Pep Guardiola recognised Phil Foden was destined for stardom the day he arrived at Manchester City.
The highly-rated 18-year-old academy graduate further underlined his huge potential with the winning goal in title-chasing City’s tense but crucial 1-0 victory over Tottenham on Saturday.
Foden has been spoken of in glowing terms at City for some time but his introduction to the first team, due to an abundance of quality in the squad, has been gradual.
Just two of his 12 Premier League appearances this season have been starts but the decision to field him from the beginning against Spurs – in such an important game and in place of David Silva – was potentially significant.
“This guy is special,” said City manager Guardiola, who took over three years ago this summer.
“From the first time I saw him, when I just landed here, (director of football) Txiki (Begiristain) told me, ‘You have to meet one player, 15 or 16 years old’.
“In the first season he came to training sessions one day, two days and I said, ‘Wow, you are right Txiki, this player is good’.
“But with young players you have to be careful. As quick you go up, as quick you go down.
“Sometimes you have to handle those situations but we don’t have any doubts. Every time he played he was a stunner, he was top. He has the level to be a Manchester City player and it is not easy to play in those teams, the big teams.
“I see him every day in training sessions. He has something special. I have seen many players as a player and as a manager and this guy has something difficult to find.”
Playing Foden proved to be an inspired decision by Guardiola in a crucial fixture.
— Phil Foden (@PhilFoden) April 20, 2019
City were anxious to win to avoid ceding the initiative to Liverpool in the title race but, knocked out of the Champions League by Spurs just three days earlier, they needed a lift.
Foden provided that with an energetic and creative performance.
“(It was) my inspiration,” said Guardiola when asked why he chose Foden for the fixture. “I was in an office, I said I want to give him (a go), that’s all.
“Managing is not a book like you follow the rules. Sometimes it is something I feel – this guy has to play today, do it. (It seems) it’s a good decision because we won.”
Foden was given a starting spot against Cardiff earlier this month but this latest chance took him by surprise on the morning of the game. He will now wait to see if he retains his spot for Wednesday’s derby against Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Foden said: “It was a bit of a surprise but I was always ready to take the opportunity. Obviously any game I play I am going to be excited.
“I am just waiting for the opportunities.”