Exclusive interview: Maddison ready to stake a claim

From a very young age, JAMES MADDISON wowed Coventry City’s academy staff with his phenomenal technical ability. After progressing through the youth ranks, the dynamic midfielder was handed his first team debut in August 2014 and that was it – he began to excite supporters. His level of performance was then rewarded just three months later as he was offered a professional contract, something he had always dreamt of.

Reflecting on that moment, Maddison said: “It was a very special time for me and my family. Making my debut for Coventry is the proudest moment of my short career so far, especially considering they are the team I grew up supporting.

“I have so many people to thank for the support they gave me during my time with the academy, especially Richard Stevens and Jason Farndon. They worked with me the most and I owe them massively for the time and effort they put in to help me improve as a player.”

Despite his confident demeanour on the pitch, Maddison is a very humble character and he is most grateful towards his family.

He said: “Obviously everyone who has assisted me to become the player and person I am deserves great thanks, but without my family I wouldn’t be where I am today.

“I can probably count on one hand how many matches my Mum, Dad and Uncle have missed in the last decade. They gave me advice, took me to training and games as well – I had always dreamed of becoming a professional footballer and it is largely down to them that I achieved that.”

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During his time representing the Sky Blues, Maddison shared the field with the likes of Callum Wilson and Cyrus Christie – players with unquestionable talent. Seeing their progression first hand motivated him to follow in their footsteps.

He said: “Despite being on the fringes of the team when Callum and Cyrus forced their way in, I trained with them every day and they are very gifted footballers. Callum is showcasing that he has the quality to play in the Premier League and Cyrus has established himself as one of the Championship’s best full-backs so I can see him making that step up too.

“The quality of coaching at Coventry is very good and you can’t look past the amount of academy graduates that go on to play for the first team – it doesn’t happen by accident,” he said.

Although the Sky Blues currently sit bottom of League One, Maddison insists that it isn’t all doom and gloom for the fans. A conveyor belt of young prospects still runs through the club and he is tipping the latest crop of starts to leave their mark.

“The likes of Ben Stevenson, George Thomas and Dion Kelly-Evans are now cementing their positions in the side and they are real talents. You then have people like Cian Harries who are destined for great things so it is exciting for the supporters to watch them grow and develop,” he said.

However, with the position the Sky Blues are in on and off the pitch, supporters recognise that it is difficult to keep hold of standout youngsters. The trio of Ben Stevenson, Jordan Willis and Ryan Haynes were kept at the Ricoh Arena in the January transfer window, but Maddison departed for Norwich City during the same period last season. 

He did sign a loan deal to remain with City until the end of the 2015/16 campaign, but it didn’t prove to be a successful time. Tony Mowbray’s men fell out of contention in the promotion race and poor form saw them finish the season in eighth position. 

Looking back on the collapse, Maddison said: “It was such an odd season. We had so many highs during the first half but it ultimately ended in disappointment as we failed to clinch a play-off spot.

“At one point, we looked like certainties to go up and the results against Millwall, Gillingham, Crewe and Bury showed how good of a team we were. It’s hard to point out why we underachieved during the second half of the season as the training sessions were still good and the effort remained.

“We just couldn’t get the results we were picking up early on and it was frustrating. I was desperate to leave Coventry with a promotion medal but it wasn’t to be in the end.”

Shortly after returning to Norwich City, Maddison was sent out on loan as he joined Scottish Premiership side Aberdeen on a short-term agreement. During his stay north of the border, he played a key part in the Don’s team under manager Derek McInnes. 

“After discovering that chances would be limited at Norwich, I just wanted to play games and Aberdeen appealed to me. I had already played a fair amount of League One games and I felt as if that would stand me in good stead,” he said.

“The prospect of playing against the likes of Rangers and Celtic in front of sold out stadiums was mouthwatering. I also featured in a cup final which was fantastic so the fact I was playing games and scoring goals will benefit me moving forward.”

During his time as a professional footballer so far, Maddison has scored some excellent goals but he will be remembered at Aberdeen for a free kick versus Rangers. Not only was it a pinpoint finish from 30 yards that nestled into the top corner, it also won the game for his side. 

When deciding if that is his favourite goal to date, Maddison said: “In terms of quality, it has to be the best I have scored. However, it isn’t my favourite. That would have to be my goal for Coventry against Crawley which meant more than people could imagine.

“To score the winner at 18 years of age in a game that ensured we didn’t get relegated to League Two was a surreal experience. Our supporters had been through a lot and it was great to find the net in that game.”

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The standard of football in Scotland has been questioned by many a supporter, and Maddison likens it to the third tier of the English game, branding it as “very physical and robust”. 

He added: “There are plenty of hefty challenges put in on the flair players and I took a few knocks during my time there. With no disrespect to the Scottish Premiership, it’s very similar to League One – the style is alike but there are some fantastic players in both divisions.”

Now back at a Norwich team chasing a play-off position in the Championship, Maddison has found appearances hard to come by. Despite that, he is remaining patient as he hopes to ignite his Canaries career sooner rather than later.

He said: “It’s all about just waiting for my opportunity because I know there are so many quality players to compete with in my position. When you are fighting for a place ahead of people like Wes Hoolahan, Steven Naismith and Alex Pritchard it is always going to be difficult.

“When my time comes, I know I have the quality to grasp the chance and stake a claim for a regular place.”

Former Coventry teammate Jacob Murphy has been lighting up Carrow Road this season with some dazzling displays, and Maddison takes encouragement from seeing the winger flourish. 

“Seeing him do so well is brilliant. He had a number of loans but he has finally broken through and become one of the first names the gaffer selects on the team sheet. 

“I know how much ability he has from playing with him last season and it is my aim to follow his lead now.

“My aims are to just keep training hard, showcase what I’m all about and hopefully force my way into the team. Whether that takes weeks or months, there will be an opportunity at some stage and it’s up to me to take it.”

Although he no longer represents Coventry City, Maddison still looks out for results and he often talks to his old teammates. With the Sky Blues now nine points from safety in League One, he knows it’s going to be a “very tough task” for Russell Slade’s men. 

He said: “Because they are so far adrift now it’s going to be incredibly difficult but there are some good players there.

“Speaking as a supporter, we have the Wembley trip to look forward to now but securing our status in the league is the priority – it won’t be easy.

“The fans have been through a lot and I really hope the lads can pull it off for them really, they deserve it.”

You can follow James Maddison on Twitter: @Madders10

Featured image courtesy of Danielle Edwards – you can visit her site here: http://www.danielleedwardsphotography.co.uk/

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