Pep's pups

Guardiola has been criticised for not giving Foden 'game time'.
Guardiola has been criticised for not giving Foden 'game time'. / EFE
  • Pep Guardiola oversaw the creation of the greatest midfield of all time in Xavi, Andrés Iniesta and Sergi Busquets. So shouldn't we cut him some more slack over his handling of Phil Foden?

There's an incredible ignorance in England over the methods of Pep Guardiola, possibly the finest judge of a young footballer and what it takes to nurture him to the absolute top of the game.

Guardiola oversaw the development of the finest midfield in modern times; Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets, yet he's been told he's getting it wrong with Manchester City's golden boy Phil Foden.

Xavi Hernández had been a bit-part player until an injury to Pep allowed him a decent run in the team back in the 1999/2000 season. He became an international at the age of 20 and the rest is a glorious 700-game history.

At the age of 20, Andrés Iniesta was used as a substitute on 26 occasions until he finally got a chance to establish himself as a starter in the 2005/6 season. He progressed to legendary status.

The third member of the Barcelona trio that dominated club and international football was Sergi Busquets. He didn't break into the first team until he was 20 year old and it took another year to fully displace Yaya Touré as the midfield anchor.

So Guardiola has unique experience in watching the garden grow. Those who question him on a regular basis about Foden should do a little background work.

The cry is for Foden to be loaned out or given a regular game at the English champions. Pep wisely turns a deaf ear in a country where talented teenagers are fast tracked into the first team and England side.

Who is to say that Jack Wilshere wouldn't have reached the same standards as Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets? He was Arsenal's youngest league debutant at 16 and was sent out on loan to Bolton to get more 'game time'. Yes, 'game time' is important, but developing at your own pace is a bigger factor. Wilshire made his England debut as an 18-year-old but it could be the excessive demands on a young body that affected his development. Now, late twenties, after just 19 league games in three seasons, he's rebuilding his career at a less expectant club in West Ham.

In La Liga there's another schoolboy prodigy who's trying to realise his immense potential. Martin Ødegaard made his debut for Norway at fifteen and was whisked away to Real Madrid soon after. The Spanish giants gave him a debut at sixteen but soon realised that he wasn't ready for the demands of top-class football. Although he trained with the first team, he played his football for the Castilla development side.

To get that 'game time' he was loaned out to Heerenveen and Vitesse before returning to Spain this season with Real Sociedad. Two goals and two assists in his first six games suggest that he's maturing into the player all of the experts predicted that he could be.

The recurring comment about Ødegaard is that nobody can believe that he's still twenty as he seems to have been around for ages. He already has a few miles on the clock and could return to his parent club Real Madrid after three seasons away with even more. It's a case unleashing the talent but realising the potential.

I was lucky to conduct the first TV interviews with several young English players who did fulfil their teenage potential: Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen and Robbie Fowler. All went on to excellent careers but had burnt out by time they were thirty.

I just wonder how much better they would have been if they'd had Pep Guardiola as their footballing father?