James Maddison ready to take stunning Tottenham start in to leading role for England

James Maddison ready to take stunning Tottenham start in to leading role for England

As the England squad packed up to leave their Al Wakrah training base the morning after their agonising World Cup quarter-final defeat to France, Gareth Southgate sought out James Maddison.

A surprise but deserving inclusion in Southgate’s squad for Qatar, Maddison was restricted to a watching brief as he nursed a painful knee injury picked up on the eve of the finals.

"Gareth said he knew it had been tough, but he was really impressed with the way I had carried myself round the group," said Maddison, who is back with England and preparing for Saturday’s Euros qualifier against Ukraine.

"Him putting his arm around me and saying that as we were leaving stuck with me.

"There was obviously a little bit of [resentment]. I remember being in my room after I got my knock and thinking, ‘Why now?’ But I absolutely loved being there.

"I think a younger version of myself would have been a bit more sulky, a bit more moody, a bit more moany. But I thought, you know what, I am at the World Cup for my country. That’s why I am hungry to be in the next one. I want that again -- but I want to be playing this time."

Maddison’s chances of a more significant role at next summer’s European Championship have surely improved since Qatar.

Over the summer, he left relegated Leicester for Tottenham in a £40million deal and has immediately cemented himself as the heartbeat of Ange Postecoglou’s revamped side, as well as being named the club’s new vice-captain.

In four League games, he already has two goals and two assists for unbeaten Spurs.

"It’s been easy for me to go [there] and be myself," Maddison said. "It’s a brilliant club and the supporters have made me feel so welcome and loved already. I still feel like they’ve got so much more to see of me.

"It’s quite exciting times for us. It’s been a good start and it can get even better."

There is an irresistible sense that Maddison is made for Spurs, a player perfectly in keeping with the club’s history of entertainers, and the rightness of the match is not lost on the 26-year-old.

There was also interest from Newcastle but Maddison felt like a Spurs player before he set foot in the club.

"I could just see myself playing for Tottenham," he said. "I could just see myself in that team, in that kit, in that stadium. It just fitted well for me.

"They’ve always had...that sort of midfielder who wants to be creative, entertain the fans and be a personality.

"Since Christian Eriksen, they probably haven’t had that type of player. I’m not putting myself on the same level. But I’m that type of player [too].

"I want to entertain ... And that will never change for me. That’s non-negotiable. That’s how I play."

Maddison has starred for Spurs and looks a perfect fit for the club (REUTERS)
Maddison has starred for Spurs and looks a perfect fit for the club (REUTERS)

When he was growing up, Maddison’s dad Gary, a graphic designer, put together compilation videos featuring Paul Gascoigne for him, and more recently he has studied Wayne Rooney, Philippe Coutinho, David Silva and Eriksen -- whose departure in January 2020 left a creative void at Spurs which is only now being filled.

"I loved watching players who had a little bit of cheekiness about them...who show their personality when they play," Maddison continued. "Gazza was a perfect example.

"I remember a clip where the cameras are going down the national anthem and it gets to him and he sticks his tongue out and starts messing around and going all bog-eyed. And I just love that.

"That’s why I like interacting with fans and showing my personality.

"Me moving the ball out from the corner with the Bournemouth fans -- it’s just little stuff like that which I enjoy doing, that keeps me hungry. I like the theatre element of almost being the villain a little bit."

Maddison also believes he is a good fit for Postecoglou, who has quickly transformed Tottenham’s style from the negative football of Antonio Conte to a high-risk, high-octane approach, based on hard running and a commitment to getting forward.

"The way he wants to play suits me perfectly because it’s how I see football," Maddison said. "That’s how I would want the game to be played I think if I was manager, so I’m fulfilling that as a player.

"He likes players who can take the ball and be brave and bravery is not always just flying into a tackle or shouting at someone. Bravery is having the balls to take the ball and if you give it away, go and take it again.

"The gaffer wants to press high and I’ve been pushing up with whoever’s played as the number nine.

"He says, ‘What’s the point in not pressing high and sitting off?’ Then if they play long, you have to run back anyway. So it is the same amount of running but you might win the ball – and the perfect example of it was my goal [against Burnley] at the weekend."

In Poland on Saturday, Maddison will be hoping for a spot on the left of England’s front three alongside Harry Kane, briefly his teammate at Spurs.

The pair offered a tantalising glimpse of their potential partnership in the friendly against Shakhtar Donetsk, when Maddison assisted two of Kane’s four goals, but it was to be the England captain’s last appearance for Spurs before a £100m move to Bayern Munich.

"I wasn’t naive enough to go in there thinking there wasn’t a chance Harry Kane could leave," Maddison said. "I wasn’t going to Tottenham for Harry Kane.

"Listen, I think he’s the best No9 in the world and I would have loved to have played with him for more than a couple of pre-season games to be honest.

"But this is the challenge now and we’ve got some brilliant players at Spurs, honestly."