EXC INT: Maddison desperate to be England and Leicester's main man

EXCLUSIVE: ‘I want people talking about me again’: James Maddison on his burning desire to be Leicester and England’s main man, the Foxes’ current Premier League title tilt… and THAT casino visit

  • James Maddison is now fully fit again after overcoming hip surgery this year
  • Maddison has only played five league games between March 9 and November 8
  • Now, the playmaker is keen to help league leaders Leicester in their title bid
  • The Foxes travel to defending champions Liverpool on Sunday in a crunch game 

James Maddison’s football-mad family will be glued to their screens when the Premier League leaders take on the champions on Sunday night. There is just one problem: the Leicester star’s mother, Una, is a Liverpool fan.

Maddison’s parents were at Anfield for this fixture last season, when their son scored the equaliser but Liverpool claimed a 2-1 victory with a controversial stoppage-time penalty.

‘She’ll be watching the game closely and I’ll be making sure that she’s supporting Leicester and not Liverpool,’ smiles Maddison, as he speaks to Sportsmail over Zoom from Leicester’s Belvoir Drive training ground. 

James Maddison is looking to kickstart his season after a year that’s been blighted by injury

Maddison is now fully fit and in contention to start for Leicester City at Liverpool on Sunday

The match will be of particular interest to the Maddison family with his mother a Liverpool fan

‘I always take the mick out of her and tell her she is just a glory hunter, but she and my Auntie Catherine are big Liverpool fans and have been for years. I’ve seen pictures of them when they were younger in Liverpool tops so she’s not just one of those fake ones who’s jumped on the bandwagon. 

‘I try to keep her in line about it. She was in one of the boxes at Anfield last year when I scored and that was a great moment for her, she got a bit emotional. But I didn’t hear about her reaction when they scored the winner in the 91st minute! She might have jumped up for that one, who knows? She acted disappointed in the car on the way home, but I’m not so sure.’

Maddison talks as he plays — bold, engaging and with a perceptible swagger. He wants to be the main man and he sees no reason to hide it, hence his disappointment at missing out on the most recent England squad and his certainty that ‘there is a gap for me’ in the national side.

One example is instructive: instead of delegating his social media activity to a management company, as many sports stars do, Maddison likes to get stuck in, whether it is promising signed shirts or boots for fans, or trading jibes with Jeremy Clarkson. The TV personality said on Twitter that Maddison spends too much time styling his hair; Maddison replied by telling Clarkson that he should be so lucky.

‘I won’t be employing a PR company any time soon,’ he reflects. ‘I am James Maddison — I don’t want someone else to be James Maddison for me.

The midfielder, who turns 24 on Monday, carries himself with a swagger on and off the pitch

‘I watch interviews with other people in sport and they’re so scripted and boring, just the same thing. That’s OK as everyone is different, but I want to showcase who I am, whether you meet me on the street, come to the training ground or watch me play. The manager always talks about playing with personality and I love being fouled, and being booed by opposing fans. That’s just me, so when I saw the Clarkson tweet, I thought I’d have a go back.

‘He doesn’t get a free hit just because he’s not a footballer. It was all good fun and clean-hearted. I never heard back from him, so I’ll take the victory on that one.’

Yet accompanying Maddison’s self-confidence is a ferocious dedication to football and a childlike enthusiasm for the sport. Before our interview, Maddison — who turns 24 on Monday — marvels at a clip of Diego Maradona working his magic on a Napoli training pitch that resembles a paddy field. He describes himself as a ‘student of the game’ and rarely misses a televised match when he isn’t playing.

During the spring lockdown, Maddison returned to the family home in Coventry and when the Bundesliga became the first major European league to restart after the shutdown, he and his father Gary devoured every game. He did ‘keepy-uppy against the wall’ and played games against his younger brother, Ben, in the garden, taking great care to avoid his X-rated sliding tackles.

During the first Covid-19 lockdown, Maddison returned to Coventry to be with his family

None of this, though, was any substitute for playing. The suspension of football, plus a hip injury that required surgery, meant Maddison started only five league games between March 9 and November 8. For a man who loves the limelight as much as he loves his job, there have been difficult days.

‘I play football because I love it,’ he says. ‘When you’re a young kid, you don’t see the end of the journey where the fame, the money, the contracts and the agents come into it.

‘Some people will lose that love but I never will. I love training, I love discussing the game, I love listening to the manager (Brendan Rodgers), the tactical side, learning and improving.

‘I don’t just come in and pick up my money. I go home and watch all the games that are on TV, in the Premier League and the Championship.

‘So when you’re injured there are dark days. You question yourself and, when you’re not as sharp as you want to be in those early sessions, you get frustrated. You sit in the changing room, just desperate to get back to your best level. What if I don’t come back the same player?

Maddison is a huge admirer of Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers and loves listening to him

‘Then you are forgotten about a little bit, other players are talked about (more than you) and you get pushed to the side. I like putting pressure on myself, I like to be the one people are talking about and analysing — almost like they have a ‘Player Cam’ on me.

‘I like to be the main player and I want people talking about James Maddison again. In the last few weeks I’ve felt as sharp as I have for a year and hopefully that can continue in the Premier League and in Europe.’

Leicester’s poor second half of last season, when they lost a place in the Champions League on the final day despite spending most of the campaign in the top four, left many to question how they would perform this term — even though finishing fifth was still an impressive achievement.

There has been no sign of a hangover during the early weeks, as Rodgers’ men have claimed 18 points from a possible 24 — including wins at Manchester City and Arsenal — to move to the summit, as well as maximum points from their opening three Europa League games.

Maddison attributes their flying start to a meeting the squad and staff held at The Grove hotel in Hertfordshire in the off-season, when Rodgers split them into groups of four and five to review the 2019-20 campaign and suggest how they might do even better this time.

Maddison was in a group with Marc Albrighton, goalkeeping coach Mike Stowell and two members of the Under 23 squad.

Last season ended in bitter disappointment for the Foxes as they missed out on the top four

He then had to deliver a presentation that lasted ‘about 50 minutes’ to the rest of the group, and hopes it is the starting point for a season to rival Leicester’s Premier League title campaign of 2015-16, which Maddison labels ‘the biggest underdog achievement in sporting history’.

‘When you’re at the training ground, the whole place reminds you of (the title win),’ he explains. ‘I’m very close to Marc Albrighton, and he and all the other title winners talk about it with such fond memories. I was at Coventry at the time and I was sure Leicester would fall away, so much so that I refused to put any of them in my fantasy team.

‘They all have replica Premier League trophies at home and I’m jealous of that. It’s the biggest you can achieve and the one I really want to win. Hopefully I can join the club one day.

‘I have a trophy cabinet at home and there are quite a few in there, but they are all individual trophies. There are not enough with massive handles, which is what it’s all about. I believe we have the tools to challenge for those titles.

‘That meeting helped us put last season behind us. The manager always talks about mentality and that has changed.

Maddison hopes he and his team-mates can replicate Leicester’s 2015-16 title winners

‘When we go into big games now, we think, “We’re going to win this”. I don’t see why we can’t go to Liverpool and play like we did at City and Arsenal.’

Success at club level should bring international recognition, too. Yet so far Maddison’s senior England action has been restricted to 34 minutes as a substitute against Montenegro a year ago.

Speaking for the first time about his visit to a casino in October 2019, after he had been sent home by England due to illness, Maddison rejects the idea that it may influence Gareth Southgate’s thinking today.

‘That was nothing,’ he stresses. ‘I was withdrawn from the squad because I was ill and a couple of days later I felt better.

‘I went and watched the game and had a game of cards because that’s a hobby of mine and it was magnified to a level it should never have been. I was picked in the next squad and I made my debut.

Maddison has won just won one England cap to his name so far but is desperate to add more

‘You have to be careful, especially with social media and camera phones, but whether I’m picked for England will purely be about football reasons.

‘I watch England now and I know there’s a gap for me. 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. Look at Jack Grealish — before the Belgium game he had never made a competitive start, and then he was the best player on the pitch.

‘It’s about taking that chance and I know I’m capable. Hopefully it will come around soon.’

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