Gareth Southgate says he felt like a father letting down his own son when he confirmed Phil Foden’s Euro 2020 final hopes were over.
The England manager had to explain to him earlier in the tournament that he could not risk him getting a second yellow card in the final group game against the Czech Republic with Mason Mount being forced to isolate with Covid.
Bukayo Saka did well enough as his stand-in to keep his place and even when a late cameo in the semi-final extra-time gave Foden hopes of a place in the final, they were dashed by a cruel injury picked up in training two days before the showpiece.
“As a dad, you are talking to a 20-year-old kid and you know how much it meant to all those players to be involved in that game.
“So it is heartbreaking when you are sharing a moment like that with a player. It wasn’t a case of me having to rule him out.
“He just knew, he tried to run and knew it wasn’t going to be possible.”
It is the same sense of paternal protection that concerns Southgate when, after performances like the one in Andorra, the nation begins to build its hopes for Qatar squarely on the 21-year-old’s shoulders.
“The only thing I am loath to do is put any pressure on him,” Southgate said. “We’ve known since 15, 16 what might be possible and we are seeing that.
“And he’s played a certain opponent tonight. With respect to James Milner, he played against Millie at the weekend.
“I am not trying to diminish what he’s shown and what’s possible. But I don’t want to create too much for him.
“The danger is we create too much for him to live up to. Let us just enjoy him, he is a special player without a doubt. let him grow into the team.”
That said, by the time the World Cup comes around November 2022, Foden will be 22-and-a-half.
At that age in 1983, Barcelona star Diego Maradona’s performance was so good in El Clasico that Real Madrid fans applauded him off the pitch.
Pele led Santos to become the only Brazilian team to win the Copa Libertadores on Argentine soil.
Cristiano Ronaldo was on his way to completing a unique clean sweep of PFA and FWA player and young player of the year awards while Lionel Messi picked up his first Ballon d’Or by the biggest voting margin in the competition’s history.
Paul Gascoigne was getting ready to take Italia 90 by storm. It will be very much Foden’s time.
Despite his pleas for England fans not to get too carried away, ultimately Southgate is confident Foden can take all that pressure in his stride – as he has always done.
“Look, in football, you have to be resilient,” Southgate said. “From when these players have been 12, 13, or whatever, they have always been judged, always been assessed.
“Phil’s got that toughness. I don’t doubt that is ever going to be an issue for him. He has that in his make-up.
“Whatever is thrown his way he will be able to handle it.”
Southgate’s task now for the next 13 months is to put together the team around Foden which can get the very best out of him.