Porto — Europe’s top clubs invest millions in signing players from all over the world but two of the key players in Saturday’s Champions League final between Manchester City and Chelsea are a reminder that there is still value in home-grown talent.
Manchester City’s Phil Foden and Chelsea’s Mason Mount head to Porto after seasons in which they moved from the “promising youngster” category into fully fledged game-changers.
Both clubs have been criticised in recent years for failing to give opportunities to players from their academies but the investments of time and coaching expertise in the two attacking midfielders have paid off this term.
Foden turns 21 on Friday and has had to be patient after making his debut as a 17-year-old in a Champions League group-stage match against Feyenoord in 2017.
The rare sight of a local youngster, with evident quality, in the sky blue shirt, meant City boss Pep Guardiola was constantly asked when Foden would get regular first-time football but the Spaniard stuck to his guns, saying the Stockport-born midfielder would be there in time.
“It was very difficult to get in [to the side]. I just kept believing in myself and trusting the manager,” Foden told Uefa.com. “This year has been really good for me. There were a lot of players who put their arms around me and just told me to keep training the best I can and to keep wanting more.
“Vincent Kompany was one of them, and Fernandinho — two great captains and just great leaders. Off the pitch, there are things that people don’t see where they’re bringing a player up and making him feel better about himself,” he said.
This season Foden has moved into a more advanced role, often on the left flank, scoring in both legs of the quarterfinal against Borussia Dortmund and enjoying nine goals and five assists in the Premier League.
“He has grown up, he’s ambitious and he’s ready. He’s playing good this season and we are going to see. He has his chance to play the final,” Guardiola said this week.
Unlike Foden, Mount spent time loaned out from Chelsea, having a season in the Netherlands with Vitesse before a year at Derby County when Frank Lampard was manager of the second-tier club. Lampard brought Mount into the first team set-up when he took charge at Chelsea and the player has grabbed his opportunity with both hands.
“I thought it might be one where I give him some games and work in and around and take him out, but I ended up having a real reliance on him because of his incredible work ethic, setting the press from midfield and his really huge talent,” Lampard said recently.
Mount has continued to progress since German Thomas Tuchel took the reins from Lampard in January and like Foden he has thrived in a more attack-focused role, becoming the key creative element in Chelsea’s run to the final and finding the target in the 2-0 semifinal, second-leg win over Real Madrid.
With both players in Gareth Southgate’s England squad for Euro 2020, this could be the summer when they truly announce themselves on the global stage.
Former Liverpool and Real Madrid striker Michael Owen believes the pair could become much more than local heroes. “I think Mason Mount and Phil Foden could be two of the best players in the world in the future. They have the potential to be on the top table of world football.”
The evidence from this season suggests that is not hyperbole, but both men would take a Champions League win for starters.
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