It was the afternoon that confirmed beyond all doubt that Phil Foden belongs on the grandest of stages.
Manchester City‘s 19-year-old tyro bestrode the Wembley turf as effortlessly as if enjoying a kick-around with his mates down the local park.
Setting up the opening goal, scored by Sergio Aguero, was the high point of an accomplished display of intelligent positioning, silky touches and deft passes.
Phil Foden clutches his man of the match award after a brilliant Carabao Cup final display
The 19-year-old was excellent on the right side of City’s midfield as they beat Aston Villa 2-1
It wasn’t the first time Foden has graced the Wembley turf and, my goodness, it certainly won’t be the last.
But it was the first time the teenager had started a major final and been entrusted by Pep Guardiola to set the tone for another City success.
And, despite being played in a wider midfield position to the central role he has grown accustomed to, Foden did exactly that and much more besides in a man of the match performance.
It’s pretty absurd that Foden has won eight winner’s medals for City – two Premier League, one FA Cup, three EFL Cup and two Community Shield – or one for every 303 minutes of first-team football.
After Sunday, the clamour for Foden to get a first call-up to the England senior squad will increase another few notches.
Foden has been forced to be patient but Pep Guardiola is slowly giving him more opportunities
Homegrown talent Foden has become used to warming the bench for Manchester City
Gareth Southgate’s assistant, Steve Holland, watched Foden at Wembley on Sunday and Southgate is giving serious consideration to his inclusion in the squad to face Italy and Denmark at the end of this month.
There are already thoughts of Foden being a wildcard pick for this summer’s European Championship and we can be sure he will figure in Southgate’s thinking.
But Foden may be forced to play the waiting game with England as he has done at City. However, the feeling is that Foden’s breakthrough is soon to be completed.
He has only been handed two Premier League and two Champions League starts by Guardiola this season, warming the bench for the most part in the biggest games.
There has been more regular involvement in the FA Cup and the EFL Cup as is the norm with younger players still learning their craft.
But Foden’s time draws close. He is viewed at City as the heir to David Silva and the Spaniard has already announced he will depart this summer.
England boss Gareth Southgate and his assistant Steve Holland are keeping an eye on Foden
Foden has impressed for England’s under-21 team and first senior call-up is expected soon
Silva has been a mesmeric player for a decade but there is clearly a belief that Foden can and will step into his boots next season.
As Guardiola made clear back in January: ‘David is going to leave this season and we are not going to buy any player in his position because we have Phil.
‘If we didn’t believe in him we might go to the market to replace David, but we have Phil.’
So it looks pretty likely that Foden will inherit Silva’s job in central midfield, required to cast the same spells and stamp his authority on games.
Those who find it baffling that Foden doesn’t play more, who make the point that he would already walk into the majority of Premier League sides, just have to wait a tiny bit longer.
But things could change. City may find that, despite their looming Champions League ban, a world class central midfield comes onto the market in the summer.
Spanish master David Silva is set to leave City this summer with Foden his heir apparent
Foden watches a shot whistle past the Villa keeper Orjan Nyland during Sunday’s final
More likely, if their two-year exile from Europe is upheld, they will have to downsize, which should open up even more opportunity for the local lad Foden.
But in the meantime, Foden must hope his classy Carabao Cup final performance unlocks more game time in the Premier League and even the Champions League between now and May.
Sunday was only his seventh start since November but with Silva making way, it makes sense for Guardiola to allow Foden more chances to showcase what he can do.
As the manager said after lifting the trophy on Sunday: ‘He is always ready. Phil’s so fast and clever in tight spaces.
‘Today he was under pressure but it is a winning experience for his mind. He belongs there, no problem.’
Foden only knows winning. There have been so few setbacks in his fledgling career.
He played just 43 minutes in five substitute appearances for City but was still awarded a Premier League winner’s medal in 2017-18.
Foden celebrates scoring a goal for England under 21s against Kosovo in Euro qualifying
Foden lifts the Premier League trophy in 2019 – he has won eight honours already for City
A full 90 minutes in the quarter-final win over Leicester City and one minute off the bench in the final at Wembley were the sum of his contributions to City’s EFL Cup win in 2018.
Foden made just three Premier League starts last season and completed the full 90 minutes just once, while he didn’t feature in the FA Cup after the fifth round and didn’t get off the bench in the EFL Cup final with Chelsea.
This season has seen a slight increase in game time but he hasn’t played a full 90 in the league. In short, Foden has amassed a lot of precious metal for a peripheral role.
But there will be plenty of time in his career to play a fuller part. His City breakthrough is surely imminent, but England could prove tougher.
Southgate is blessed with an embarrassment of riches in Foden’s position which means nothing is guaranteed in the short-term.
Dele Alli offers a more experienced option even if his form has declined for club and country. Mason Mount has done little wrong for England while Ruben Loftus-Cheek will return to the fold after his injury.
Foden was named best player in the tournament when England won the Under-17 World Cup
Then there’s Jack Grealish of Aston Villa and James Maddison of Leicester, both players who’ve featured far more prominently in the Premier League for a longer period of time.
‘I want to be there [at Euro 2020], but it’s very difficult with the players that we have,’ said Foden, nailing his own issue.
So it will take patience and potentially flexibility over his position to become an England regular, but Foden certainly deserves an audition at the earliest opportunity.
After all, the youngster certainly looks at home at Wembley.