Phil Foden’s youth team coach Joe Makin originally joked to an inquisitive parent the seven-year-old boy starring in one of his first training sessions had been ‘sent from heaven’.
Now Makin, a long-time servant at Reddish Vulcans in Stockport and local academy recruitment co-ordinator for Manchester City, admits the England international is “one in a million”.
Foden has blossomed under the coaching of Pep Guardiola and has earned the nickname the Stockport Iniesta for having a style of play similar to the former Barcelona great.
But his talent was evident from a very young age as, having been picked up through a schools programme organised by Manchester City, the boy without a club was paired up with Makin and made an immediate impact.
“Phil wasn’t involved in any club so it was just a natural marriage. Phil was just a level above everyone else straight away,” Makin exclusively told the PA news agency.
“I invited him into Reddish Vulcans and the second time he came down to training he was in a match – every time the ball dropped it dropped to him, which was no coincidence.
“A dad comes sidling over to me and says ‘Who’s the new boy there with the left foot? Where’s he come from? And I just said… ‘Heaven’.”
It was the first of many youth football anecdotes – most of which seem to involve him dribbling past numerous opponents before scoring – about the unassuming youngster who was small for his age but had a massive amount of talent just waiting to be unlocked.
“The most ‘famous’ one was we were at Curzon Ashton in the East Manchester League and we just said to Phil ‘We need a couple of goals quite quickly here’,” added Makin, who has been coaching with the Vulcans for 28 years.
“We kick-off (Makin weaves his hand from side to side) – and goal. No celebrations. Comes back to the middle. Kicks off. Goal.
“A parent from the opposition said ‘You’d pay to watch this wouldn’t you?’.
“It’s one-in-a-million to have such a player come through your club. It’s a blessing.”
Makin has maintained a close relationship with Foden from their time at Reddish through his rapid development through Manchester City’s ranks.
There was a perception from the wider sporting world the 21-year-old was being held back by Guardiola but the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager knew exactly what he was doing and Foden has developed into a generational talent.
But Makin, the man who knows him best, believes a Euro 2020 triumph will elevate him to the level of world-class footballer.
“I think everyone realised it was definitely a distinct possibility. There was always an air of ‘this boy’s going to be a player’,” he said.
“As he got a little bit older it became more obvious but because of his size and physicality he was going to have to be protected a little bit.
“It’s an old cliche but all he ever wants to do is play football. First out, last to go in. Banging balls against the walls, juggling. His dedication and application is just first class.
“If England win this and he gets a little bit of a role in that final, I think you will see a different Phil Foden on the pitch next season. He will be demanding the ball.”
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