Fodens journey from shame to hero makes him worthy of beating Salah to award
In the last 12 months Phil Foden has gone from England pariah to one of the nation's favourite footballing sons.
Towards the end of 2020 Foden's burgeoning reputation as a future superstar was left in tatters following his monumental meltdown in Iceland.
His decision to break strict Covid rules at the England team hotel in Reykjavik along with team-mate Mason Greenwood resulted in him being flown home in shame – to leave people questioning if the Manchester City ace had the wit to go with his wondrous talents.
Being a great footballer is one thing, but having the maturity, intelligence and right attitude to maximise those gifts is another matter altogether.
Yet Foden has gone on to provide all the answers to those who doubted him, to become the outstanding player of 2021.
His rehabilitation gained momentum when he scored twice in a thrashing of Iceland, of all teams, in a Nations League clash at Wembley last November.
He went from being on the fringes of Pep Guardiola's plans at the Etihad to being impossible to leave out, having a huge role in helping his club side produce a stunning 28-game unbeaten run to become English champions again.
He starred as City won a record-equalling fourth Carabao Cup on the spin, while some crucial goals against Borussia Dortmund helped propel his team towards their first ever Champions League final.
It was proving to be quite a comeback for Foden, who was named the PFA's 'Young Player of the Year'. But he wasn't finished.
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The attacking midfielder was named in England's squad for the Euros and boss Gareth Southgate had no hesitation in selecting him for the opening group game against Croatia.
Foden, who has earned deserved comparisons with Paul Gascoigne, even dyed his hair blonde in tribute to the England legend and came within a whisker of making a bombshell start to the summer campaign, when his shot inside the first six minutes came back off the post.
The bigger the occasion the more Foden seems to rise to the challenge – which is a true mark of a special player.
He went on to pick up an injury that forced him to miss the final, but he remained an integral part of England's impressive and historic run to the showpiece game on home soil.
Foden, whose form has been just as good this season, might still be just 21 but has won 13 caps, played in two of the biggest games possible and rubber-stamped his claim to be one of the greatest young talents in Europe.
His patience under the expert tutelage of Guardiola is reaping huge rewards and the footballing path ahead of him is paved with gold.
Sometimes his displays absolutely betray his tender years and when it comes to running games, bamboozling defenders and consistency in performance he's had no equal.
Only the special few are worth the admission fee alone – and Foden falls into this category.
Something tells me this will be the case for years to come, because Foden has the world at his feet.
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