Phil Foden has the ability to become an England great but should be braced for his life to change if he stars at the European Championship, according to former Three Lions striker Michael Owen.
With comparisons to Paul Gascoigne only furthered when Foden arrived at St George’s Park with dyed blond hair – similar to Gascoigne’s at Euro 96 – there is plenty of expectation on the Manchester City forward to deliver this summer.
The 21-year-old enjoyed a fine season, scoring 16 times and being named PFA Young Player of the Year as City won the Premier League and Carabao Cup double before losing the Champions League final to Chelsea.
Foden will be three years older than Owen was when he makes his international tournament debut at Euro 2020, with England opening against Croatia at Wembley on Sunday.
Then at Liverpool, Owen was just 18 when he went to the 1998 World Cup, becoming at the time England’s youngest-ever player and goalscorer in the history of the competition.
“It’s mentality,” Owen replied when asked about Foden going into the finals with a similar weight of expectation to his own experience in 1998.
“The football side is fine. I went into the tournament thinking I was going to score goals, thinking I was a good player.
“The benefit of being a young player in these tournaments is you are absolutely fearless. You’ve never had a setback in your life, you’ve been the best at under-10, under-12, under-14, under-16, under-18.
“You’ve broken all the records. You’re just a bloody good player. So there’s no scars and you just go out there thinking you’re the best and that’s the advantage of being young.
“From Foden’s point of view, he’s got no scars, he believes in himself, he’s just got to the Champions League final, he thinks he’s one of the best players in the world and rightly so.
“We shouldn’t take that gloss off him at all. From a football point of view, it’s fine. He’ll go onto the pitch and it’s just another game.”
Owen – who was talking as new research commissioned by Booking.com, the official Accommodation and Attractions Booking Partner of Euro 2020, showed 61 per cent of England football fans would rather see their main rivals Germany win the Euros than skip their next holiday – also believes the hype around Foden is justified.
“I think he’s special to be honest,” he said.
“We can get carried away. I look at some people saying he’s the next such-and-such, and he’s the next such-and-such, and I’m thinking, ‘come on, he’s not even in the same stratosphere as some of these players we’re comparing them to’.
“Foden is different. I think we’re talking about someone that could be a great. He could be world-class. Everything he does is so easy on the eye.
“He oozes class and sometimes a player comes along every generation; I was one, Steven Gerrard was one 20 years ago, then a Wayne Rooney came along and I think Phil Foden could be another one that comes along.”
Owen did have one warning for Foden before the big kick-off – and that was to expect his life away from football to be altered if he takes the competition by storm.
“He won’t doubt he can do it at all,” added Owen.
If he does well then that's the life changed. That was a life-changer for meMichael Owen on Phil Foden
“The only difference is off the pitch. If he does well – and we can discuss that after the tournament – then that’s the life changed. That was a life-changer for me.
“Afterwards, how that can change you as a person, now that’s another question and we’ve seen Gazza in 1990. We’ve seen loads.
“That’s a separate question. But the on the pitch stuff is not even a question. It will be absolutely fine for him.
“If he succeeds then the attention that comes with it sends you into a different stratosphere when you do something good at a major tournament.
“What I was referring to was should he be a superstar at this tournament which we are all hoping for then that’s a whole separate side of how you deal with things off the pitch.”