Man City star Foden is central to England’s Euro hopes – but that doesn’t mean he should play in the middle

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PHIL FODEN has to play in the middle for England. Apparently.

Everyone saying so knows better than Gareth Southgate, the second most successful England manager of all time.

ReutersPhil me in – England boss Gareth Southgate tells Phil Foden what he wants from him[/caption]

GettyThe 23-year-old took home the match ball after a brilliant hat-trick at Brentford[/caption]

And better than Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola, one of the greatest coaches in history, who usually prefers Foden on the wing – especially in the big games.

Let’s be clear: the 23 year old is one of the greatest talents of his generation and is having arguably the best season of his trophy-laden career to date.

England stand a better chance of success at this summer’s Euros and in the future if Southgate and his successors can find a way to harness all his qualities.

But Foden’s hat-trick against Brentford has created a strange hysteria.

It is true that Guardiola has used Foden in a more central role, more often, recently. But if you look at some of those other games, they were against Luton, Crystal Palace, Everton and Sheffield United.

Against tougher opponents, Foden has operated from a wide position – from the right against Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham and Newcastle, and the left against Arsenal.

Southgate, while giving Foden chances in central midfield or a No 10-like role against lesser nations, has simply done the same.

And don’t forget England are not the Manchester City of international football.

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Foden can do what he does for City because of the players around him – Rodri, Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Erling Haaland.

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England have high quality players, too, but they have different profiles.

Southgate isn’t playing fantasy football, where you can load your team with attacking players likely to produce goals and assists and forget about whether it would actually work on the pitch.

Look at it another way: in the 4-2-3-1 formation Southgate currently favours, would you pick Foden in the No 10 role ahead of Jude Bellingham? The Real Madrid star has had more standout performances for England than Foden.

Or should Foden be ahead of Bukayo Saka at right wing? Saka scored and was part of a superb all-round Arsenal performance against Liverpool at the weekend, not a struggling Brentford team.

Foden said after the Bees game that he was loving the central role but accepted he would have to play where he is told by Guardiola. It should be no different for England.

When England beat Senegal 3-0 in the last 16 of the Qatar World Cup, Foden said it was his best display for England.

And where did he start? Left wing, in a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Declan Rice holding. Since Marcus Rashford and Jack Grealish are having difficult campaigns, that left flank is crying out for quality more than the right one occupied by Saka.

In modern football, systems are fluid. And the idea that the England boss keeps Foden, or anyone else, on a piece of mental elastic to stop them expressing themselves, is ridiculous.

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Of course it is Southgate’s job to try to make Foden as effective for England as he is for City.

But it’s far more complicated than his critics – and the player’s devotees – would have you believe.

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