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city slicker Diet, sprint training, and fatherhood - The making of Phil Foden

Midfielder has worked hard to become the established player he is now ... the only thing missing is that one football sticker


Manchester City's Phil Foden (centre) in action against Chelsea's Thiago Silva (left) and N'Golo Kante during the recent FA Cup semi-final match at Wembley Stadium. Photo: Ben Stansall/PA

Manchester City's Phil Foden (centre) in action against Chelsea's Thiago Silva (left) and N'Golo Kante during the recent FA Cup semi-final match at Wembley Stadium. Photo: Ben Stansall/PA

Manchester City's Phil Foden (centre) in action against Chelsea's Thiago Silva (left) and N'Golo Kante during the recent FA Cup semi-final match at Wembley Stadium. Photo: Ben Stansall/PA

Phil Foden’s girlfriend is chuckling away as she explains the lengths to which she has to go to help the Manchester City and England midfielder complete his beloved Panini Premier League 2021 official sticker album.

He’s obsessed with these stickers at the moment,” says Becca Cooke. “We’d been to the zoo this week and I popped into Morrisons on the way home and had to ring him because I saw they had a big box of stickers there.

“We’ll be driving along and he’s like, ‘Stop, they sell stickers there’. ‘Go on Bec, can you nip in and get me every pack they’ve got. I don’t want them to know it’s me’.”

Foden is one sticker short of a full collection – and the irony is that the elusive card is of himself.

“Me and his dad Facetimed him when he was away with England last month and he’s sat there in his room doing his sticker books,” Foden’s mum, Claire, says. “I think he’s got about four on the go.

“Panini, Match Attax. It’s hysterical. It’s a good thing, don’t get me wrong, but that’s how obsessed he is about football,” she added.

There is a rather more impressive collection that Foden will hope to add to tomorrow, when victory over Tottenham Hotspur in the Carabao Cup final at Wembley would provide Foden with his seventh major trophy before the age of 21. And it may not be the only silverware he ends up with this season.

Another goal and another man-of-the-match display in Wednesday’s 2-1 win over Aston Villa moved City a step closer to a third Premier League title in four seasons and next week Pep Guardiola’s side face Paris St-Germain in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final.

Foden scored the winning goal in both legs of their quarter-final victory over Borussia Dortmund when he comprehensively upstaged another prodigiously talented 20-year-old, Erling Haaland. “I’m the one who was supposed to score the goals,” Haaland joked as the pair chatted at the final whistle.

Back in July 2019, Guardiola had told a press conference in Tokyo, during a pre-season tour of Asia, that Foden was the “most talented player I have ever seen as a footballer or manager”, high praise coming from the man who oversaw Lionel Messi’s rise at Barcelona.

The City manager made a point of telling Foden, that day, that the statement was not for show and that he meant every word he said and it is a theme others are now warming to.

“If you listen to all the pundits, I haven’t come across one who says, ‘Be careful of the hype’. Not one,” says Mark Allen, City’s former academy director who gave Foden his first professional contract.

“Everyone knows he’s just exceptional. I can’t think of any other word for him. I’ve said he’s a player who could win the Ballon d’Or for sure,” he added.

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Foden’s recent form has been all the more startling given the tragic passing of his long-standing adviser Richard Green, a popular, kind-hearted man he had come to regard almost like a grandfather and whose funeral he attended this week.

After beating cancer, Green had been shielding for a year due to the Covid-19 outbreak but, within weeks of having the vaccine, he contracted the virus and ended up in intensive care.

Foden had just starred for England in a 2-1 World Cup qualifying victory over Poland late last month when the call he had been dreading came that night. He was inconsolable on the long journey home from Wembley.

“They were incredibly close and Richard’s death has been a devastating blow to him,” says Owen Brown, Foden’s other representative and Green’s close friend and business partner. “Richard’s own family would often joke that Phil was his favourite son.”

For six weeks while Green lay in hospital, Foden wore a shirt underneath his City jersey bearing the words ‘Get well soon Richard’. “He’d ring up and say, ‘Owen, will you tell Richard to come home, I haven’t scored a goal since he went into hospital’,” Brown fondly recalls.

Foden dedicated his winner in the first leg against Dortmund to Green and gave his shirt and a top he had worn that night with the message “RIP Richard Green” to the former lawyer’s teenage son, James who, with mum Louise, and sisters Issy and Sophie have been deeply touched by the support of Foden and his parents, Claire and Phil Sr.

“Phil said to me the other day that everywhere he goes at the moment lights keep flickering. He’s putting it down to Richard saying, ‘I’m still watching you mate, I’m still on your side’,” Brown adds.

“Richard was convinced he’d become the best player in the world. Phil has always been determined to be that but I think the big thing on his list now is – prove Richard right.”

Terry John will never forget the moment he first clapped eyes on a five-year-old Foden. He was at Bridge Hall Primary School in Stockport looking at Phil’s older brother, Callum, when he asked if there was anyone else worth watching and this dot of a boy was pushed forward.

Having discovered Marcus Rashford and Ravel Morrison before they were picked off by Manchester United, John says he “knows good when I see it” and Foden left an immediate impression.

“Phil was tiny, the grass was bigger than him, but he had great balance – left-footers are always a bit more refined – and even at that age he was always checking his shoulder and scanning, his positional awareness was fantastic,” says John, who founded City’s Junior Academy and worked for the club for almost two decades.

“People used to say, ‘I don’t know why you’re hanging your hat on him because he’ll be too small to play’. I always said, ‘Listen, little acorns grow into big oak trees, you’ve just got to be patient’.”

Speak to anyone who has watched Foden’s progress from that pint-sized kid from a council estate in Grenville Street, Edgeley to his country’s most captivating young talent and they will tell you it is his attitude and application – as much as his ability – that singled him out as something very special.

That dedication and commitment to self-improvement has only hardened the higher his star has risen. Foden began work with a running coach, Tony Clarke, at the start of last year and the results have been eye-catching, not least the greater speed and intensity with which he now accelerates.


Manchester City's English midfielder Phil Foden celebrates scoring the 1-2 goal

Manchester City's English midfielder Phil Foden celebrates scoring the 1-2 goal

Manchester City's English midfielder Phil Foden celebrates scoring the 1-2 goal

“His first game back after lockdown was against Arsenal and everyone was like, ‘Wow, where’s that extra speed come from?’” says Clarke, who has been coaching at Liverpool Harriers since 1994. “Right after the game Phil texted and said, ‘I’ve never felt so sharp in my life’.

“When he reacted for a sprint, he’d slightly overstride when there needed to be shorter steps and he didn’t use his arms enough. He used to land on his heel a bit and then roll along the side and push forward and that meant a delay in foot contact to the ground. So it was about removing that delay and landing more on the fore foot. If you watch him now, his legs are like little pistons when he takes off and he’s pumping his arms like a sprinter.”

Clarke would show Foden videos of American footballers and elite sprinters to help him to visualise the correct sprinting mechanics and put them into practice through repetitive ladder drills and high-knee exercises, known as A, B and C skips.

When lockdown rules and his schedule permitted, Foden was sometimes training three times a week with Clarke. Some sessions would run to two hours.

“You only have to tell Phil once and it sticks – he takes information in very quickly and his work ethic is immense,” says Clarke, who runs ‘Need for Speed 100’, a bespoke speed development company. “He’ll send me messages saying, ‘Did you see that run in my game?”

That attention to detail extends to his diet. Since August, Foden has employed a private chef, Adam Selby, who works in close consultation with City’s sports nutritionist, Tom Parry, to tailor Foden’s meals to his needs.

“The shocking thing is I hear him ordering salmon a lot now and he never used to eat that!” mum Claire says. “He used to have low iron levels, but that’s all up to scratch now. Adam has done an amazing job.”

“We’ve had a big push on salmon recently just to get his omega 3 to the ratio where the club need it,” says Selby, who works for ‘Talk Eat Laugh’, a private catering firm.

Foden’s favourites now include wild salmon with a honey, soy and ginger glaze, wholegrain rice and bok choy or mangetout and grass-fed Swaledale beef fillet cooked medium-rare with broccoli, new potatoes and a splash of peppercorn sauce. His preferred pre-match meal is little simpler: pesto pasta.


Manchester City's English midfielder Phil Foden (R) walks off the pitch with Dortmund's Norwegian forward Erling Braut Haaland

Manchester City's English midfielder Phil Foden (R) walks off the pitch with Dortmund's Norwegian forward Erling Braut Haaland

Manchester City's English midfielder Phil Foden (R) walks off the pitch with Dortmund's Norwegian forward Erling Braut Haaland

City’s players have regular testing and Parry will feed back to Selby which micronutrients Foden requires and if he needs more iron-rich food but the culinary imagination is left to the chef.

“Phil’s open to trying lots of different things,” Selby says. “He’s definitely one of the better players I’ve worked with in that regard.”

It is easy to forget now, given Foden’s dramatic ascent and the excitement that surrounds him ahead of the Euros with England this summer, that his season got off to an unfortunate start.

Less than 48 hours after making their senior England debuts against Iceland in September, Foden and the Manchester United striker, Mason Greenwood, were sent home after breaking coronavirus rules by inviting two women back to the team hotel.

Foden knows he let people down and he has made it clear to all involved he has learnt from it.

“Yes, he had the misdemeanour with England but I was as surprised as anyone by that. But I’ll confidently predict that will never happen again,” Allen, now Swansea’s academy director, says.

If there is one thing Foden loves more than football it is his two-year-old son, Ronnie, and partner Becca is expecting their second child, a daughter, in July.

Foden cannot wait to start taking Ronnie fishing – another great love in his life and a passion stoked at seven by his dad.

To date, their biggest catch is a 138lb catfish in Spain and Foden memorably turned down the chance to celebrate City’s title success in 2018 with team-mates because he had arranged to go night fishing with his father.

“I think it’s great for a footballer to unwind from all the stresses,” Claire says.

“I don’t really get it myself, but Phil and his dad love it. Once he gets his rod out there’s no going back.”

Foden’s exuberance for fatherhood did momentarily come a cropper at Christmas, though.

Desperate for little Ronnie to try out his new electric toy car, Foden had neglected to charge the thing and, after being spotted by a group of starry-eyed kids in the park, he found himself having to make a quick exit with his son under one arm and the vehicle under the other.

Foden is actually known as Ronnie himself to his family and five siblings, Callum, who is two years older, Logan, 12, 10-year-old Kenzi, who suffers from severe autism, and sisters Lois, three, and Avayah, two.

He was dubbed Ronnie by Claire’s mum, Mary, as a baby because of his round head – “Ronnie Roundhead” – and the name has stuck ever since.

“He was the cheapest kid ever,” Claire recalls. “Just get him a wind ball and he’d be happy.

“He didn’t care about anything else. No games, no toys, nothing, just a football.”

Foden was kicking a ball tied to his pram pretty much as soon as he learnt to walk at 10 months and he could not carry the register down the corridors at school without having a screwed up ball of paper at his feet.

Steve Cooper, who coached the England under-17 side that won the World Cup in 2017 in India, where Foden was named Player of the Tournament, can appreciate that. Cooper, now the Swansea manager, would often find Foden and room-mate George McEachran playing head tennis or two touch with a rolled-up sock.

“Phil was just constantly wanting to play,” Cooper said. “He’s football mad.”

From a young age, Foden was, according to Allen, “the talk” at City. “It was very difficult to come in on a Monday after the youngsters games and not hear Phil mentioned in dispatches,” Allen says.

Brian Marwood agrees. “I remember when we went through the whole change in our academy around 2009 and we made 38 recommendations in a board meeting,” says Marwood, managing director of global football at City.

“And right at the end I did a video of this little boy, aged eight, playing in the under-10s against Newcastle, and he scored two goals. It was Phil Foden.

“There’s nothing quite like having your own on the pitch. God willing he goes on to have the career we all hope he does,” he adds.

It seems to be going all right so far.

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