Calling a footballer a “utility player” almost always used to be a case of damning them with faint praise.

They were the jacks of all trades, but masters of none, someone who could fit in and do a job in various positions, but was usually not good enough at any of them to make it his own.

But when footballers like Phil Foden come along, they turn that theory upside down - it is because he is so good in whichever position he is asked to play, that he is roaming around the team, popping up in a different role from week to week.

Right now, Foden has carved a niche as the central attacking player at Manchester City, but is also being eyed by Gareth Southgate as a number ten, or even a deep-lying playmaker for England - he has excelled in all those roles this season, for club and country.

Working out Foden’s best position is almost as difficult as trying to mark him on the field - just when you think you have it nailed, he pops up somewhere else causing even more havoc.

After his virtuoso display at Bruges, followed by two goals, an assist and a key part in the other goal at Brighton, everyone is raving about him in the central striking role, whether you want to pigeonhole it as a “false nine” or not.

After trying half of his squad on that position, he has found a player who can play there and make City better, so Foden could be stuck with it until the Blues can dip into the market and finally get a striker.

Nt that the 21-year-old phenomenon is bothered; he says he is enjoying the new role, and learning new tricks from playing it. But you suspect he would find the positive of playing just about anywhere on the field, as long as he gets to have a ball at his feet.

The versatility of Foden is shown by examining his last 50 games for club and country.

He has played as the left-sided attacking midfielder 13 times, the left winger 12 times, central midfielder 12 times, central striker five times, right attacking midfielder three times, left midfield three times and right wing twice.

The problem with Foden is that not only is he so good, and so effective wherever he plays, that you miss him in the role he has vacated.

It sounds harsh, but after his complete dismantling of James Milner at Anfield, when he played on the left wing, £100million man Jack Grealish has not filled the role to the same degree of success - Raheem Sterling suffered by comparison last season, too.

In the attacking midfield roles, only Bernardo Silva can match him this season - even Kevin De Bruyne, who has not found his best form yet, has been out-shone.

Guardiola said last year that he feels Foden will eventually become a holding midfielder, and we saw a glimpse of that when he pinged passes all over the field for England in the recent win over Andorra.

But the City boss acknowledged that playing him deep takes away the goal threat which is such a big part of his game.

“He's a midfield player but in time he's going to learn to play as a holding midfielder, even, because he has the ability to learn.

“But I don't want to dismiss the chance to play him close to the box because he has something special.

“We make a game in the training session and when you score four, five, six goals, this guy scores all the time two, three.

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 15: Pep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City interacts with Phil Foden of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League group A match between Manchester City and RB Leipzig at Etihad Stadium on September 15, 2021 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

“He has a sense of goal, the mentality to be incredibly aggressive. When he takes the ball he is incredibly aggressive against central defenders and shoots and finishes.”

After the 4-1 win at Brighton, Guardiola had changed his tune — it’s almost as if he has given up on trying top work out where Foden is best deployed, because he simply does whatever job asked of him in outstanding fashion.

“I'd say that there are players that play in one position and players that play football,” he said. “Playing football means you can play any position because you understand the game. “In the final third can play up front because he has the quality to move, to be aggressive one against one. He can play as a striker, false nine, winger wide left.”

The only thing missing from his game as a central attacker is goals — one of his two at Brighton was a deflection and he missed several good opportunities, but the manager believes that will also improve.

BBC pundit Jermaine Jenas feels that the role for which Foden was long earmarked, that which David Silva held, playing in the tight spaces between lines, on the half-turn, always seeking to open up defences, will eventually be where he settles.

“I think he will end up where David Silva played eventually - he scores goals, creates, and will make things happen,” said the former Spurs midfielder.

That echoes the thoughts that one of his very first coaches, Reddish Vulcans’s Steve Williams, had.

He said four years ago: “I think he is the natural successor to David Silva, in a year or two.

“It's hard to tell when he is playing with other 17 and 18-year-olds, but I think if he played alongside De Bruyne and Leroy Sane he would sit in there naturally and do a job for City.”

Foden already has that David Silva effect on City fans.

Going back a couple of years, they wanted to see more of him because he was one of their own, an exciting talent emerging through the ranks.

Now there is a sense of disappointment when Foden is not on the teamsheet, not due to parochial loyalty, but down to the desire to see him play pure football

Sky pundit Jamie Redknapp probably nailed it, by pointing out that the only man who, in recent games, can match Foden’s contribution to games, is probably occupying the rile the youngster himself would prefer.

“If you were to have a chat with him and say ‘Where is your favourite position?’ my guess would be that he wants to play where Bernardo Silva played (against Brighton) or where Kevin De Bruyne plays, where I’m involved all the time,” said Redknapp.

“I’ve seen him be man of the match against Liverpool, when he played on the right side, we’re now seeing him play as a central striker at times.

“(After Brighton) I loved his answer when he said ‘I know when I’m getting man-to-man marked, I’ll just drag my defender into areas’ so every time he realises Dunl’s got to go with him, that leaves space for Jesus or Grealish.

“I still think if you play him in a deeper position, you will see even more from him, because you know he wants to be on the ball.”

Of course, the trouble is that City are exceedingly strong in that department - as well as Bernardo and De Bruyne, they have Ilkay Gundogan who came back after injury with anoer fine display at the Amex Stadium.

It is not that they are being preferred to Foden, simply that he is more flexible and has been playing the other positions more effectively.

Phil Foden has been handed a start for England by Gareth Southgate.

Gareth Southgate is the other manager with the enviable task of extracting the best out of Foden, and he has also solved it by simply putting Foden in the position where England are weakest on any given day.

“It is difficult (to predict his best position) because frankly he is one of those players who is effective anywhere across that front line,” said Southgate.

“If you play him seven, 11, ten, eight, a sort of traditional 4-3-3 midfield with a six, eight, ten, if he was the ten within that but with the capability to drop lower and build the play at times like he did (vs Andorra).”

Former Arsenal and City midfield star Patrick Vieira, who had heard the buzz around Foden when he was still a tot in the academy, also thinks Foden will eventually be right at the heart of things for City and England.

“He can smell, feel the game, create something for players and score goals,” saidf the Crystal Palace boss.

"I like to have some of the best, talented players in the midfield because they like to get involved all the time and touch the ball as much as they can."

Which position would you play Foden? Have your say in

The final word has to go to Foden. His recent discourse on it has been very much to accept whatever role he has asked to play, and enjoy it, and he has been doing that.

To defuse any notions that he might not WANT to be used here, there and everywhere, he has begun to say he does not know what his best position is.

But the last time he DID express a preference, it was to take on the David Silva mantle.

"Some games, I've played three different positions. I've played off the left, off the right, false nine, and in the middle,” he said.

"But from growing up, I've always played in one of the eight or 10 roles. So I'd like to see myself hopefully playing there one day, in the middle."

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