centrally for City, who love the 4-1-4-1 system that is made possible by the magistracy of Rodri, but, and whisper this quietly, Foden is starting to show that life without De Bruyne won’t be too bad at all. In fact, they’ll be just fine.

De Bruyne, 32, is going to be a top target for Saudi Arabia in the summer and while that was once an inconceivable departure for City, it should no longer be a conversation they are not entertaining.

Foden is comfortably City’s biggest talent and will be the jewel in this crown for years to come.

For now though, a player highly motivated by individual awards should start clearing some space in his trophy cabinet. Silverware is imminent.

Phil FodenOllie Watkins



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