During pre-season, and even towards the end of last season, it was becoming increasingly clear that James Maddison was going to play a pivotal part in our team this campaign. A product of the Coventry City Academy system, Maddison had earned plaudits during his loan spell with Aberdeen, especially after a belting free kick against Rangers in September 2016.
After returning to Carrow Road for the second half of the 2016/17 season, many fans, including myself, were left frustrated at the lack of game time the youngster was receiving. Whether Alex Neil would have blooded Maddison into the first team frame if the Scot had remained in charge, we will never know. But following Neil’s departure, and with Alan Irvine taking the reins until the end of the season, we began to see just what a special player we had on our hands.
After just a few substitute appearances, including a debut league goal to seal a 3-1 away win at Preston, excitement was building amongst fans looking forward to the prospect of seeing more of Maddison the following season.
Now, given that we are in January and over half way through the season, I think it’s fair to say that that excitement was more than justified. After a match winning strike against Bristol City on Saturday, the 21-year old is now our joint league top scorer, along with our top assist creator. Given that this is his first full season of Championship football, makes above stats even more impressive.
However, now is the time where the young man’s undoubted ability will be stretched even further. The departure of fellow frontmen Alex Pritchard and Yanic Wildschut combined with the dry form of Nelson Oliveira mean that City’s attacking threat will now be even more so centred around Maddison.
A man evidently brimming with confidence at the moment – it’s likely that the expectation on himself will be received with a ‘bring it on’ attitude. Although, an injury or loss of form to City’s prized asset could see what is an already bleak looking ‘goals scored’ column transitioning from critical to severe. And when you’re the most fouled player in the league, surely an injury at some point is inevitable.
And then, of course, comes the inevitable transfer speculation. With one key component of the Norwich City machine having already waved goodbye to Carrow Road, it’s unbearable to think of the consequences if Maddison were to follow suit. But hey, let’s just cross that bridge when we come to it (deep breaths).
As special, talented, priceless (the list of adjectives goes on) as Maddison is, putting the weight of our offensive needs on his young shoulders is not a sustainable way to continue the season. Farke has admitted himself how physically demanding the Championship is, which is especially evident now with the amount of sports science information at every club’s disposal.
It seems as if now is the right time to loosen the purse strings, but not too much and on the right player, just to ease the pressure off Maddison, or even to build a partnership with him like the one that was beginning to flourish with Pritchard. However, spending ‘not too much’ AND ‘on the right player’ hasn’t exactly been our strength over the last few years.
But this time we have no choice. We have to get it right. It’s no secret the precarious position the club finds itself in financially. Let’s not forget, we are only six points off the play offs. It’ll be difficult, but it’s certainly doable. Bringing in just one quality acquisition to share the work load with Maddison will give us at least a fighting chance of making the top six. Otherwise, it’s probable that he’ll simply burn out. Which then leaves Wes, who, as much as we all love him, has showed his age this season in cameo appearances and Vrancic, who is beginning to find his feet in a more deep lying role.
Who knows, maybe Maddison can keep his standard of performance at this exceptional level until the end of the season. After all, he certainly has age, confidence and momentum on his side.
Whatever the future holds for him, it has certainly been a pleasure to watch such a technically gifted player represent our team, who I’m sure will go on to achieve big things in the game.
Enjoy him while he’s here, we’re lucky to have him.