With the Premier League breaking for the final time this season due to international commitments, now seems like a good opportunity to turn attentions towards the England national team, specifically on the young players hoping to break through into the senior squad. With that in mind, the current Plus Minus ratings make for interesting reading, particularly the name in second place for Plus Minus per 90 minutes, Phil Foden.
Foden won the Golden Ball award during the 2017 FIFA Under 17 World Cup, and ever since has been tipped for a rapid rise to the senior team. Particularly at the start of this season there was a huge swell of support for his inclusion, with many pundits and journalists identifying Foden as the type of creative player England missed at the 2018 World Cup. The fact that Foden currently holds a higher Plus Minus per 90 minutes rating than any of his Manchester City team mates may on first look appear to support his inclusion, though a closer look at Foden’s season illustrates clearly why Gareth Southgate has so far resisted the calls to include him in the senior squad.
Foden may have an exceptionally high Plus Minus per 90 minutes rating currently, but that is due in no small part to when Pep Guardiola has chosen to use him in the Premier League this season. Foden’s total of 135 minutes in the league have come from 10 appearances, each of which have come as a substitute. Of those 10 appearances, 8 came when City were already had a lead of 2 or more goals over their opponents, and on 3 of those occasions, City led by 4 or more goals when Foden was introduced. He came on in the 84th minute away at Chelsea when City were 2-0 down, and he came on in the 85th minute with City 1-0 up against West Ham at home. When it comes down to the pressurised situations in tight, important games, Foden has remained on the bench, and though he has played more in the cup and European competitions, again these have largely been less pressurised situations.
Foden’s season is remarkably similar to Callum Hudson-Odoi at Chelsea, who currently leads Chelsea for Plus Minutes per 90 minutes and has also largely been restricted to late cameos and cup appearances. It would be unfair to say that either player isn’t ready to play for England because neither has been given the necessary opportunities at club level to prove their case either way, but given the reduced number of friendlies in the current international schedule, it is perhaps unsurprising that Southgate has overlooked the talented duo and when looking to promote a younger player has gone for Declan Rice instead.
Rice would have been viewed as a unlikely call-up at the start of the season, not only because he had already represented the Republic of Ireland in 3 friendlies, but because he had yet to establish himself as a regular in West Ham’s first team. This season however he has made 28 starts, making himself one of the first names on West Ham’s team sheet, and his Plus Minus rating highlights his importance to the team. Rice is one of just 6 West Ham players currently holding a positive Plus Minus total (West Ham’s current goal difference is -5), and none of the other 5 in that group have played more minutes than Rice. Therefore not only is Rice having a strong positive influence on the team, he is being exposed to all types of game situations, from the opening day 4-0 hammering away against Liverpool where Rice was actually substituted at half-time, through to this weekend’s late comeback victory against Huddersfield, as well as everything in between.
Rice is the second youngest member of the current England squad, with Jadon Sancho being the youngest, and it is intriguing to note that like Foden, Sancho is a product of the Manchester City academy, whilst Rice, like Hudson-Odoi, began his career in the Chelsea academy. Whilst it is certainly too soon to say whether Foden and Hudson-Odoi would be better served leaving their current clubs, it is clear from his selections this season that talent alone is not enough for Gareth Southgate, with regular exposure to pressurised situations a clear prerequisite for selection.