Phil Foden: desire key for England in European U21 Championships

Aged 19, the Manchester City midfielder already has a full trophy cabinet and that is without the giant fish he caught

A trophy cabinet takes pride of place in the kitchen of Phil Foden’s family home. It must be some kitchen. Must be some trophy cabinet, too, though it may not be around much longer should the England midfielder add the European Under‑21 Championship to his impressive collection in the next fortnight.

Foden has designs on a larger cabinet in the home he purchased for his parents, Phil and Claire, for around £2m late last year. A historic domestic treble with Manchester City – making it five major honours won with his boyhood club before turning 19 last month – stands alongside the Under-17 World Cup plus a host of individual accolades in the teenager’s showcase. It serves as a frequent reminder of how often the gifted talent has fulfilled expectations for club and country. And it is struggling.

“It is not too bad,” says Foden of a medal haul that began as an eight-year-old for Reddish Vulcans. “I keep them all in a cabinet in the kitchen. It’s getting full, though. I might need a new one. Sometimes I’ll walk past and just have a look, and realise I’ve won a lot. The World Cup was the first, the biggest one I’d won, and then I started winning trophies with City, cups and leagues. It’s hard to pick one out. Every single one is special to me.”

It was at the World Cup in 2017 that Foden announced his vast potential to a wider audience with two goals in the final over Spain and a string of impressive displays that earned him the Golden Ball. He sees parallels between the quality and balance of that squad and Aidy Boothroyd’s Under‑21s here in Italy but believes success at the Euros represents a more formidable challenge.

“I’m sure it will be even harder to win this tournament because there are stronger teams and a lot of better players,” he says. “I’m excited to get going and see how it goes. There are better players who are a lot older and more experienced so it will be harder [than the Under-17s World Cup].

Highs and (mainly) lows since 1994

The Under-21 European Championship began in 1978. England have won it twice – in 1982 and 1984 – but have not fared so well since Uefa introduced group stages at the 1994 finals.  

1994 England failed to qualify after finishing fourth in their group, six points behind winners Poland. 

1996 England again failed to make it, finishing second behind Portugal but missing out on one of the best runner-up places.  

1998 England won their qualifying group but had to face Greece in a play-off to reach the finals. They lost on away goals despite Emile Heskey (2), Michael Owen and Marcus Hall scoring in a 4-2 home win. 

2000 England qualified for the finals but failed to get out of the group despite a 6-0 win over Turkey. Frank Lampard, Danny Mills, Jamie Carragher and Danny Murphy were in the squad but the team lost to Italy and Slovakia. 

2002 England, under David Platt, finished last in their group despite winning their first game against Switzerland. Jermain Defoe and Peter Crouch scored in that 2-1 win but defeats by Italy and Portugal followed. 

2004 England struggled in qualifying, finishing third, 11 points behind group winners Turkey. Joey Barton, Joe Cole and Phil Jagielka featured. 

2006 Another failure to get to the finals, this time with Peter Taylor as coach. After finishing second behind Germany, England lost 3-2 to France in a play-off. 

2007 The tournament switched to odd years and England reached the semi-finals, where they lost 13-12 in a shootout to hosts the Netherlands. Anton Ferdinand missed the decisive penalty. 

2009 England again got to the semi-finals and this time won the shootout, against Sweden, Kieran Gibbs converting the last penalty. In the final Stuart Pearce’s team lost 4-0 to Germany.  

2011 England drew with eventual winners Spain in the group and picked up another point against Ukraine before conceding two late goals against the Czech Republic to go out. Jordan Henderson, Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck were in the team. 

2013 England finished bottom of their group behind Italy, Israel and Norway despite having Henderson, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ross Barkley.  

2015 Gareth Southgate was in charge but again England finished last in their group, despite beating Sweden in their second game after a goal from Jesse Lingard. 

2017  After Southgate was appointed manager of the senior side, Aidy Boothroyd took over as U21 manager. Jordan Pickford, Ben Chilwell, Nathan Redmond and Jack Grealish were part of the England squad that reached the semi-final, where they lost 4-3 on penalties to Germany. Kathryn Batte

“To win takes a lot of heart and desire, especially when you get into the later stages and you’re playing the same team, but you haven’t got the legs. You’ve just got to use your mind and heart and pull through it. A lot of heart and determination have to be used.”

Foden enters the Euros, that start for England against France in Cesena on Tuesday, with a billing as one of the potential stand-out players of the tournament. Increasing recognition and success make it virtually impossible for the lad from Stockport to experience a normal teenage life, a prospect even more remote after he became a father this year. Football and fishing are his escapes.

“It’s quite hard to lead a normal life,” he says. “For example, even when I go shopping I am going to get stopped for a picture. I don’t mind that. People are always watching you. It’s what happens. I was walking down the road after one of my first games and people were asking for a picture. From that moment I knew it was going to be hard.

“I go fishing with my dad when I have a bit of free time; it’s relaxing. No one is going to mither you on a quiet pond. I’ve always done it.”

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His biggest catch? “I think it was a catfish, 136lb,” he says. “It took three of us to get it in. That’s not in the trophy cabinet.”