Former Man City head of academy makes inspiring Phil Foden prediction after tutoring ‘nine-year-old Lionel Messi’
And when Foden starts to do for the first team what he did as a nine-year-old, Cassell will be as thrilled as anyone.
Pep Guardiola has been criticised by those impatient to see the 18-year-old – one of the brightest young talents of his generation – given more playing time.
And yet the manager was also seen as rash when he threw Foden into a must-win clash with Tottenham last month – only for the teenager to net the winning goal.
One of Cassell’s final acts as academy head was to sign Foden, after his excellent recruitment team had spotted the nine-year-old’s outstanding talent at school.
And he feels that the way Guardiola has blooded the youngster is spot on.
“Phil Foden has been handled brilliantly,” said Cassell, now retired. “He is a talent and I am waiting for him to play as he did when he was a nine-year-old.
“He was the Lionel Messi of Platt Lane – low trajectory, could change direction like a rabbit, great touch on the ball.
“The thing I like about him at the moment is that he’s not fazed when he goes into the first team, he has the ability to nick the ball away from people and invariably, nine times out of ten chooses the right pass.”
But Cassell, who led City to their last FA Youth Cup triumph in 2008, knows there is far more to come from Foden – and feels he will slip neatly into David Silva’s role as the Spanish legend winds down his career.
“He will get to the point soon where he realises he can do a little bit more – that he can attack space more,” he said.
“One thing I never used to say was ‘Pass the ball’. I would say ‘Play with the others’.
“Phil is a classic example of a kid coming through who can play with the senior players. He has it in his locker.
“David has been fantastic for the club but I can see him eventually moving into that role. David is the main focus. We have terrific players but when David is on form, everything goes through him.
“That’s what a midfielder is, someone who holds the checkpoints. He can change direction and pace of the game – and that is where Phil is aiming now.
“In the next 18 months if he continues to get opportunities and time on the pitch and nothing goes wrong injury-wise, he will be in the England squad, because he is a talent.”
Foden was first spotted by Cassell’s junior academy head Terry John, with head of recruitment Barry Pointon quick to move once the talent was identified.
Now, nine years on, he is openly being talked about as the successor to Silva.
Cassell feels that Foden may truly blossom once Silva steps aside, much as Fernandinho assumed new stature once Yaya Toure was no longer the kingpin of the City midfield.
“Phil will still probably regard himself as a squad player at the moment.
“I suspect the fact he is there week in week out shows how highly he is valued by the other players as well as the management team.
“Now, basically, it is a case of him growing into being a player. He will get more time on the pitch in the next 12 months, as he is probably the nearest thing we have, in England, to a player who can do that last bit in the final third – a reverse pass, show them the eyes, grab a goal. The timing of his runs is excellent.
“What I really want to see him do is pick that ball up and go at people. He did it at Newport, funnily enough, on a difficult surface. He just needs time to develop.
“The hardest thing for any player is not ability, but the environment of a football club, whether you have come from school or another professional club.
“Players often fail because they don’t cope with the expectation of the environment.
“I have never met Pep because I’d left before he came. He is clearly very intense and emotional, but at the same time has great clarity in his thinking, and he knows exactly what he is dealing with.
“The fact that Spurs was the first big game he trusted him with – and what a difficult game it was – means he clearly feels he is right and ready to take on to the next level.
“Pep is quite happy for players to go on loan, but in this instance he wants Phil close to him.”