Tuesday’s assured 2-0 victory over Chelsea saw Leicester City’s James Maddison being propelled into the national spotlight and draw almost universal praise. Whilst the England midfielder did score The Foxes’ second goal to round off a solid performance on the pitch, it was actually his subsequent interview with Sky Sports’ Geoff Shreeves that drew the adulation of football fans and professionals, alike. In an age where post-matches interviews draw copy-and-paste responses each week, Maddison gave an interview that has been applauded for its insight, honesty and refreshing nature – a stark contrast from the tedious, repetitive statements that are usually churned out from those at the highest level who have been media trained to within an inch of their lives.
— Ian Wright (@IanWright0) January 20, 2021
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Geoff Shreeves’ interview starts in routine fashion; “How complete a team performance was that that sends you to the top of the Premier League?” Generally speaking, any fan would be able to act as a proxy for most professional footballers in answering this question. Allusions to digging in deep, battling for the three points and being ‘proud of the lads’. A quick answer and move on to the next stock response. Instead, James Maddison speaks for 50 entertaining seconds.
Full of character and an assertiveness that belies his age, the 24 year old bounces between different subjects with passion, enthusiasm and personality. “Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Top of the Premier League…probably for about 24 hours.” He laughs. He goes on to recognise that Leicester did indeed have to work for the result, but his facial expression and the inflection he uses show that it’s done with sincerity – “We worked hard(!)”. Additionally, he credits Brendan Rodgers’ tactical nous, saying “(he) had a little switch to almost go to a 4-4-2 out of possession and a 4-3-3 in possession.” Whilst not exactly a ground-breaking revelation, many registered that Maddison was giving an honest insight into tactics discussed in the half-time team talk and appreciated a rare peek behind the curtain.
Regarding Wilfred Ndidi’s set piece goal, Maddison starts off smiling and says it’s an area they targeted. “(Chelsea) switch off sometime from set-pieces and we knew that was something we can pick up.” He then switches to being openly critical of himself in a flash; “-and we haven’t scored enough goals from set-pieces. I’m pulling my hair out sometimes as the corner taker when you look at the stats that come up on the games and you see – ‘goals from set-pieces: Leicester City, bottom of the table, zero’ – so it’s really nice to see one come off. Bit of a relief, actually.” It’s this refreshing honesty and genuine display of emotion that shines through in the interview. What’s more, it paints Maddison as an intelligent footballer who is in tune with the analytical side of the game and keen to improve himself. He finishes his answer off with an act that is scarcely seen – acknowledging the good fortune of the goal with a tongue-in-cheek remark: “it’s always nice when you work on one and it comes off. We didn’t quite have one with a mis-hit shot from Harvey Barnes to set up Wilfred Ndidi to slice one in, but we’ll take it.”
A succinct question from Geoff Shreeves followed – “That’s 5 goals in 7 now. What’s that down to?”
Maddison’s response is over 1 minute long this time. Even more engaging.
He reveals he watches every game back afterwards, and is able to recall a specific post-game analysis in which he was criticised by Jamie Carragher for having low goal involvement numbers. He goes on to give even more specifics and an insight into his attitude to football and what goes on behind the scenes. “Me, the gaffer and Jack, the analyst, sat down – Jack’ll be buzzing that I’ve name dropped him – and looked at where I can get more goals.” He continues, “…little things like breaking into the box and getting beyond that last line and almost smelling where the ball’s going to drop. It’s not an easy thing to do…That’s something that I’ll keep improving on because I want numbers. I want goals and assists. I want people talking about me.” Indeed, James Maddison’s game does appear to have evolved into one which yields him more goals compared to previous seasons in the Premier League. And people are talking once again.
The comparison matrix above compares James Maddison’s goal involvements for each of the last three Premier League seasons. Whilst his assist numbers have remained relatively consistent, he is taking more shots than ever and converting at almost double the rate of previous seasons. As he alludes to in the interview, he does appear to be reaping the rewards of being in the right place at the right time and getting in behind the defence – resulting in a massive proportion of his goals now coming from inside the penalty box. Not only does this show his ability and willingness to implement coaching strategies to improve his game, his interview shows his understanding of the game and his selflessness in crediting others for this improvement.
Whilst Maddison’s interview isn’t entirely free of clichés, he displays the self-awareness to apologise to Geoff Shreeves and acknowledge that it’s a tired trope he’s about to use: “The next game – and as boring as it is, and I’m sorry I have to say it, Geoff – the most important game is the next game. And as cliché as it is, that’s how we’ve got to work and that’s why we’re top of the table.” For many, this sort of response would normally draw an eye-roll. But when Maddison says it, however, there’s not a doubt that he genuinely believes what he’s saying and it’s not just a platitude that’s been drilled into him as an automatic response. He shows a raw desire and focus to win games, he is keen to improve himself and the players around him, and he conducts himself with considered eloquence coupled with a contagious personality. In these ways, one could argue that he is the perfect embodiment of the ethos Brendan Rodgers has instilled at Leicester City.
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To many, this is just a good interview and nothing more. However, in the modern game where off-field actions and media attention are worth so much – particularly in England – this interview has catapulted Maddison back into the media limelight and, as an undeniable consequence, England manager Gareth Southgate’s thoughts. Moreover, hopefully it will act as a catalyst to seeing an increasing number of genuine and revealing interviews from other players in the Premier League in future, whereby people see the human behind the footballer rather than the media-trained robot.
Whilst the Leicester City man will likely be directly contending with Jack Grealish, Mason Mount and Phil Foden for a coveted spot in England’s midfield, if he continues to display the same level of performances off the pitch and the same contagious demeanour off it, he’ll certainly do his chances no harm. In fact, Maddison’s concluding statement in this interview perhaps best mirrors the situation of the former Norwich City man, himself; “People might talk about the United’s, the Liverpool’s, the Tottenham’s or whatever. But let’s let them talk. We’ll do our business in the background.” People might talk about England’s selection battle between Grealish and Mount, with Phil Foden being viewed as the future jewel in the midfield crown. But rest assured James Maddison will be focusing on doing his business in the background – though perhaps slightly less so after this impressive outing. Despite performing consistently well for a long time, it’s only now that he’s given such a good account of himself off the field that people have once again noticed the talent of the 24 year old and are clamouring for more.
This is comprehensively superb from James Maddison. Full of personality, offers so much insightful detail and honesty. More please. Much, much more.pic.twitter.com/wl7rb0SC7u
— Melissa Reddy (@MelissaReddy_) January 20, 2021