An audience with James Maddison is always entertaining and enlightening. Holding court after England training at St George’s Park, Maddison spoke about why as a “showman” he was a perfect fit for Tottenham Hotspur, of drawing inspiration from the Paul Gascoigne video compilations his father made for him, and why he wanted Harry Kane’s No 10 shirt when the forward left Spurs.

Maddison is invariably worth listening to, particularly when he turns serious and highlights the work he does out of possession. We know Maddison the creator, providing two assists on his Spurs debut against Brentford. We know Maddison the scorer, striking for Ange Postecoglou’s side against Bournemouth and Burnley. But in this demanding modern game, playmakers and chance-takers are expected to contribute to regaining possession.

“The gaffer wants to press high and I’ve been pushing up with the striker, whoever’s played as the number nine — Richarlison in the first couple of games and then Sonny [Son Heung-min] against Burnley,” Maddison says. “The gaffer’s been really happy with my out-of-possession work. I hate sometimes there’s a bit of a misconception that I don’t work hard. I’m as hard-working as anyone.

Maddison, pictured at St George's Park with England, is enjoying life under Postecoglou at Spurs

Maddison, pictured at St George’s Park with England, is enjoying life under Postecoglou at Spurs


“He says, ‘What’s the point in not pressing high and sitting off? Then if they play long you have to run back anyway’. So it’s the same amount of running but you might win the ball. The perfect example of it was my goal [at Turf Moor in Tottenham’s 5-2 win]. We were pressing high and our full back [Destiny Udogie] wins it in the front third, plays it to me inside and I get a shooting opportunity from the edge of the box instead of having to be defending back there.”

Maddison has been at Spurs for only 70 days, and 347 minutes’ playing time, since leaving Leicester City but he already looks a perfect fit, especially for Postecoglou. “He likes players who can take the ball and be brave,” he says. “Bravery is not always just flying into a tackle or shouting at someone. Bravery is having the balls to take the ball and if you give it away, go and take it again — that’s bravery.”

The 26-year-old was very aware of the club’s long love affair with entertainers. “That was one of the reasons I wanted to go to Tottenham,” he says. “I could just see myself in that team, in that kit, in that stadium. It’s a brilliant club and the supporters have made me feel so welcome and loved already. They’ve always had that type of player. My dad’s favourite player when I was growing up was Gazza.

“My dad used to put football videos together. He’s a graphic designer and he used to put montages together. Gazza features on a lot of them. I remember a clip where the cameras are going down the [line at the] national anthem [at Italia 90] and it gets to him and he sticks his tongue out and starts messing around with the camera and going all bog-eyed. I just love that. That’s why I like interacting with fans and showing my personality.

“I don’t know if you saw the clip of me moving the ball out from the corner [quadrant] with the Bournemouth fans [to wind them up]. That keeps me hungry. I like the theatre element of almost being the villain a little bit.”

His father posted videos on YouTube of the young Maddison playing and entertaining. “They’re quite good videos. One was called ‘A Decade of Development’ from when I was a little kid at Coventry, from my first trial to when I left the club. It’s different when you get to the Premier League, there are copyrights. It isn’t just his phone-recorded ones!

“I’m not trying to be the showman. That’s just how I am as a person. I like to be the main man. I loved Philippe Coutinho when he was at Liverpool and David Silva, who had ten brilliant years at [Manchester] City. Christian Eriksen when he first came to Spurs. I used to love Wazza [Wayne Rooney]. He was a bit more feisty than me — a bit harder into a tackle — but his personality came through in the way he played.”

At Spurs, Maddison has taken Kane’s old shirt after the legendary centre forward left for Bayern Munich. “I didn’t want the number ten to become free because that meant one thing,” he says. “I didn’t want Harry to leave but when he did and the number ten shirt became free and the club asked me, then of course I wanted to wear it. It’s my favourite number. I’ve got it tattooed on me.

“Listen, Harry’s the best number nine in the world and I’d have loved to have played with him for more than a couple of pre-season games. Bayern’s a massive club and I wish him all the best.

“Harry’s probably the best player to ever play for Tottenham. He had nothing left to prove. I knew there was a chance Harry could leave but it wasn’t all doom and gloom. There was such a good feel with the new manager coming in and new players.”

Maddison teaches new team-mate Son his darts celebration

Maddison teaches new team-mate Son his darts celebration


He’s now reunited with Kane as England prepare for Saturday’s Euro 2024 qualifier against Ukraine and Tuesday’s Heritage match at Hampden Park. He desperately wants to make his mark with England, having made only three appearances in four years.

“I’ve been ready for a long time, in my head,” he says, knowing the depth of creative alternatives that Gareth Southgate can call upon. “There is so much talent here. A lot of other people said it to me . . . has Gareth got something against you, because I had a little period out of the squad. But I probably wasn’t playing well enough.”

There was a perception of Maddison as occasionally unprofessional, enjoying socialising. “That’s more a perception from the outside rather than people within,” he says. “Listen, it’s important you have a social life. I’m not going to sit in my room and go to bed at 8pm. I’m a social guy.” But he emphasises his dedication and, sitting there at St George’s Park, his lean, 72kg frame highlights his commitment. “We’re all professional athletes at the top end of the game — if you don’t look after yourself you get found out pretty quickly.”

Southgate did pick him for the World Cup in Qatar but Maddison did not feature after injuring his knee on the eve of the tournament. “I remember being in my room after I got my knock against West Ham and thinking, ‘Why now?’ A younger version of myself would have been a bit more sulky, a bit more moody, a bit more moany. But I thought, you know what, I’m at the World Cup for my country. I absolutely loved being part of it.”

Ukraine v England

Euros qualifier
Saturday, 5pm kick-off
TV Channel 4