Maddison has gone from an England outcast to man of the moment

How James Maddison has gone from an England outcast to man of the moment after his World Cup selection… 18 months ago he was on the bench for Leicester’s FA Cup final win, but he’s turned his form around to merit a squad spot for Qatar

  • James Maddison has been included in England’s 26-man World Cup squad
  • The Leicester playmaker has been in sparkling form despite their league woe
  • Since August 2021, Maddison has 18 goals and 12 assists in the league alone 
  • Click here for all the latest World Cup 2022 news and updates

The path that led James Maddison to one of the best moments of his life started with one of the worst.

Before training with Leicester on Thursday morning, Maddison went into Brendan Rodgers’ office to return a missed call from the England manager. Moments later, the 25-year-old was ‘full of the joy of the world’ after Gareth Southgate told him he had been included in his squad for the World Cup.

Maddison’s selection is fully deserved – he has been the best English attacking midfielder in the Premier League in 2022 and leaving him out would have been a huge error.

James Maddison has plenty to smile about after being selected for England’s World Cup squad

Maddison’s fine form for Leicester City has seen him force his way into the Three Lions setup

He will now be hoping to add to his solitary cap won for his country back in November 2019

Yet in May last year, Maddison was having a different conversation in Rodgers’ office, as the Foxes boss told his playmaker he would not be in the starting XI for the FA Cup final. Though Rodgers never doubted Maddison’s ability, he had concerns about his defensive work and contribution when Leicester did not have the ball.

Maddison is thought to have been hugely disappointed but, to his credit, he listened and learned. ‘It was a tough call,’ remembered Rodgers. ‘He had suffered a wee bit with injury leading up to the final and his energy wasn’t quite at the same level as it is now.

‘His talent has always been there but at the highest level it is about work ethic and pressing, too. I was able to show him statistically why I had come to the decision. Then it was a case of supporting him and showing him the levels he would need to reach to be recognised as a top player.

‘But there was also a physical element. A deficiency when we got him tested – and that was the main factor in that ability to make repetitive sprints. After our medical team saw that, the differences for him were huge and now you see his running, power and strength and then you add it to the talent. That was a key moment.’

Maddison started last season slowly but since the turn of the year he has hardly looked back. Since August 2021, he has 18 goals and 12 assists in the league alone. Yet only last Saturday he slunk out of Goodison Park and had a clear message for anyone who wanted to discuss his prospects of going to Qatar.

Maddison was a substitute during Leicester’s FA Cup final win over Chelsea in May 2021

Since August 2021, the playmaker has 18 goals and 12 assists in the Premier League alone

ENGLAND SQUAD FOR THE WORLD CUP

Goalkeepers: Jordan Pickford (Everton), Nick Pope (Newcastle), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal).

Defenders: Kieran Trippier (Newcastle), Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Kyle Walker (Manchester City), Ben White (Arsenal), John Stones (Manchester City), Eric Dier (Tottenham), Conor Coady (Wolves), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Luke Shaw (Manchester United).

Midfielders: Declan Rice (West Ham), Jude Bellingham (Borussia Dortmund), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Kalvin Phillips (Manchester City), Mason Mount (Chelsea), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea). 

Forwards: Raheem Sterling (Chelsea), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), James Maddison (Leicester), Harry Kane (captain, Tottenham), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Callum Wilson (Newcastle).

The man with just 34 minutes of England football to his name had been advised by his club not to talk about the Three Lions and the look on his face suggested he was braced for disappointment. Rodgers, in another part of the stadium, was similarly pessimistic. If only they had known the reality.

Southgate had decided two weeks ago that Maddison would be in his squad and took great delight in punching his number into his phone on Thursday to give him the good news.

Many thought Maddison’s misguided trip to a casino in October 2019 – after he had dropped out of an England squad with illness – counted against him.

‘I did not have a problem,’ Southgate insisted on Thursday. ‘It was unfortunate for him because it became a big issue but there was not the drama for us that it seemed to be for everyone else. It’s just that he has always been up against really good players.’

Plenty have Southgate down as a safety-first coach but choosing someone who plays with joy may reveal what he wants to see from England. Too often his squads have been loaded with defensive-minded players – he picked 14 of them for September dates with Italy and Germany – but this squad has a different feel. Where there was once grey, there is now colour.

Maddison is one of eight England forwards and he is performing better than many of his colleagues. The question now is what role Southgate chooses to give him in the opening contest against Iran. The notion that he is an orthodox No 10, which some pundits have said counts against him in Southgate’s mind, is as mistaken as it is bizarre. Maddison has rarely played there for Leicester, with his best form coming as an attacking No 8 or, since last season, from the right of a three-man attack.

England boss Gareth Southgate will hope Maddison can provide an attacking spark in Qatar

‘I watch England now and I know there’s a gap for me,’ Maddison told Sportsmail in an interview two years ago. ‘I know I can go and make an impact on the international stage, it’s just about being patient. I’ve had a taste and I want more. It’s about taking that chance and I know I’m capable. Hopefully it will come soon.’

During that conversation, Maddison also said he wanted ‘people talking about me again’. He has made sure of that, all right. He is at the perfect age, too, with his 26th birthday falling between England’s group games against Iran on Monday week and the USA four days later.

‘He is playing as well as any of the attacking players in this country,’ Southgate said on Thursday before listing his abilities, such as shooting from distance and taking set-pieces, that will be key when trying to break down nations whose first instinct is stubbornness. ‘I decided a couple of weeks ago to pick him.’

Make no mistake, James Maddison’s time is now.

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