Gareth Southgate claimed Phil Foden gave a glimpse of the young talent that “will be fabulous for England for years to come” with a display that delivered international redemption against Iceland.
The Manchester City midfielder illuminated the Nations League dead rubber at Wembley with two stylish goals plus an assist for Declan Rice’s opener. They were the duo’s first goals at senior international level and with Mason Mount also on the scoresheet, England had three goalscorers aged 21 or under in the same game for the first time since February 1883.
Foden’s night was in stark contrast to his England debut against Iceland in September, when he was sent home for breaching coronavirus rules along with Mason Greenwood by inviting women to their hotel room. And Southgate admitted the 20-year-old’s impressive return to the starting lineup owed as much to character as to his undoubted ability.
The England manager explained: “I’m really pleased for him and his family. To have the experience he had in September was really tough for a youngster. We all make mistakes. It was a difficult situation to be in. You’re walking back through the door and looking at everyone’s faces and you know the last time you saw them it was complicated. It took him a few days I think to settle into the camp and start to smile a bit more and relax a bit more. We know what he’s capable of doing. He’s one of a few that are going to be very exciting over the next few years for England.”
Foden struck twice after Iceland had been reduced to 10 men in the 54th minute to give the scoreline a more accurate reflection of England’s superiority. He praised Southgate for sticking by him following September’s high-profile breach.
“That was one of the hardest moments of my life,” said the City youngster. “That’s when you need the trust of your managers. I have a lot of respect for Gareth for trusting me and I’m happy to repay him with the goals. I was just determined to get back and do as well as I can. I was a little bit nervous at the start but I got used to it.”
Southgate insisted England had to learn from a difficult autumn in which “we created dramas for ourselves off the pitch and were nowhere near having our best players available. We have to reflect on why that has been.”
But the England manager was effusive in his praise not only of Foden but Jack Grealish, Bukayo Saka, Mount and captain, Harry Kane, who he credited for keeping standards high in training following Sunday’s defeat to Belgium.
He added: “We are very conscious of the crop of young players coming through that we think will be fabulous for England for years to come. It was great for the public to get a glimpse of that. They were surrounded by some excellent professionals. It would have been easy for us to not perform well tonight, there was every excuse possible not to perform well, but that wasn’t the mentality of the seniors and I have to say the captain led that from the start.”