Rejecting allegations that Arsenal’s Phil Foden is better than Manchester City’s “Stockport Iniesta,” Amos Murphy looks at the comparisons between Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka.
More fool me for allowing myself to be drawn into a meaningless online argument concerning two of England’s best players, but sometimes it’s simply impossible to avoid indulging in extra chocolate during the holiday season.
We all indulge in this guilty pleasure, let’s face it. However, it’s only fair to address the analogies between Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka that are still appearing in the football community, both online and off.
The short answer is that these two are among the most promising talents in England, if not all of Europe. Both Foden, who is 23 years old, and Saka, who is 21 years old, are bound for glory in the game; over the next ten or so years, they will almost certainly rank among the top players on the continent.
And the statistics support it as well. As of now this season, the two have scored nine goals apiece in all competitions. Saka trails Foden by a narrow margin in the assists column, with twelve to eight.
However, when it comes to the fundamental statistics, everything balances out once more. Foden and Saka both average about 0.50xg per 90 minutes when it comes to expected goals and expected assists. Or, to put it another way, they almost score or assist in every other game.
Therefore, there appears to be nothing to compare when the numbers are smashed, correct? Not exactly, though.
If we must draw a comparison between the two, Foden wins because of the intangible elements of the game.
Saka has been a revelation for Arsenal since he joined the first squad as a teenager, but concerns about Saka’s character are beginning to surface as another Gunners title challenge appears to be in jeopardy.
Whether you agree with those yells or not, Saka is a fantastic player on a strong team right now. Not a superstar prepared to take on a title challenge, which Arsenal appears to be in dire need of at the moment.
Critics will point out that Foden, a youngster from Stockport who has battled to establish a regular place in the City team, has also experienced this. However, unlike Saka, Foden had the advantage—or misfortune, depending on your point of view—of spending the early stages of his City career shadowing some of the greatest players in Premier League and European football history.
Pep Guardiola has taken a conservative approach to Foden’s development, putting him up against players like Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, and the now-retired David Silva.
However, Foden’s nearly 250 senior club games at the age of 23, coupled with his competition for playing time against some of the greatest players of all time, demonstrate that the City player is already a step ahead of Saka.
Saka’s ascent has been extraordinary, yet mainly uncontested. For Foden, however, it isn’t the same; he has earned his playing time.
When you include Foden’s accomplishments with City, it’s just one more mark in the Englishman’s book. During his time at City, Foden has won 16 major awards, including five Premier League championships and his first-ever Champions League victory last season.
These aren’t insignificant awards either, since Foden was a major contributor to City’s most recent triumph. In the title run-in of the 2018–19 season, the forward scored his first-ever Premier League goal in a 1-0 victory against Tottenham. In the 2020 League Cup final triumph over Aston Villa, the forward was awarded Man of the Match.
Additionally, he scored the game-winning goals against Brentford and Everton during another title-winning campaign two seasons ago, in addition to his pivotal part in leading City to the Champions League final in 2020–21.
Or how about his 15 goals in all competitions, including a hat-trick against Manchester United in the previous season’s Manchester Derby, which helped City win an unprecedented treble? I’m sure you understand.
Foden has always been an important part of City’s system, and this season has shown once more as he has stepped up to take on the role of main creator for the team in the middle of the park, filling the void created by Kevin De Bruyne’s absence from the team.
Who knows, maybe Saka will eventually reach Foden’s level or even surpass it. Yes, it’s improbable, but still possible.
But as things stand, there’s only one winner when it comes to Foden vs Saka, and like most matches between City and Arsenal, it’s the current Premier League, European, and World champions who emerge victorious.