HOME is where the heart is for the Sky Blues’ latest academy star James Maddison who despite being tipped to go far in the game by manager Steven Pressley is keeping his feet firmly on the ground.
It has been quite a year for the 18-year-old Coventry kid who has made his way through the club’s Academy from the tender age of seven and is now knocking on Steven Pressley’s door for a regular spot in the first team.
Maddison’s professional debut against Cardiff City back in August was followed up by a series of impressive appearances which led to the youngster signing his first professional contract a day after his 18th birthday.
And Maddison revealed even he is surprised at how far he has come in such a short space of time.
“If you’d have said to me at the start of my two-year scholarship last July I’m not sure I would have played in the first team just yet.” Maddison told the Observer. “I knew I had the potential but I wasn’t sure if I would make it.
“My debut came a little earlier than expected but I think that’s down to hard work as well.
“Whenever I was given the opportunity to train with the first team I think I did well. I was just myself, I didn’t want to change even though I was joining the adult pros.
“You set yourself personal goals. The goal back then was just to get signed at an early age – that was the best feeling ever.
“As you grow older you mature more and you set yourself new goals. So when I reached the age of eight or nine you want to sign a contract to keep you in the Academy.
“It goes off from there, you get your scholarship, then you sign your first professional contract – that’s the journey.”
The journey for football-mad Maddison, or ‘Madderz’ as he is known to his friends and team mates, began at the young age of five when he signed for a local team in Wyken.
And it was there that he was spotted by the Sky Blues Academy and his dream of playing professionally was about to come true.
“I was always playing football in the back garden and in the living room. I think I just loved the game.
“My dad says I used to just sit in front of the TV and watch football. Because I grew up in the environment I’ve had it drilled into me. I joined my local team and it went from there.
“I got scouted just before my seventh birthday and then I went for a trial at the Academy.
“I was just playing for Wyken Boys against one of the other local teams and there was a scout there. I’m not sure if he was sent to watch me play.
“Afterwards he said I’d caught his eye and he wanted to bring me in for a trial. So I spoke to my dad, went in for a trial and they were impressed so it went on from there really.”
As Maddison progressed through the Academy ranks he began to improve and gel into the attack-minded player Sky Blues fans are seeing today.
And he feels the club’s academy coaches deserve a lot of credit for producing the likes of Cyrus Christie, Callum Wilson, Conor Thomas and himself in recent years.
“You look at the likes of Jordan Clarke and Conor Thomas and all the other young players that have come through, the likes of Ryan Haynes, Jack Finch and myself, all the coaches in the Academy right from the Academy manager right the way down to the Under-10’s development coaches, they’ve all had a massive part to play.
“They have to take the credit. Those Monday, Wednesday and Friday night sessions coming through the Academy are massive. It gives you that structure and that’s what gets you ready for football.
“When I was growing up Gary McSheffrey was a big player at the club and towards the latter stages of the Academy when I was about 15 maybe I saw the likes of Conor Thomas and Jordan Clarke come through and into the first team so that made it more realistic.
“Obviously McSheffrey was the Cov lad and a big player but when you see the likes of Conor, Jordan, Callum Wilson and Cyrus Christie, that are not too much older than you, it kind of sinks in that that could be me if I work hard.”
His performances for the Under-18s and Under-21s last season caught the eye of first team manager Steven Pressley and one his goals was achieved when he was invited to join first team training last year.
“I can remember I was in the training room and Tony the kit man came in.
“He normally comes in and tells us what time we’re leaving to go to the Alan Higgs Centre, and he said ‘Madders, you’re staying here today and training with the first team’.
“Training with the first team is quite a big step up. You get used to it after a while but when you first train with them you’re obviously very nervous and I think the biggest difference is the intensity in the training.
“It’s all face-paced, in your face and everything has to be perfect, whereas in the Academy if you have a bad touch you might be able to get away with it.
If you make a mistake in the first team you’ll know about it, the lads are straight on to you, which is a good thing because it’s good for your development.
“First impressions are massive. That was the first time the manager might have seen me, so you’ve really got to embrace it and show the coaches what you’re all about – don’t try and hide jut be yourself an be confident.”
The natural course for his career to take was to make a bow in the first team and his debut came as a 70th minute substitute during the 2-1 defeat against Cardiff City in the League Cup.
“The training last year put me in good stead and going on the pre-season tour was a great experience for me.
“I was on the bench against Cardiff City and Pressley told me to go and warm up and then he called me back, showed me the set piece and on I went.
“Pressley has got a good record of trusting young players which I think is good to see.
“I think he goes by the saying ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ and he’s given me a chance so he’s really good.
“I don’t think there’s a better club to be at as a young player wanting to play first team football.
“That’s encouraging for me and it’s also encouraging for the younger lads coming through the Academy because they know if they work hard make sacrifices, which is what you have to do when you’re 16 to get into football, they’ve got a really good chance at this football club.”
His determination to succeed in the sport can be portrayed in his decisions to focus on a career in football and not going out like most people his age.
“The sacrifices you’ve got to make are that if you’ve got a game on the Saturday you don’t go to a party on the Friday, the night before the game.
“It’s going to be hard because at the end of the day they are your friends and they’ve got jobs but they might be able to go out on a Friday night whereas you can’t. You have to be strong enough to say ‘no, I want to be a footballer and I have to make these sacrifices.”
As for his ambitions heading into the new year, Maddison added: “I’ve got a taste for first team football now and I want more.
“I’ve kind of got used to playing in the first team now, I’ve made a few appearances so hopefully I can push on now and make a lot more.
“The other day I got told the way I play is a little bit cocky but to me I just play my game I don’t think about what people say about my style.
“I like having the ball, I like taking players on, I doing the short combination passes.
“I’m a confident lad and I think you’ve got to be especially when you make the step up from the Academy. You’ve just to embrace it and show what you’re all about.
“I’m still very focussed on this season. I want to make as many appearances as possible and hopefully get a few more under my belt before the end of the season.
“Hopefully 2015 will be a big year for me and hopefully I can really stake a place in the first team.”
Sky Blues star James Maddison. (s) Photo by CCFC