Swansea boss Steve Cooper has recalled how Phil Foden was tied to a football even in hotel corridors as he faces an FA Cup reunion with one of his England Under-17 World Cup winners.
Cooper coached the young Three Lions side which triumphed in India in 2017, with England beating Spain 5-2 in the Kolkata final.
Foden was the star of the show, scoring twice as England fought back from 2-0 down and won the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player.
Over three years on and Cooper and Foden – who was in electric form as Manchester City beat Liverpool 4-1 on Sunday to open up a five-point Premier League lead – are in rival FA Cup camps with Pep Guardiola’s side heading to Wales for a fifth-round tie on Wednesday.
“It’s brilliant to see him doing so well, he has been for a while now and he’s a fantastic talent,” Cooper said at his pre-match press conference.
“He’s a brilliant lad and it’s lovely to see him showcasing it at the highest level.
“He loves football, and he’s always got a ball at his feet. It was the same in India for 32 or 33 days, whether he was in his hotel room, the corridor or on the training pitch.
“You’d very rarely see him without a ball or something he could play football with.”
Foden, now 20, has already made over 100 appearances for City and won his first senior England cap against Iceland last September.
Two other members of that U17 World Cup-winning squad, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Jadon Sancho, have also been capped at senior level, while others like Conor Gallagher, Emile Smith-Rowe, Morgan Gibbs-White and Rhian Brewster have played in the Premier League.
“When you work with a young player and spend time with them it’s brilliant to see them do well,” Cooper said.
“As well as that, when they’re not doing so well you are there to support them.
“You’re often exchanging messages to players whether they’re going through good moments or difficult moments and reflecting on stuff.
“Phil’s in a good moment and when you see that talent and work with them at a young age you hope they can progress.
“It about taking the opportunities that come and flourishing. It seems to me from the outside looking in that Phil is doing that.”
Swansea are riding high in the Championship, two points behind leaders Norwich with a game in hand after beating the Canaries 2-0 last Friday.
Cooper has signed five of his U17 World Cup winners at some point during his 20 months at the Liberty Stadium, former City defender Joel Latibeaudiere permanently and Brewster, Gallagher, Gibbs-White and Marc Guehi on loan.
But did he ever consider putting a call in to Guardiola a year or so back to see if Foden was available?
“If there was (a chance) I would have dived in, don’t worry about that,” Cooper said.
“But I don’t think Phil was ever too far away from the City team. If we did ask the question, I think we would have got a swift reply.”