Inseparable pair have let down so many at start of crucial season
Foden and Greenwood need to learn fast to put the most important campaign of their fledgling careers back on track
There was a time when England players from rival northern powerhouses could not stand the sight of each other. Steven Gerrard, the former Liverpool captain, recalled that he used to carefully conceal his antipathy for Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand and “pretend” he liked the Manchester United pair whenever they were on international duty.
Paul Scholes went as far as to suggest that the intense, tribal rivalry between United and Liverpool players damaged the prospects of England’s “golden generation”.
“It was plainly obvious that some of our lads didn’t like some of their boys and some of their lads didn’t like some of us,” the former United midfielder said. “You can’t build a team or a spirit when that rivalry is always close to the surface. It was always too big to get over.”
Club cliques and a mutual mistrust or loathing were never going to be an issue where Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood were concerned for England. The country’s two brightest young talents may play on opposite sides of the Manchester divide, but theirs is a blossoming friendship that Gareth Southgate, the England manager, and the Football Association saw very much as a positive, and a marked departure from that era depicted by Scholes.
They had crossed paths occasionally in academy football, but both were acutely aware of each other’s standing: Foden the jewel in Manchester City’s crown; Greenwood the most exciting teenager United had nursed since Ryan Giggs. It was this time last year, though, that the seeds of their friendship really began to be sown.
The England Under-21 squad are dominated by players from southern clubs, and Greenwood, given his first call-up for the Euro 2021 qualifying matches against Turkey and Kosovo in September last year, ended up rooming with Foden. They hit it off immediately and Foden was soon playing the role of big brother to a player only 16 months his junior.
It was the little things that caught the attention of FA officials, and point to the pair’s closeness. After a 3-0 win over Albania last November, Greenwood gave his first newspaper interview and Foden had deliberately hung back to check everything went OK rather than rush on to the team bus and leave his friend to it.
Greenwood appreciated the gesture. Speak to anyone within the England set-up now and they will you the pair are largely inseparable on international duty.
When England played Holland in Doetinchem a few days after that Albania victory, Greenwood and Foden took themselves off for pancakes at a cafe, Pension d’Oude Herberg, and even wanted to hire bikes to explore the local countryside.
At the team hotel, they could be found messing about on a Formula One simulator game or chatting in their rooms. They have some common interests, but also recognise the huge expectation that surrounds them and know they can bounce off each other.
In that respect, it is why those who know Foden and Greenwood best will find their behaviour in Iceland hard to rationalise, given how level-headed the pair usually are, and how serious they are about their football.
Sure, they are young – Foden 20, Greenwood still a few weeks shy of his 19th birthday – but the next season is one of vast potential and promise for these two supremely
They have common interests and recognise the huge expectation that surrounds them
gifted footballers and this was a most unfortunate way to start it.
Foden was dropped from an England Under-19 match along with Jadon Sancho in 2018 after the pair were late for a training session,