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HomeUncategorizedInside the Man City academy when Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho crossed...

Inside the Man City academy when Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho crossed paths

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Manchester. October 2015.

A 15-year-old marks his Under-18s debut for Manchester City by scoring twice in the opening 10 minutes before continuing to terrorise Newcastle in a 6-1 win.

A senior club official has extra reason for the glint in their eye. ‘Wait and see this other lad we’ve got coming through’ is the message.

City thought they had hit the jackpot to have both Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden in the same team and knew they could not keep them secret for long. They were very quickly proven correct.

Both have taken markedly different routes to make their impact but are already two of the most exciting footballers in world football with nine-figure valuations. While injury forced Sancho out of a return to the Etihad for the first leg, Foden travels to Germany with his stock higher than ever after giving his side the advantage for Wednesday’s return fixture.

As their paths prepare to cross again, this is the story of the year they spent on the same team at City.

Foden of course had long been the jewel in the academy crown, identified in primary school as an incredible talent and nurtured while the club underwent a remarkable transformation into Premier League heavyweights. The Stockport youngster was always singled out for being special, but his slight frame meant he was kept back from playing regularly against older age groups for fear of damaging the outstanding control or vision that he had demonstrated on the ball from an early age.

By the time Foden was pushed up into the Under-18s team in 2016 he was joined by a recruit that had already made more headlines.

If the potential fee of £500,000 that City paid to Watford for a 14-year-old Sancho in March 2015 hadn’t captured enough attention, the noise from within the game at what a prospect he was ensured this was a deal worth paying attention to. He didn’t take long to show what the fuss was all about either, continuing his progress after that sparkling Under-18s debut seven months later to mean he also entered the 2016/17 season with big expectations.

Lorenzo Gonzalez (left) spent three years with City before moving on

The talent of both players was immediately obvious to teammates, including striker Lorenzo Gonzalez who arrived in Manchester from Swiss club Servette in 2016.

“Obviously we had a team where almost every player you could see they could have a top career but always you could see that Jadon Sancho technically was amazing,” he told M.E.N Sport.

“He did what he wanted with the ball. You can see it now. I always said that this guy if he wanted to could be top of the world. He was such a good player and I love that he is a top person as well, like Phil as well. We had a good team but you could see that these two were a little step in front of everyone.”

Pep Guardiola welcomes Jadon Sancho to training

Their potential was certainly spotted by Guardiola, who was sure to be photographed with Sancho in training by October 2016 and in December named Foden on the first-team bench for a Champions League dead rubber.

They were very different players and personalities though, and their camps were well aware of the differences in how they were treated. Those close to Sancho saw quickly how central Foden was seen to future plans, while some close to Foden raised eyebrows at quite how protected he was when the club made a big deal out of a feature interview with Sancho in January 2017.

On the pitch and in the dressing room though, their differences always worked in harmony.

“I wouldn’t say they were similar. Phil was quieter whereas Jadon was as confident off the pitch as he was on it, joking around but he still took things seriously,” explained Will Patching, a former teammate now playing for Derry City on loan from Dundalk.

“He was always confident, knew his abilities. He was the type of player to take risks and obviously they’ve all paid off for him. People like that are always good to have on your team, with Phil and Jadon always scoring goals.

“Phil’s a nice lad. He was quiet enough when we were younger but you could see from the get-go he was a top footballer.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Under-18s did rather well that season with Foden (11 goals, 7 assists in 23 appearances) and Sancho (13 goals and 4 assists in 15 appearances) and long before the end of the season it became clear that they were destined for the first team.

As it came about though, they wouldn’t be at the same club by the end of the summer.

In what turned out to be an ugly end to his time at the Etihad, Sancho refused to sign a new contract as he saw Guardiola look to sign Alexis Sanchez and Kylian Mbappe for the first team, was not included with Foden for the first-team tour and was eventually and acrimoniously offloaded to Dortmund at the end of the transfer window.

Sancho’s City exit was even more significant than his arrival and his success at Dortmund has led others to follow his path, even though he was not an instant start in the Bundesliga. Foden’s professional debut in November 2017 came only four weeks after Sancho’s despite staying with England for the duration of the Under-17 World Cup in India the previous month to lead them to glory.

England’s midfielder Phil Foden greets spectators after England’s win over Spain in the final FIFA U-17 World Cup football match at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan stadium in Kolkata on October 28, 2017

“We all knew the qualities of Jadon, you could see it every day in training or in games,” said Gonzalez. “At the time, I remember that he went to Dortmund and many people were criticising his decision, even at the club.

“I thought like when you have so much quality like Jadon and everything, of course you have to work and stay focused and everything but a player like him is very rare. You don’t have 1,000 players like him.

“I always said even with my family that you could see he was a top player and when he went to Dortmund – a club with top, young players – it could only work for him and everything even in another mentality like a German mentality. He had to adapt but he had six months to adapt and then you saw his explosion.

“I think both had to gain maturity very quickly. When you are a young player from the academy most of them have to go out or go on loan. Phil stayed but from my team I think there is only him that stayed and did it through U18s, U23 and first team. All the others made other decisions to go on loan and maybe come back or go to another club.

“I think everyone has their own career and nothing in football is right. Everybody can have their chance differently. You see now Phil plays with the first team and you need to have a coach who believes in you and loves your style of play and suits you. Phil is a top player and Guardiola loves him so give him his chance and he took it. This is what it is all about.”

Former City midfielder Patching (right) is now playing for Derry City

Sancho was criticised for leaving and soon after Foden was being implored by many a pundit to leave by many who thought he was being held back by his manager; those calls grew stronger as Sancho got better and better in the Bundesliga, starring in the Champions League and earning an England call.

The former Watford youngster is firmly established as one of the most exciting players of his generation but so too – albeit from a very different path – is Foden. As one fights to prove his fitness for the Champions League quarter-final second leg, the other is the reason that Dortmund are trailing from the first match.

City may rue that things didn’t work out with Sancho having brought these two talents together for that one season back in 2016, but can at least appreciate the pair for having both made good in their own way their immense potential to represent two of the most exciting young footballers in the game.

“You always knew Phil was going to be a top player, you could see that from a young age,” said Patching, “and you could tell Jadon was going to go far. It was a surprise [when he left City] but at the same time thinking about it he has to think about his own career and what he did has paid off massively. If he did stay, you never know where he’d be today.

“I guess you can never predict that they’re going to blow up as much as they have done but credit to both of them, they deserve it. What they’ve done is just unbelievable.”

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