James Maddison has been one of Leicester City’s best players this season in his first campaign of Premier League football.
Signed from Norwich for around £20million, the midfielder has provided spark and creativity to suggest he was destined to play at this level.
After he struck in the win over Huddersfield at the weekend, there has been continued speculation Arsenal could be his next move, to replace Aaron Ramsey, who is heading for Juventus, while Mesut Ozil’s future at the club remains unclear.
But is Maddison, with only one season in the top-flight, ready to take another step up or would he be better off staying with the Foxes?
The parting was razor sharp, precise, and there was not a hair out of place, it would remain perfectly coiffed for 90 minutes. The boots, they glistened too and it was not just the image that appeared effortless. Old Trafford had witnessed the likes before, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo both stylish, playing in the same vein, only this time it was an opposition player, a Leicester City player.
What is worth noting, is that this was Maddison’s first game in the Premier League, Manchester United away. That can be a daunting occasion to even the most seasoned of top-flight professionals, never mind a then 21-year-old whose last competitive match was for Norwich in a 5-1 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday.
Rather than be overawed by his considerable step up, Maddison embraced it, there was a swagger without the ball and an assured certainty when he had it. Surely it was not this easy? Yes Leicester were beaten 2-1, but the scoreline took a backseat once the dust had settled.
Young players are meant to take time to settle, grow into their role, especially as a midfielder, where you are relied upon to create and dictate and yet, Maddison was here, strolling around the field in a collected manner not seen since Wayne Rooney emphatically downed Fenerbahce on his debut.
In his next match, Maddison netted the second, a composed finish on the stroke of half-time to see off Wolves in a 2-0 win.
Two games down and the midfielder had slotted in perfectly.
A month later and Maddison was showing of the latest skill in his armoury, free-kicks. Consecutive dead-ball efforts against Bournemouth and Huddersfield were eye-catching, as were Leicester, this was a team remodelled and he was very much at the centre of it.
The likes of Ben Chilwell, Ricardo Pereira, Demarai Gray and Jamie Vardy are around Maddison and it is he who is providing the creative spark, the flair, once the role of Riyad Mahrez.
On Saturday, Maddison netted his third free-kick of the season, the most by a player since Philippe Coutinho for Liverpool two years earlier
“I look at Maddison and I think, ‘Arsenal is your team.’ Maddison should be the man to replace Aaron Ramsey,” said Tony Cascarino.
“There are not many great No.10s in world football but Arsenal desperately need someone who plays like the Leicester City man.
“Maddison’s work-rate is good and getting better. There is no question about whether he is technical enough for the top flight.”
While there are likely to be a number of people ready to dismiss the former Chelsea striker’s comments, there is no doubting Maddison looks to have the class to operate at a level above and talk of a move being premature is nonsense, if you cast your mind back to yesteryear.
Ramsey was 18 when he joined Arsenal, Marcus Rashford, the same when he was handed his chance for Man United in 2017, Rooney two years younger when he starred for Everton, age in the modern era is no longer a factor.
His 92 chances created in the Premier League this campaign are the most by an outfield player, even more than the 85 by Eden Hazard.
The saying goes you don’t realise what you have until it’s gone, is according for Arsenal and Ramsey. What constitutes as legend in football is divisive to say the least, especially with the Gunners, where only members of the ‘Invincibles’ make the cut, but the Welshman’s time in north London carries enough validity for such a mention.
Crucial goals in two FA Cup finals, 362 appearances in his decade-long spell, all while coming back from a career-threatening leg break, Ramsey will certainly been missed when he leaves, but that is not to say his role can not be filled.
Maddison is now 22 and will have had a full season of top-flight football behind him, Arsenal is another step-up, but there is no reason he could not adapt the same way he did back in August, if anything that was harder.
His inexperience this season has allowed him to thrive, play with freedom. That has now turned into experience, which in turn will help him cope with the pressure and expectancy his obvious talent will bring.
The Championship to Premier League is a transition that can ruthlessly expose even the most talented, but Maddison has passed that test, there is no reason why he would not be able to rise to another challenge.