OPINION | James Maddison was the big ‘what-if’ for England

James Maddison was the main talking point before Gareth Southgate picked his England squad ahead of the World Cup. Maddison hadn’t been involved within the England set-up since November 2019 and so despite his impressive start to the season, there were many doubts surrounding whether he would make the squad.

The Leicester City midfielder was however selected in the final 26-man squad but failed to make a single appearance during England’s World Cup campaign.

Unfortunately for Maddison, he picked up minor knee injury which kept him out of full training for the opening week or so. His first inclusion in the match-day squad came in the final group game clash versus Wales and he continued to feature as an unused substitute against Senegal and France before England were knocked out of the competition to the latter.

Maddison certainly deserved at least a cameo off the bench, especially when chasing the game on Saturday versus France, but strangely, Southgate reluctantly failed to use one of his most in-form players.

Since August 2021, Maddison has scored 19 goals whilst assisting 12 times, with those 31 goal contributions putting him only behind Harry Kane within the England squad. A staggeringly impressive tally considering he ranks above the likes of Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka who both played an instrumental role for England in Qatar.

Maddison could have been the difference versus France. As England fought to equalise in the last 15 minutes, Maddison’s creativity would have been hugely beneficial coming off the bench considering the lack of bravery shown on the ball with Jordan Henderson and Mason Mount not particularly showing any adventurous endeavour in attack.

To note, It is not a knock on Henderson or Mount but Maddison’s trade is being that creative outlet and using his natural inventive instincts to carve chances out within tight areas. Not to mention his superb set-piece ability which undeniably would have been advantageous with England’s last minute free-kick opportunity. Subsequently, Marcus Rashford took the onus and narrowly struck the ball over the bar.

Disappointingly, it feels like a big ‘what-if’ for Maddison. Coming into this tournament he was brimming with confidence and playing the best football of his career. He had a positive arrogance when playing for Leicester and was always willing to take on the onus to become the match-winner. Being truly brave on the ball on the big stage is terribly difficult with the pressure of losing the ball and potentially conceding a goal in transition. But you need players like that who are willing to try that onerous through ball on their weaker foot or the precise curling cross and this was a rare trait Maddison had in abundance.

For England’s sake, hopefully Maddison continues his tremendous performances and maybe, just maybe, he will have his shine at the Euro’s in just over 18 months time.

Mark Marston | GWFN

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