The 21-year-old produced a masterclass in the 5-0 win over Andorra that moved England a step closer towards Qatar. But Southgate is determined not to overburden the playmaker, who endured a frustrating Euros when expected to be one of the breakout performers.
“The only thing I am loath to do is put any pressure on him,” said the England manager. “We’ve known since 15, 16 what might be possible and we are seeing that. His evolution at his club has been perfect. We know what is possible. The fascinating part is what that role might be and it could be any one of a number, frankly, because he’s got the ability to play in many different positions.”
Despite his virtuoso display in Andorra, Foden is not guaranteed to start against Hungary tomorrow, with Southgate carefully managing his development on the international stage.
“I don’t want to create too much for him,” he added. “I felt there was a lot ahead of us of this summer, and the danger is we create too much, which is too much to live up to.
“Let us just enjoy him. He is a special player, without a doubt. Let him grow into the team. We have to try to bed him in at the right time and get him positionally right for the right games. But we are delighted to have him.”
Injury cost Foden his chance of playing in the final of the Euros against Italy, and Southgate has revealed his painful talks with the player at the time — and how impressed he has been with his mental strength since.
He said: “We knew he was hobbling around two days before, but we weren’t quite sure how the injury had happened. As a dad, you are talking to a 20-year-old kid and you know how much it meant to all those players to be involved, so it is heart-breaking when you are sharing a moment like that.
“It wasn’t a case of me having to rule him out. He just knew, he tried to run and knew it wasn’t going to be possible.
“In football, you have to be resilient. From when they have been 12, 13, they have always been judged, always been assessed. He’s got that toughness.
“I don’t doubt that is ever going to be an issue for him. He has that in his make-up. Whatever is thrown his way, he will be able to handle it.”