Nevertheless, Richard Stevens, then Coventry’s academy manager, revealed that Maddison had recently dropped by to speak to the U15 boys there. “It was not planned but they were around so he chatted to them for half an hour. All he wants to talk about is football.”
Stevens would take no credit for identifying Maddison’s talent early. “Anyone would have spotted him. The opposition always did.” Indeed, he became used to one particular phrase when taking his teams to away grounds. “Is he playing?” His reputation preceded him.
Leicester City supporters will recognise the talent that Stevens described. “He was always looking to make things happen. He was the one who would do more and ignite games.”
In 2022, that continues to be a succinct summary of what makes Maddison special.
The City No.10 scored eight goals in a run of 11 matches over the festive season and into the New Year.
In the three years since Brendan Rodgers arrived at Leicester, only Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne has played more successful through-balls in the Premier League.
That is partly a product of Jamie Vardy’s presence up front but it is also indicative of Maddison’s will and skill to play the penetrative pass that others are unable to execute.
It makes him one of the most entertaining players around.
The musician and poet Labi Siffre says that life is not what you do, it is what you notice. Maddison does plenty but it is that ability to spot what others do not see that is so rare.
Successful through-balls by Premier League players since Brendan Rodgers' appointment
|Kevin De Bruyne||60|
How does he appear to have such good vision? Perhaps there was a clue in the build-up to what should have been the winning goal against Tottenham in January.
He glanced at Harvey Barnes ahead of him and then back to Hamza Choudhury, the player on the ball. His eyes then moved to Youri Tielemans, the receiver of the next pass, before swivelling to check on Barnes’ position once more.
When Tielemans released the ball to him, the picture was already clear thanks to those five scans inside three seconds. A quick one-two with Barnes later and Maddison had his goal.
That was one of eight in a run of 11 matches over the winter, the scoring form of his life. There were five assists too, the sort of numbers that he knows he will now be judged on.
It brings to mind the post-match interview in January of last year after taking Leicester to the top of the Premier League with a 2-0 win over Chelsea. Maddison said then that he had taken heed of Jamie Carragher’s earlier comment about the need to up his numbers.
Not every player watches games back to improve. He does.
James Maddison was a prominent protagonist of Leicester's run to lifting the FA Cup last term.
Speaking to Rodgers soon afterwards about that exchange, he felt it said a lot about Maddison’s willingness to learn. “I think he showed a great example of his mindset and that he is open to growing and becoming better. Sometimes it is only when you get older in your life that you do not get as emotional about words and you can let them go much easier.
“But I think what James demonstrated in that moment, obviously he watches football and he analyses it, and he took the positive from Carra’s observation.
“He knows it has been a continual theme for myself and him. But when you hear it out there from someone else who he respects in the game you can use it in a positive way.
“It tells you everything about him and how he wants to grow and develop as a person.”
Now part of the leadership group at Leicester, that development continues. And those same words that his old academy manager used to hear whispered when Maddison was just a boy can still be heard as the buzz builds outside King Power Stadium on a matchday.
“Is he playing?”
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