Phil Foden: Fishing and fatherhood
Football came first, but here, the City Academy graduate talks about about his other great loves in life...
There is a hint of surprise in Phil Foden’s voice as he checks if he has heard correctly.
“We’re not talking about football?” he asks, whilst positioning himself in a chair in a quiet corner on the Academy side of the City Football Academy (CFA).
Moments earlier the 19-year-old wore a beaming smile as he met local school children from one of City in the Community’s educational programmes.
The smile returns, replacing the slightly puzzled expression on his face, when he hears that instead of football, we’ll be discussing two of his other great loves in life, fishing and fatherhood.
The former is the hobby he admits sets him apart in most dressing rooms.
“Probably about 95% of the football lads don’t enjoy it,” says Foden, who missed the City players’ 2018 Premier League title celebrations due to a pre-planned fishing trip with his dad.
“The odd one likes fishing, so when people find out they say: ‘what a weird sport to enjoy’. They don’t understand why you enjoy it.
“Obviously, they need to go and try it. I think it’s the perfect hobby to rest your legs and have some down time.”
Fishing, however, has had to take a back seat over the last 12 months, during which the midfielder’s free time has become increasingly limited.
Ronnie, his one-year-old son, was born in January 2019, meaning away from football, Foden is now more of a doting dad than a catcher of carp.
It is quite the lifestyle change, swapping the stillness of the riverside for the nonstop nature of fatherhood, but City’s No.47 has made a seamless transition.
There were tears when Ronnie made his entrance into the world and a father’s pride emanates from Foden when he speaks about his young son.
“I was there for the birth. I walked out of the room, gave it a little tear and then went back in like nothing happened,” he reveals with a smile.
“I’m not one for crying in front of people. I like to be on my own, but I was there in the room, watched it happen and it was a special moment.
“Your life changes. There’s no free time, which is probably why I’ve been struggling to fish as much.
“I’ve enjoyed every moment of it. He’s been quite well behaved to be honest. He’s not been making it hard for me, which is good.
“He sleeps through until about 7am. I haven’t really had to get up in the middle of the night, so I’ve been able to get my sleep.”
Fatherhood has changed Foden’s life for the better, as his teammates predicted it would, but it is not without its challenges.
He counts himself lucky to be doing what he loves and playing for the Club he supported as a boy, but, as with any job, there are consequences for his home life.
Away trips have forced the Stockport-born midfielder to miss precious moments in young Ronnie’s early life.
He understands that it’s a sacrifice he has to make if he’s to fulfil his ambitions on the pitch and while the time away has taken some getting used to, being a dad has provided the teenager with a fresh perspective on his fledgling career.
“If you have a bad game or a bad session, you’re disappointed, but now I think about the bigger picture.
“I go home and see him smiling, so there’s more important things than worrying about one bad session. You look at things in a different way when you’ve got a kid.
“Honestly, I’m really enjoying it, but I find it quite difficult, always having away games and being away from him. He’s one now, so he’s missing me a bit.
“There are things you miss when you’re not there because you’ve got an away game. I was there when he started crawling, but I think I was in London when he started to walk.
“Now he’s getting about and walking everywhere, so you have to have eyes in the back of your head or he starts running off.
“It’s unfortunate to miss things like that but it’s a sacrifice that he’ll appreciate when he’s older.”
That brings us to Foden’s own sacrifice and his reduced time out on the riverbank.
In the digital age, fishing is not your typical hobby for a footballer born after the turn of the millennium and it’s something that sets him apart in the City dressing room.
But he is content with his unique interest, which supersedes any other activity away from football.
Whilst it was his mum who initiated his love for City, it was his dad - Manchester United supporting Phil Snr. - who sparked a passion for fishing which stretches back more than a decade.
It provided a father/son bonding experience and, to this day, it’s rare for young Phil to go without his dad.
Prior to Ronnie’s arrival, Foden took every opportunity to get set-up lakeside, mostly in the UK, but occasionally in Spain, where he caught his biggest catch to date – a 130lb Catfish.
“I was probably about six or seven and my dad had a fishing rod of his dad’s and said we should go and try it out," he recalls.
"I fell in love with it and we ended up going every weekend. I still remember my first catch. It wasn’t very big, I was just learning, but it’s the excitement of when you get one for the first time.
“I think that’s the buzz that makes you want to go again, but it’s also a chance to chill and relax and to spend time with my dad.
“I think it’s really good after games when you have to rest your legs and I just find it really enjoyable.
“There’s tactics. Knowing in which spots to fish, knowing where the fish are, fishing at different lengths…
“There’s a lot behind it but when I get the odd day off, I fish simple. I’m not a specialist at it but I still manage to catch.
“I generally love all types of sport, but I don’t do any others apart from fishing. I do like darts, but I don’t really play.
“We have a dartboard when I’m with England and a few of the lads say I’m a natural. We don’t really compete, but sometimes I hit a 180 and they’ll be gobsmacked.”
He’s used to that.
By any normal barometer, Phil Foden is an anomaly.
It is just over two years since he made his first-team debut and already his senior career has been littered with milestones which set him apart from his peers.
The youngest English player to start a Champions League game? Phil Foden.
The first player born in the year 2000 to start a match in the Champions League? Phil Foden.
The youngest ever Premier League winner? Again, it’s Phil Foden.
He wouldn’t have it any other way, but living your dream still comes with pressure and there is scrutiny from all quarters.
Fishing, therefore, has become an increasingly valuable pastime since he graduated from City’s Academy.
“It definitely has its benefits,” says the amateur angler, who has provided nine assists and scored ten goals in his 59 appearances for the Club thus far.
“It’s good for clearing your head after you’ve had a bad game. I’ve found it the solution to everything. If there’s a few problems you’re having, you just go fishing and clear your head.
“I’ve just found it the perfect way to get away from everything, from football, so when I’m in a situation like that I’ll find a way to go.
“Some people don’t know what to do with themselves when they don’t have a game. I think it’s really important to find that different hobby.”
The tranquillity of fishing, however, is very occasionally pierced by the reality of being one of the most recognisable young footballers in the country.
“I still get noticed. I didn’t really think I’d get recognised that much but if I’m fishing on the other side of the pond people will see me and walk round.”
That recognition leads us nicely into the final topic of conversation before our interview draws to a close, and it’s another subject close to Foden’s heart.
He is a proud son of Stockport.
There, they know him as Ronnie, the name he shares with his son after his nan suggested it as a nickname to avoid the confusion of sharing his own father’s name.
Only at City is he called Phil.
He’s moved away from Stockport now, but, on more than one occasion, videos have circulated on social media of him playing football with kids from the streets he grew up on.
It’s not something Foden is obliged to do and, like fishing, it’s not something you expect to see a Premier League footballer doing.
So, why does he?
“I’ve still got family around Stockport, so I go and visit sometimes, and kids are just starstruck to see me. It’s quite strange because I was one of those kids and was just the same as them.
“They look up to you, so it’s just to give something back, because I used to play there growing up. It’s good to play with them and see a smile on their face.
“I just want to be a good role model for them.”
As a player noted for his warmth, polite nature and humility, it’s an aim he’s certainly delivering on.