A quick search of James Maddison’s name on Twitter reveals a tidal wave of outrage amongst England fans over Gareth Southgate’s continued refusal to give the Leicester midfielder his maiden cap for the Three Lions.
This international break was supposed to be his time. After impressing for the Under-21s in an otherwise shocking display from the team during the recent European Championship, Maddison finally got the call up to the senior squad.
Not sure what James Maddison needs to do to get on a pitch in an England shirt, because being better than Ross Barkley clearly isn’t enough.
— Rich (@RichRedVoices) September 10, 2019
Long heralded as the solution to the national team’s apparent dearth of creativity in central-midfield, this was to be his moment in the sun, his emergence as the saviour of English football.
He didn’t get a single minute.
An unused sub against Bulgaria and an unused sub against Kosovo; oh, the horror.
Southgate’s decision has been met with reactions ranging from those were surprised to those who were very angry - as though by not playing a 22-year-old in a pretty pointless Euro qualifier was some horrible slight on their family. Very few people have defended him.
I would say however, that his decision was brave and positions him as a new breed of England manager that the nation has been claiming they desire for decades. One that has a defined and committed tactical philosophy.
Maddison’s omission represents Southgate’s refusal to shoehorn good footballers into his system just because the tide of footballing opinion states he should. Think back to Sven Goran Eriksson’s management of the apparent Golden Generation - specifically the 2004 Euros.
Going into the tournament the Three Lions were tipped as one of the favourites. This was England’s best chance of winning an international competition since Euro 1996, yet there was a problem. How does one devise a system in which Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes can play together? Stick Scholesy left-midfield in a flat 4-4-2 of course. Genius.
This is just one particularly ridiculous example of a recent trend amongst England manager’s of shoehorning in big-name players at the expense of a cohesive and defined tactical philosophy. Southgate simply does not do this.
Player for player, he may not have the immense resources available during the Golden Generation, but the Southgate Generation have already eclipsed the success of this team by prioritising the collective over the individual and Maddison’s omission is a continuation of this principle.
England currently operate a very specific variant of a midfield three. One defensive anchor man, probably Declan Rice for the foreseeable future, flanked by two energetic workhorses - in the recent friendlies Jordan Henderson and Ross Barkley.
Declan Rice vs Bulgaria111 touches100 passes96% pass accuracy1 key pass3 dribbles won7/8 accurate long balls3 tackles won3 interceptionsSuperb once again in that holding midfielder role. Top prospect. gbeng pic.twitter.com/roegjmVFRA
— FootballTalentScout (@FTalentScout) September 7, 2019
Quite simply Maddison does not suit either of these roles. He may have had a very brief stint at the end of the last season operating as some sort of number eight for Brendan Rodgers, but in reality this role was nowhere near similar to the one he’s be expected to perform for England.
“But England need creativity in the middle of the park!”
Do we though, do we really? In Southgate’s system the majority of goal scoring opportunities are created from out wide.
Without gushing too much, Jadon Sancho and Raheem Sterling are two of the best wide creators in the world and they demonstrated this in spades in England’s last two games. Sterling managed four assists in this time, and Sancho also chipped in with one - though he could’ve had a few more.
Maddison may have been the most creative player in Europe last season - whilst taking all of Leicester’s set pieces may I add - but to accommodate him properly in a similar system that he plays in under Brendan Rodgers, surely one of these wingers would have to drop out. That would be immensely unfair, whilst losing one of the midfield shuttlers would see Southgate sacrifice a huge amount of defensive stability.
Thus, whilst it is indeed unfortunate that there is no place for Maddison in the current England team, as he is an immensely talented player, his continued absence is indicative of his manager’s view that his system comes is king. Something that England fans have been crying out for for decades.