BURTON-ON-TRENT, England (AP) — Arriving at England’s base for the European Championship with his hair bleached platinum blond, Phil Foden knew the comparisons he would be inviting — and he reveled in them.
Especially when accompanying an online photo of his new look with the message “Euro 96 vibes.”
Paul Gascoigne sported the same hairdo when he lit up the Euros as an enigmatic midfielder in a previous generation.
“He’s a great player so I don’t mind that (comparison) at all,” said the 21-year-old Foden, tapping into nostalgia for “Gazza” and Co. that is swelling as England prepares for what is largely a home tournament.
“I’ve had the same haircut for what seems like ages now so I thought I’d just try something new,” the Manchester City midfielder explained Tuesday at the team’s St. George’s Park base in central England. “I woke up this morning with a lot of comparisons to Gazza — and Eminem.”
The goal Gascoigne scored at Euro ’96 was one of his most audacious and memorable. A pass was collected from the left without stopping after bursting from midfield. He then flicked the ball over the head of a defender with one foot and, as his bamboozled opponent slipped to the ground, volleyed into the net with the other.
Just like then, England will again be playing neighbor Scotland in the group stage at Wembley Stadium for this tournament.
“I remember watching highlights on the TV of Gazza — an unbelievable player,” Foden said. “The nation knows what he means to the country and what he did, so it won’t be too bad if I try to bring a bit of Gazza on to the pitch.”
He’s just the type of game-changing creative player who could help to unlock defenses, starting on Sunday against Croatia in England’s opening game.
Nurtured by Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, Foden arrives as a Premier League champion with 16 goals last season and as the newly crowned young player of the year, as voted by his fellow professionals.
“I have to try and keep my feet on the ground,” Foden said, “and just being me and keep doing what has done well for me this year.”
The likeness to Gascoigne chimes with Alan Shearer, an England striker at Euro ’96 who is now a BBC pundit.
“The way he handles the ball, his body position, his ability to pass it to the forwards, he’s so comfortable on the ball,” Shearer said earlier this year. “The way he receives the ball, he can score goals. The way he glides, his close control, left foot, right foot.”
While England hosted the entire Euro ‘96, this time it is sure to be playing at least the three group-stage games at Wembley in a tournament being played in 11 cities across Europe. Advancing as group winners will secure a last-16 game at Wembley rather than a trip to the continent. The semifinals and final are being played at England’s national stadium.
What links the 1996 team and the current group of players is more than just Foden’s hair. Gareth Southgate was in the squad that reached the semifinals 25 years ago and he’s now in charge of the team trying to go one better than reaching the last four in Russia at the World Cup in 2018.
Foden does at least have rare experience in this squad of international glory after winning the Under-17s World Cup with England in 2017 — a tournament in which he was also the Golden Boot winner as top scorer.
Now he’s one of the bright hopes for the senior team.
“I feel sorry for Gareth trying to pick an 11,” Foden said. “Whoever he leaves out, there will be top quality players on the bench. Whatever he does, I think the lads will be behind him and believe in him.”
Foden only made his full England debut in September against Iceland, a moment tarnished by being sent home for breaching coronavirus regulations.
“I made a massive mistake, I was young,” he said. “But Gareth said if I keep just doing well and keep performing I should get another opportunity.
“So I had to work hard for it and there are not many managers who would give you another opportunity, so I have to thank Gareth a lot for giving me another chance.”
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