Phil Foden has never needed to officially announce his arrival as a Manchester City player – his quality from his emergence as a teenager and his importance to this club’s future has never been in doubt.
If there was one game, however, where this brilliant young talent worked his way into a wider consciousness it was when he ran the 2020 Carabao Cup final for City in their 2-1 win against Aston Villa last March, just before the country went into lockdown and the game went on hold.
It was on this same occasion a little more than a year later, as the country gradually emerges out of the pandemic, that the 20-year-old used another major final to emphasise once more what a gem City and England have on their hands.
Remarkably, given he is only 20 years old, this was his seventh major club trophy – a fourth League Cup adding to the two Premier League titles and one FA Cup success he can list on an already glittering CV.
But it was not just that he was a part of this success – it was that he played a starring role once again that was so striking, lighting up the occasion for the 8,000 fans present, 2,000 of them from Manchester City.
First the details.
Manchester City completely merited a historic fourth successive win in this competition, Spurs somehow surviving until the 82nd minute before conceding despite being largely outclassed from the start. It was defender Aymeric Laporte – heading Kevin de Bruyne’s free-kick beyond defiant keeper Hugo Lloris – who secured City’s deserved success.
Spurs will claim, with some justification, that Laporte was fortunate to be in a position to exert such influence after escaping what looked a certain yellow card for a first-half foul on Lucas Moura before being cautioned for a foul on the same player after the break.
The reality, however, is that Spurs were fortunate to hold out as long as they did because Foden once again graced a major final by being at the heart of so many of City’s best moments.
Manager Pep Guardiola played without a recognised striker and his side wasted so many opportunities that this game almost counted as ‘Exhibit A’ as to why they should attempt to correct that this summer.
They were so much on top that the Spurs supporters let out a huge roar when a rare attack brought the riches of a corner.
Foden was a constant threat, along with the excellent Riyad Mahrez. The only thing missing from his performance was the garnish of a goal.
He steered one first-half chance wide at the near post then held his head in disbelief when he saw another effort deflected on to the upright by Toby Alderweireld.
Foden’s touch, vision and uncanny ability to ride challenges aimed at stopping him in his tracks were all immaculate. No wonder he was held in a lengthy embrace by a celebrating Guardiola afterwards.
Just examine Foden’s contribution to City’s success in recent weeks and consider how important he is to the defining days to come, starting with the Champions League semi-final first leg at Paris St-Germain on Wednesday. He has helped make the return of the Premier League title to Etihad Stadium now a formality.
Foden was the player who dug City out of a very awkward situation when Borussia Dortmund threatened to leave the Etihad with a crucial Champions League quarter-final first-leg draw by conjuring up a late winner.
And when they were briefly threatened with more Champions League disappointment after Borussia Dortmund took the lead in the second leg, meaning the Bundesliga side were going through at that point, it was Foden’s late winner that eased them into the last four.
Guardiola has handled Foden with expert care, overseeing steady development when other voices suggested he might even be holding this precocious talent back – a nonsensical notion given the Catalan’s love of naturally gifted footballers.
And despite being used sparingly at times, his increased involvement means he already has 50 goal involvements (29 goals and 21 assists) in 118 career club appearances, of which only 63 have been starts.
Foden has been earmarked for greatness for some time and is now showing on a regular basis he has all the tools to fulfil that promise.
He is also presenting even more of a Euro 2020 conundrum for England manager Gareth Southgate with every passing week, albeit one he is no doubt delighted to have.
Foden has shown both with City and England that the big games and big occasions all come alike, carrying all the hallmarks of someone who will relish the harsher spotlight of a major international tournament this summer.
Guardiola has no hesitation trusting him when it matters and it is increasingly hard to see how Southgate cannot do the same when England’s Euros campaign, one in which they will be regarded as one of the favourites as a result of a succession of games here at Wembley, gets underway on 13 June.
Foden is a player for all occasions – and there can be no doubt he will be a pivotal figure as City attempt to add the Champions League to this Carabao Cup success and the inevitable Premier League triumph, which could be confirmed next weekend.