James Maddison: ‘When I go for a roast dinner with my family, I like to be the main man’

Gary Maddison was not a Tottenham supporter. Not until the last few weeks, anyway. But there was a time when he paid particular attention to Spurs, and a reason. “My dad’s favourite player when I was growing up was Gazza,” said his son, James, who has inherited the mantle Paul Gascoigne had more than three decades ago, of Tottenham’s resident creator and entertainer, part technical talent, part bubbly character.

If some summer signings require time and explanation, Maddison and Tottenham seemed a synergy of player and club, a perfect match. It was the impression the £40m buy forged. “That was one of the reasons I wanted to go to Tottenham, purely because I could just see myself playing for Tottenham. I’m not even 100 percent sure what I mean by that, so don’t ask me. But I could just see myself in that team, in that kit, in that stadium. It just fitted well for me.”

Even as Maddison struggled to define what a Tottenham player he is, he nevertheless appears to belong in a tradition. For a club without a league title in 62 years, Spurs have had a disproportionate number of flair players, many of them attack-minded midfielders or wingers. The club of Glenn Hoddle and Chris Waddle, Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa, Gascoigne and David Ginola, Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart tended to offer excitement.

“And they’ve always had that type of player,” Maddison added. “And that sort of midfielder who wants to be creative and entertain the fans and be a personality. Christian Eriksen in more recent years but since him they probably haven’t had that type of player. I’d put myself in that category, I’m not putting myself on the same level. But I’m that type of player.”

As he indicated, it is one they have lacked of late, under a trio of managerial puritans, in Jose Mourinho, Nuno Espirito Santo and Antonio Conte. Maddison, appointed vice-captain before he debuted, can look the face of ‘Angeball’, the more attacking ethos of Ange Postecoglou. It helps that Eriksen was a player he admired during his rise. David Silva and the Liverpool version of Philippe Coutinho were other inspirations. But if his father idolised Gazza, the young Maddison also looked up to Wazza. “I would probably say Wayne Rooney was the big one in my childhood,” he said. “I used to love Wazza. He was a bit more feisty than me – a bit harder into a tackle – but his personality and the way he came through in the way he played.

That childhood was videoed by his father, producing YouTube montages of an emerging talent. Maddison jokes that Premier League copyright rules prevent him from carrying on. Perhaps that explains why he has long seemed comfortable on camera, gravitating towards the limelight. “I loved watching players who had a little bit of cheekiness about them; Gazza was a perfect example,” he said, chuckling at the thought of the midfielder sticking his tongue out during the national anthem in the 1990 World Cup.

Maddison’s exuberant streak is reflected in his style of play. It is an outgoing attitude, rather than arrogance. “It’s not a conscious effort to try and be the showman,” he said. “That’s just how I play football. That’s just how I am as a person, [when] I go for a roast dinner with my family, I like to be the main man.”

That confidence can equip him for the most daunting tasks. Tottenham’s record scorer and, Maddison said, arguably their greatest ever player vacated the No 10 shirt this summer when Harry Kane joined Bayern Munich. He took it. “I wasn’t naive enough to go in there thinking there wasn’t a chance Harry Kane could leave Tottenham,” he said. “The club asked me, then of course I wanted to wear it. It’s my favourite number. I’ve got it tattooed on me, I loved that number growing up as a kid so I was never going to say no.”

James Maddison in training with England at St George’s Park (The FA via Getty Images)
James Maddison in training with England at St George’s Park (The FA via Getty Images)

Thus far, four games in the shirt have brought a Kane-esque return of two goals and two assists, plus a place in the England squad. Once on the outside looking in, he is now becoming a regular choice. “I think I’m probably too intelligent to think that I’m in and cemented,” he nevertheless said.

He only has three caps; perhaps the absences of Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling will afford him the chance to add to that against Ukraine and Scotland. That tally might be higher but for a knee injury that meant he was unavailable for the group games at the World Cup; by the time he was fit again, Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford were all in form.

“I think a younger version of myself would have been a bit more sulky, a bit more moody, a bit more moany,” Maddison admitted, but, more mature now, he tried to be supportive and highlighted the empathetic man-management of Gareth Southgate. “Gareth gave me a massive compliment as we were leaving,” he said. “He said he knew it has been tough with the injury and not featuring, but he was really impressed with the way I had carried myself round the group. Him putting his arm around me and saying that as we were leaving stuck with me.”

It gives Maddison an extra motivation to play at Euro 2024 but, as he looks for further opportunities with England, he is looking a natural fit for a white shirt at his new club.