Gareth Southgate has transformed the fortunes of the England national side to a degree that very few would have expected when he took the reins.
The popular figure has taken a nation that often underperformed on the biggest stage – quarter-final defeat against Iceland in Euro 2016 being a pertinent low-point – to one of the most promising countries in world football, as evidenced during the 2018 World Cup.
From Trent Alexander-Arnold to Callum Hudson-Odoi, there seems to be a rich collection of talent waiting to be plucked off the conveyor belt, and they’re just the ones who have actually earned their first senior cap.
Beyond that is a plethora of talent that could one day help England end their trophy drought, and one name who has caught the eye this season is Leicester City man James Maddison.
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After swapping Norwich City for Leicester in a £20m deal, the exciting playmaker had an incredible debut year in the Premier League and showcased a level of quality that hints he could yet blossom into a top player on the international stage.
But, despite his obvious ability, Southgate has remained hesitant of giving Maddison a full crack at senior international football, with the 22-year-old sent to the Euro Under-21 Championships this summer.
Southgate left him out of the England squad who were eliminated from the UEFA Nations League at the semi-final stage, and suggested that the opportunity to claim silverware at the youth tournament was the most beneficial option for his long term development.
The young, English and captivating playmaker has naturally drawn comparisons to Aston Villa captain Jack Grealish, who was involved in a messy tug-of-war before he eventually pledged his allegiance to the England national side.
He has since represented the Under-21 side but the senior squad continues to elude him. Now he is back in the Premier League, however, he is well placed to catch Southgate’s eye at the highest level.
Considering the stylistic similarities between Grealish and Maddison, it seems apt to compare their respective statistical returns from the most recent campaign, with stats from Whoscored providing evidence to suggest that Villa’s crown jewel is still some way off earning a call-up.
When it comes to goal contributions, there was little to separate both players last season, with Maddison managing just one more assist than Grealish. However, it must be considered that the Fox in the hole was playing at a considerably higher standard, and their respective statistics must be considered with that acknowledgement at the forefront of the analysis.
In terms of creativity, Maddison outperformed one of the star’s of the Championship season, completing the highest number of key passes in the Premier League during the 2018/19 campaign with 100, two more than Eden Hazard and seven more than Ryan Fraser.
Despite playing two more games and plying his trade against weaker opposition, Grealish completed just 76 key passes, a stellar contribution but still significantly less than a player who he looks set to be in direct competition with for a place in the England squad.
It’s this creativity that suggests Maddison will eventually make his England bow, but the fact he was overlooked at the end of an exceptional season is a worrying omen for the newly-promoted man.
Grealish clearly has excellent numbers, though, with the Villa star completing eight more dribbles than Maddison last season. But with the likes of Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho providing plenty of flair and dynamism from the flanks, Grealish will need to prove he can offer something unique in England’s midfield.
Last season Maddison proved to his England rival that one outstanding campaign in the top-flight is not necessarily enough to merit a place in the Three Lions squad, and that in itself underlines how far away Grealish could be from finally making a landmark step forward in his career.