Michael Bailey: The numbers back up the feelings – City have got themselves the real deal midfielder
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
The conversations now involving the name James Maddison say it all – MICHAEL BAILEY analyses the midfielder’s rise to Norwich City prominence.
Trying, failing, succeeding, good intentions, bad recruitment, the right way to do things and the wrong way to go about it – all embodied by one Norwich City player.
James Maddison’s late deadline day arrival in the winter of 2016 took place in a window largely castigated for its failure.
Perhaps given the youngster’s arrival was never going to be able to address the Canaries’ Premier League need, it was.
But those around at the time would say what’s happening now is exactly what they foresaw – a top young talent blossoming at City, thanks to a few loan moves and a bit of time.
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After all had City not struck in that window of opportunity, they would have no doubt lost their shot altogether.
City didn’t really need another number 10, of course. There were plenty around and the likes of Alex Pritchard have been added since. But then, what has become apparent this season is how little that sole position utilises Maddison’s all-round game.
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The young man fouls a lot, gets fouled a lot, covers miles of ground and digs in with the best. And that’s without touching on how sweet his right foot can be.
Even Maddison jokes that every one of his interviews seems to involve a question or two on Wes Hoolahan. Maddison always answers them with the utmost respect too – the kind genuinely felt by someone who loves what his team-mate can do.
But in truth, they are questions that can only touch on a portion – albeit an eye-catching one – of the midfielder’s game.
City’s partial attempt at building for the future by snapping up Maddison’s signature from Coventry so early was always the right idea. But as acknowledged by sporting director Stuart Webber this week, what happened next left only more questions – right up to the point that Maddison asked to stay at City to fight for his place following his Aberdeen loan success.
When the midfielder finally got a few minutes here and there to show what he had under Alan Irvine, he looked just as comfortable and influential as he does now. Why it took more than three months will remain one of last season’s little mysteries.
We are just 11 games into the new Championship season – Maddison’s first at this level – and of course, there have been times when he seemed in need of a little respite. The 20-year-old looked short of his usual level at Millwall – but then so did everyone else.
However, moreover the midfielder has been key in the good moments and a big miss when he hasn’t been around. That in itself speaks volumes – and the numbers back it up.
Maddison sits second on his own in City’s Championship goalscoring charts, two behind leader Nelson Oliveira (4).
Only Hoolahan can match his assists tally (2), while Maddison (2.2), Mario Vrancic (2.3) and the Irishman (2.5) are out on their own in terms of City’s key passes per game specialists.
Meanwhile, only four players in the entire Championship have a higher pass success percentage than Maddison’s 88.8pc.
But as much as his stunning strike at Middlesbrough and gorgeous free-kick at Reading underlined the glitter in his game, the dirty side has stood out just as much.
Only five players in the Norwich squad have committed more fouls per game than Maddison’s average of 1.2pg, while only Ipswich forward Joe Garner has been fouled more than Maddison (3.3 times per game) in the second tier.
Even national statisticians are drawing fancy star charts to show just how impressed they are with the numbers City’s number 23 is posting in his first full season in the Championship.
Yet all the numbers really do is back up what is obvious on the pitch: Maddison looks the part, and clearly won’t stop here.
England Under-21s picked up an excellent 3-1 win over Scotland on Friday night at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium – scene of Maddison’s EFL Championship goal of the month nomination for September.
The squad’s midfield includes some young players establishing themselves in the Premier League such as Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Demarai Gray and Tom Davies – but just as many players showing what they can do in the second tier or in Jack Harrison, a player who appears to have been picked on the basis of how many names he could drop.
Maybe the picture James Maddison is painting remains just short of Aidy Boothroyd’s footballing consciousness.
But then, the very fact there is now a discussion to be had shows the impact City’s Mad-man is making – and the player they have on their hands.