James Maddison has been linked with Liverpool, Tottenham and West Ham United among others this month – but any chance at all of Norwich City selling him before the deadline surely passed with his wonderful goal on Saturday.
West Ham were reported to have made a £12million offer for Maddison last week – and the Irons have raided Norwich before in January, snapping up the Canaries’ 10-goal top scorer Dean Ashton for a club-record (but still relatively reasonable) £7.25million in 2006.
Ashton made an instant impact, scoring six goals and helping take the club within a minute of FA Cup glory, and though Maddison may require a settling-in period having never before played in the Premier League, he would be a tremendously exciting signing.
However, while Norwich may feel obliged to let Maddison move on in the summer if they are not promoted, his stunning winner against Brentford will have no doubt made them doubly determined not to let him go this month.
Even more frustratingly for his many admirers, that goal will also undoubtedly have added to a price tag which was already likely to be double what West Ham paid for Ashton 12 years ago.
— James Maddison (@Madders10) January 27, 2018
Not that long ago, I wrote about Alex Tettey’s stunning volley for Norwich back in 2014.
I only mention that here because Maddison picks the ball up in a near-identical position to where Tettey scored his from, only to turn it into a goal which is vastly different and yet just as impressive. Arguably more so, in fact.
Let’s begin with the nutmeg, because who doesn’t like looking back at nutmegs?
When Christoph Zimmerman wins the loose ball and lets it ease off his body towards Maddison, Ryan Woods is the nearest man to the goalscorer.
The best way of summing it up is that the move begins with Maddison looking at Woods, and ends with Woods looking at Maddison, or rather looking at the speck of Maddison as it gets smaller and smaller.
Woods is an experienced Championship midfielder, in the middle of his third season at this level, and he knows the division well enough to lengthen his stride upon spotting an opponent in space just outside the box.
When Maddison gets the ball, his body position isn’t quite ready for a shot, so Woods knows to step up his pursuit, either forcing Maddison to speculate with his left foot or crowd him out and force a lay-off.
The thing is, Maddison knows he knows this, and he’s two steps ahead: one to ready himself for the nutmeg, and one to give Woods just enough of a glimpse of the ball to trick him into thinking he has the situation under control.
Like all the best nutmegs, the Brentford man has already half-turned back around while in the process of being beaten, as if playing a half-remembered video game from his childhood and letting his muscle memory identify a trap just too slowly for his brain to catch up and nudge his fingers in the right direction.
Except in the game he’d be able to right the wrong next time. Here there’s no next time – it’s all in the hands (or should that be the feet) of the hard-mode AI that is Maddison.
All isn’t lost for Woods. He’s got the presence of mind, having spun around, to continue nipping at Maddison’s heels. If he’s going to do anything with the ball it’ll have to be perfect.
Furthermore, the game is just four minutes old. Sure, the nutmeg suggests Maddison isn’t even close to rusty, but he might not have quite readied his shooting boots, even if his nutmegging boots clearly stay on even when he sleeps.
If you want someone to deliver in a high-pressure moment, however, there are worse men to pick.
Maddison had to wait a while for his breakthrough at Carrow Road, spending loan spells at former club Coventry City and then Aberdeen, but if anyone at Norwich needed convincing the 21-year-old had what it takes to do it on a bigger stage, this last-minute winner against Rangers ought to have done it.
So, back to Griffin Park. Surely someone capable of that magic against Rangers would have no trouble against the Bees?
Well…of course not. I can’t believe you ever even vaguely doubted him.
The way he sets himself for the shot is somehow half high-jumper, half free-kick taker.
A couple of quick steps on the spot are natural when approaching a static target – to do so while being pursued, and having just quickly manoeuvred from side to side, shows the focus of a man who knows it’s his world and others are just living in it.
The ball doesn’t quite sit up as much as it strolls into place, telling Maddison it’ll slow its pace and wait for him to catch up. It feels like, if Maddison decided to tie his laces before letting fly, the ball would have waited there for him while shielding itself from Woods.
We shouldn’t be surprised, then, to see the ball soar beyond Daniel Bentley with the precision of a whipped free-kick.
To all intents and purposes it is a free-kick, but Maddison isn’t the sort of player who will be content with a dead-ball effort when he can throw a nutmeg into the mix.
It’s like topping an aged fillet steak with gold leaf – it would be just as memorable without, but you bet it looks more eye-catching.
If Maddison does return to the top flight (he was loaned out before playing back in 2016), he’ll know merely being capable of classy goals from range won’t quite be enough.
In the Premier League, the pressure will be higher and the windows narrower – perhaps we can look as this goal as a trial run.
By Tom Victor
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