One of the most overwhelmingly popular picks in the Team of the Decade poll, with 64% of the vote in his position, is none other than Coventry’s own James Maddison.
A player who it was apparent was special even before he kicked a ball for the club, as soon as Maddison got onto the pitch, it was clear why there was such hype. A goal from a direct free-kick on his first start for the club – an otherwise miserable 4-1 defeat at Oldham Athletic – was the beginning of the legend of James Maddison.
There was an understandable wariness about thrusting such a young player into the spotlight so soon. Maddison only started one more game in 2013/14, with the red card that he picked up at Doncaster Rovers on Boxing Day underlining why he wasn’t yet trusted to play regularly. However, a winning goal against Crawley Town on the final day of the campaign suggested that the following year was set to be his breakout.
The opening weeks of the following campaign saw Maddison add an extra level of assuredness to his game. For all of the ease with which he could take control of the ball under pressure, glide through challenges and just generally make the difficult things look easy, Maddison was now playing with the poise and certainty of someone who knew they much better than the level they were playing at.
Just as Maddison was beginning to consistently dominate games at League One level, a crude tackle at Walsall in August saw him spend much of the next three months out injured. While the team moved to the top of the table, the prospect of Maddison’s return loomed over the campaign, suggesting that there were higher gears for the team to be found.
Goals against Port Vale and Chesterfield upon his return over the Christmas period demonstrated that Maddison hadn’t lost a step in spite of the injury. A crushing 6-0 win at Crewe Alexandra, with Adam Armstrong, Jacob Murphy and Joe Cole all on top form, suggested that everything was coming together.
However, his form upon his return from injury also happened to coincide with the opening of the January transfer window. In a season that looked to have been a turning point in SISU’s ownership of the club, those in charge reverted to type in the most agonising fashion possible, cashing in on Maddison in the final seconds of the January transfer window, to Norwich City.
Although the deal involved a loan-back agreement, the gut-punch that the moment of Maddison’s sale provided appeared to knock the wind out of the sails of the team’s league campaign. There were inevitable suggestions in some quarters that Maddison had ‘believed his own hype’ after performances that weren’t quite on the same level as before, but this was a young player experiencing his longest spell as a first-team regular and having to deal with the marked man status that comes with being a League One player who had earned a move to a Premier League side.
Maddison is the player in the Team of the Decade with the fewest appearances for the club to his name – just 42. However, it was that combined thrill of watching such a supremely talented youngster who also happened to be from our own academy that made the excitement around James Maddison so intense. That he has subsequently proven himself at the highest level serves to justify the visceral excitement that we saw from Maddison in a Sky Blues shirt.