Can the ‘Stockport Gazza’ be a cut above for England at Euro 2020?

When, from time to time, an emerging England player is labelled “the new Paul Gascoigne” you just hope it does not go to his head. Yesterday it had gone to Phil Foden’s.

England's new-look Phil Foden talking to the media on Tuesday. Picture: PA
England's new-look Phil Foden talking to the media on Tuesday. Picture: PA

As well as being an easy get-out for unimaginative designers, retro kits harping back to past glories are also all the rage. Foden revealed his personal tribute when he rocked up at St George’s Park.

To walk into a hotel full of 20-something men sporting peroxide blond hair is brave. To do so with a mop mimicking the man who had arguably the greatest moment of a spectacular if all-too brief career scoring a Wembley wonder goal in the European Championship against Scotland days before he hopes to play for England against Scotland at Wembley in the European Championship was somewhere on the border between bravery and stupidity You Know Who used to frequent.

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The comparisons did not work so well for Jack Wilshere but there seems to be real cause to believe Foden is a step up from the midfielder with a touch of silk and a body made of glass.

England's Phil Foden.

Foden might be so boyish he was born just under four years after Gascoigne nonchalantly flipped the ball over Colin Hendry’s head, so youthful he watched the 2018 World Cup semi-final defeat to Croatia with his mum and dad, so callow he was filling in his Panini sticker album on international duty in March, but he is not daft as a brush; he knows who Gazza is and what he did to win the hearts of those of us of a certain age. Having come through at Manchester City with comparisons to David Silva he does not scare easily.

“I’ve had the same haircut for what seems like ages now, so I just thought I’d try something new,” explained the 21 year-old when asked the inevitable first question. “I woke up this morning with a lot of comparisons to Gazza and Eminem!

“It was my own thing, though, people have turned it into something else. Everyone else in the squad have said they like it, so that’s a positive I’m surprised about.

“I’ve dyed it now, so it’s got to stay around for a while. If people want to call me the ‘Stockport Gazza’, he’s a great player, so I wouldn’t mind that at all.”

At least Foden left the No 19 shirt to Mason Mount. Jordan Henderson, a professional so sensible he probably thinks a dentist’s chair is something you sit in to get your teeth checked, has Gascoigne’s Euro 96 number of eight.

This, though, is not some disrespectful young buck who claims never to have heard of manager Gareth Southgate’s former team-mate, which is at least some relief for the ageing hacks listening to him speak confidently yesterday.

“I’m too young to have seen Gazza at the time, but I’ve seen plenty of highlights on the TV and he was an unbelievable player,” says Foden. “The full nation knows all about him and what he did for the country. It wouldn’t be too bad if I tried to bring a bit of Gazza onto the pitch.

“I’ve obviously watched some of the (Euro 96) highlights on TV before. I know the famous Gazza goal – the one where he flicked it over someone’s head and scored. I remember just watching so many highlights from the past and dreaming about wearing an England shirt. I feel really lucky to be here now.”

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has not helped at times with his inability to keep his excitement about Foden’s potential to himself. Even the usually so restrained Southgate could not help but name-drop Foden from time to time before he had capped him. If the new Gazza is Foden’s international alias, he has been City’s new Silva for years.

“I think everybody knows that David Silva was one of my favourite players growing up,” says Foden. “But I want to be my own version of me. I don’t try to copy anything he does, I just take the good points and try to put them into my game as best I can.

“I don’t think you can listen too much to what people are saying. I have to try to keep my feet on the ground, keep being me, and keep doing what’s done well for me this year. I just try to come off social media as much as I can, and not try to read things too much.

“When someone’s doing well, the media jumps all over it. We have a lot of young players in the team, and they’re all very level-headed so it’s not going to get to me or any of the young players. We’re just going to keep focused and try to bring it home.”

It all sounds wonderfully sensible. Maybe he is not the new Gazza after all.

Fortunately, there appears little danger of a throwback to 1998 when Romania’s entire squad bleached their hair at the World Cup.

“I don’t think there are too many that are as brave as me,” said Foden, reassuringly. “I think they like their hairstyles and want to stick with what they’ve got.”

That, perhaps, was the message to highlight: few are as brave as Foden. It would be amazing a month from now to be celebrating that as joyously as with Gascoigne in 1990 and 1996.

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