How Jadon Sancho, Mason Mount and Phil Foden earned their time to shine

Dominic Fifield and Jamie Jackson on 10 October 2018

Memories of the disappointment at the Luzhniki Stadium were sure to be stirred before another collision with Croatia as Friday’s Nations League rematch looms large. So England’s decision to parade their brightest young things this week felt shrewd. Jadon Sancho and Mason Mount are hoping to gain their first caps at a deserted Stadion HNK Rijeka, while Phil Foden targets an under-21s debut against Andorra on Thursday. The trio represent England’s future, personifying the creative, attack-minded style Gareth Southgate is eager to pursue. But each has got this far in a different way.

Jadon Sancho

Such has been the ease at which Sancho has thrived since swapping the development team at Manchester City for Borussia Dortmund that it felt alien to see him thrust from his comfort zone at St George’s Park. The teenager had never addressed the media in such a formal setting, a daunting prospect given the banks of television cameras and cluster of microphones, but smiled his way through the process.

His pride and gratitude at an unexpected call-up shone through. “I’m really thankful he’s seen my progress in the Bundesliga,” Sancho said, having taken the call from Gareth Southgate before training in Dortmund. “To make my debut would be a dream come true. I can’t think of anything better.” He spoke of learning German and developing a taste for schnitzel; of watching his father’s videos of John Barnes as he grew up or thrilling to clips of Ronaldinho “carrying his team” on YouTube as inspiration; and of attending his first game as a spectator at Watford when Aidy Boothroyd was the manager.

There was a reluctance to reflect upon his decision to leave City. His refusals were delivered politely, but firmly, with the closest he came to addressing the issue an admission that all players are impatient. “It’s vital because not everyone wants to play under-23s football,” he said. “Everyone feels they’re ready for the next step. Whatever you feel is right, whether that’s moving to a new club or staying to fight for a position, everyone has a right to do what they want to do. I felt it was right to go.”

He has been proved right, with back-to-back starts in the Champions League and Bundesliga, his inheritance of Ousmane Dembélé’s No 7 shirt and six assists from seven league appearances this season. Most striking was Sancho’s confidence. “I don’t feel the pressure,” said the 18-year-old, who is living in an apartment in Dortmund with his father. “I’m here to do one job: play football.

“I don’t really see myself as a talented player. I just like working hard, and working hard brings great achievements. Believing in myself, training hard every day, getting my opportunity on the pitch, showing the world what I can do.”

Mason Mount

Mason Mount has had an outstanding start to life on loan at Derby County.
Mason Mount has had an outstanding start to life on loan at Derby County. Photograph: Robbie Stephenson/JMP/REX/Shutterstock

Mount had an inkling he had been called up to England’s senior squad before Frank Lampard called him into his office at Derby’s training centre, though his manager was in mischievous mood. There was a debrief over a midweek performance and a playful suggestion the 19-year-old might be dropped, before Lampard confirmed the news. “He’s obviously got over 100 caps, so he told me to see if I can go on and break that,” said Mount. “That was the first thing he told me: see how far you can get.”

Mount has become the latest poster boy of Chelsea’s academy, which draws plenty of cynicism but has helped develop 19 of the 128 players picked for England’s representative sides from under-17s to seniors in this international window. No club can match that, whether those kids go on to play for Chelsea or elsewhere.

Mount has experienced a whirlwind 15 months. Two summers ago he arrived in the Netherlands without knowing a word of Dutch to play a season on loan at Vitesse Arnhem. He ended up as the club’s player of the year, scoring 13 goals and supplying nine assists. In the summer he trained with the England senior squad before joining Foden and Ryan Sessegnon in travelling to Russia with Nike to attend the Tunisia game. His first under-21s cap was secured last month and, after five goals and an assist for Derby, plus a penalty in a shootout win at Old Trafford, he is preparing for Croatia and a potential meeting with Luka Modric, whose movement and passing he scrutinised when growing up.

“To play Dutch football was a good step for me, as a first year away from home,” he said. “You grow up quickly. I learned a lot in Holland, and I am learning even more playing in the Championship under someone like Frank ... but Chelsea is still the ultimate goal. When the time comes, I want to go back and secure my place there.”

Mount, like Sancho, has yet to taste life in the Premier League but finds himself a senior international in waiting. “To be here is a very surreal feeling ... but I definitely feel comfortable.”

Phil Foden

Phil Foden scored for Manchester City at Oxford in the Carabao Cup last month.
Phil Foden scored for Manchester City at Oxford in the Carabao Cup last month. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

All Foden has really experienced in his fledgling career is success so to hear how grounded he remains augurs well.

Nicknamed the “Stockport Iniesta”, this is an 18-year-old midfield magician who was a member of Pep Guardiola’s record-breaking Premier League champions, Manchester City; whom the manager rated as good enough to trust with a debut at 17 – last November in a Champions League group game, the first of 14 senior appearances; and who was the golden ball-winning member of England’s Under-17 World Cup champions last year.

Foden has been selected for Boothroyd’s under-21s for the first time and is expected to play in Thursday’s European Championship qualifier in Chesterfield. He was in the same age group as Sancho at City. Mention how they are among a wave of players who could be a golden generation and Foden does not balk.

“Definitely. We have got a lot of quality in the team and Jadon has moved up now and I’m happy for him,” he says. “It just goes to show that if you’re playing well, he’s [Southgate] not scared to move you up no matter what your age.

“ It is exciting times for England with all these kids coming through. Hopefully in the future we can win the World Cup.”

Foden is targeting being a member of the Euro 2020 squad. “I’m hoping so. If it doesn’t happen, I will just keep working hard. Hopefully the time will come but that is what I am aiming for.”

Southgate has stated that Foden remains “physically a bit further back” than Sancho and Mount. “I didn’t see those comments but it’s a fair point,” Foden says. “It’s his opinion – I’m still growing; I’ll probably have a growth spurt soon … it’s good to grow a little bit, so you can handle the game physically.”

Of the Iniesta comparison he says: “I try not to read too much into it but obviously the comments are [good] so it gives me confidence.”

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