GRAEME SOUNESS: Maverick James Maddison can ease burden on Harry Kane

GRAEME SOUNESS: Maverick Maddison’s threat in front of goal makes him different to England’s other midfielders and will help ease the burden on Kane – plus, who makes my team to play Iran?

  • James Maddison made England’s World Cup squad for Qatar on Thursday
  • The midfielder has shown that he can be a threat in front of goal for Leicester
  • Maddison could ease the burden placed on England captain Harry Kane
  • Gareth Southgate has difficult decisions to make for the first game against Iran 
  • Click here for the latest World Cup 2022 news, fixtures, live action and results

We can talk all day about the quantifiable aspects of football, but the greatest players on the game’s biggest stages have something you just can’t measure. A certain arrogance. A maverick quality. Possibly a side to them that not everyone finds terribly attractive.

James Maddison has those characteristics — and that’s precisely why I’m so happy that Gareth Southgate has selected him for the World Cup squad.

The reasons why he hasn’t featured as an England player for three years, and was not expected to be a part of this squad, have been well chronicled. Maddison has not always adhered to the rules. He visited the poker tables on the night after he’d withdrawn from an England squad through illness, three years ago.

James Maddison has made the World Cup squad after not playing for England since 2019

Well, he’s not the first player to give the manager a headache. All great players can be difficult. I’m sure Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have had moments which were challenging for their managers. But Maddison has clearly got something about him. I have no fears about him getting stage fright at this World Cup.

His England record gives the impression he is just some ordinary player. Just one substitute appearance — and just 35 minutes of football, at that — in a 7-0 win over Montenegro in a Euro qualifier. It astonishes me that he hasn’t played more often. Now is the time for Gareth to play him and reap the benefits.

He brings a solution to the aspect of this team which worries me most — the over-dependence on Harry Kane. If Kane doesn’t get goals and have a great tournament, I really do wonder where England are going to find them.

Maddison can be the player to ease the goalscoring burden on England captain Harry Kane

It’s hard to understand why Maddison’s presence was even a subject for debate before the 26-man squad was announced on Thursday, given he has been the best England attacking midfield player of the past 12 months.

He has been involved in 22 Premier League goals in 2022, scoring 13 and assisting nine for a struggling Leicester side. Imagine what his stats would be if he played for Manchester City or Liverpool? With that Kane-dependency, Gareth will need someone like him to weigh in.

You can simply never have enough people in your team capable of getting you those goals —whether it’s midfielders, with cute and clever play, or defenders from set-pieces — and when you look at the other midfielders’ numbers this year, no one can touch Maddison.

Mason Mount has been involved in 13 goals for Chelsea and Jack Grealish has been involved in three for Manchester City.

Mount is a fabulous young player but in the past year Maddison has had the edge at Leicester. He would get in my starting line-up ahead of Mount.

Gareth Southgate should be adventurous in the group stage and find a place for Maddison

Gareth’s tendency is to go for two holding midfield players but with all due respect to Wales, Iran and the USA, in the group stages he should be a bit more adventurous and just have one. When England get through that group, then you might be looking at two.

For now, I would let Trent Alexander-Arnold, Kieran Trippier and Maddison go and join the front three to make mischief, while Declan Rice holds the fort.

England need to approach this tournament with ambition. There has been some conservatism from Gareth in the past but when it comes to a stage like this, you have to field the players who pose the greatest threat and just let them do their work.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Phil Foden can bring for England and I wonder are we forgetting just how young he is? British fans know all about him but, at 22, he could announce himself as a star on the world stage in Qatar.

Man City’s Phil Foden (R) could announce himself on the world stage by shining in Qatar

Raheem Sterling was a standout performer at Euro 2020, and has never let England down

Raheem Sterling would also be a starter for me. He has never let England down and I don’t think he will at this tournament, either.

There has been lot of talk about the possibility of England facing France in a quarter-final, which would be a big test of their capabilities. Let’s not go there. Let them take care of the group stage first. The England squad won’t be thinking about anything beyond that. But this team could go to the semi-finals and, with a lot of luck, even the final.

Maddison can be integral to that because he is a serious performer. The bigger the stage, the more a player like that will feel at home.

Saints can’t rely on kids to get them out of trouble

It’s concerning to see the way things are going at Southampton. I know from a year there as manager, until the ownership changed, that they have an intelligent, understanding fanbase who are realistic about how far the club can go.

Of the 12 players they signed last summer, nine were aged 21 or under. Three of those were bought from Manchester City’s Under 21 team because Southampton had brought in a so-called ‘head of recruitment’, Joe Shields, from that club, too. In October, the recruitment ‘guru’ Shields promptly cleared off for a job at Chelsea, just 13 weeks after arriving on the south coast.

After surviving relegation by five points last season, the club’s transfer policy also entailed selling three senior players — Shane Long, Oriol Romeu and Jan Bednarek — as they prepared to stake everything on youth.

Southampton sacked Ralph Hasenhuttl on Monday after four years at St Mary’s

Nathan Jones has come in and has a tough job on his hands with a young, inexperienced squad

None of this screamed out to me as a club attempting to help the manager, Ralph Hasenhuttl, who has now been replaced by Nathan Jones from Luton Town. They didn’t seem to be buying players for Hasenhuttl in the summer. No manager in that situation would have agreed to so many young players arriving, when experienced performers were needed.

Not all of those kids will be Premier League players for Southampton. In fact, it could be that none become Premier League players for the Saints.

I vaguely know the club’s owner, Dragan Solak, through golf and he is an enormous football fan but I really wonder who is advising him on footballing matters.

What you need in a predicament like Southampton’s is battle-hardened players. The tried and tested. The confidence could be quickly drained from these young boys if there isn’t an upturn in results. There can be exceptions to the rule about kids not being the answer and I hope this is one of them. But I seriously doubt it.  

Klopp’s view all that matters, Jordan 

I was a bit disappointed to see Jordan Henderson say last weekend that he felt he’d been through adversity during his Liverpool career, with people doubting him and wanting him out of the club from day one.

At 32, Henderson should be a good 10 years past worrying about what people think of him. He’s had a fantastic career. He’s captain of one of the greatest clubs in the world — and what an honour that is. He’s also about to play for England in a World Cup. He’s been a very lucky boy.

You’ve got to have a thick skin to be an elite athlete. Doubters are just something you have to deal with. I don’t think Jordan will be getting much sympathy from any quarter, given the lifestyle that football affords him, after more than a decade as a Premier League player. The only opinions he has to be concerned about are those of his manager Jurgen Klopp and the Liverpool coaching team.

Jordan Henderson should only be concerned about Jurgen Klopp’s opinion of him as a player

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