After an impressive breakthrough season at the Ricoh Arena during the 2014-15 campaign, Coventry City forward James Maddison is confident the Sky Blues can return to their former glory days as he prepares to spearhead the club’s promotion push this year.
Just 18 years of age, Coventry-born Maddison scored twice in 18 appearances in all competitions for his hometown club last term to help the former Premier League outfit stave off relegation to English football’s bottom tier.
Having joined the club’s academy system when he was just seven-years-old, the highly-rated teenager made his long-awaited first-team debut for the Sky Blues last August in the Capital One Cup defeat to Cardiff City.
Since then his performances have caught the eye not just those who support City, but fans across the county, as Maddison quickly became known as one of the brightest prospects outside of the top flight.
However, under former West Bromwich Albion and Celtic boss Tony Mowbray, the playmaker believes Coventry are moving onto brighter things this season as the club prepare to return to the Championship for the first time since 2012.
Ahead of the club’s League One opener against Wigan Athletic, Maddison spoke EXCLUSIVELY to Shoot as he reflects on his time with the Sky Blues, last season’s close shave and the club’s ambitions to return to the Promised Land in the near future.
You were born in Coventry and have represented your hometown club since you joined the club’s academy system from the age of seven. What is it you love so much about this club?
“It’s just that the club have given me my chance. I grew up in Coventry and it is the city I was raised in. I’ve always gone up to the Ricoh Arena to watch the games from an early age after obviously coming through the academy. It just means a lot to me because I’m from here and it’s a big deal for me to be playing for Coventry City.”
You made your professional debut against Cardiff City last August in the League Cup, coming on as a second-half substitute. Talk us through how you felt about making your first-team debut after more than ten years with the Sky Blues?
“Yeah it was a bit of a surreal feeling at the time. I had been on the bench the previous year when I was 16 against Stevenage. That was the first time I really got involved with the first-team. Steven Pressley put me on the bench because I was doing well in training and with the first-team, but my debut didn’t actually happen that season. But, last pre-season, I came back, was doing well and luckily Pressley gave me my chance against Cardiff. It was on Sky Sports, so it was kind of a big deal. I went to put it on and had it recorded so as soon as I got home I could watch myself back a few times. But yeah it was good, a great feeling making my debut for Coventry City.”
After a few more first-team appearances under your belt, you scored your first senior goal against Oldham Athletic last October. Can you recollect your emotions from that day?
“Yeah, good day! I think it was actually my first start for the club, a great feeling. We were 2-0 down at the time, so it was a little bit different to scoring like I did against Crawley which was a different occasion. But it was still a great feeling. Inside I was really chuffed to bits but I knew it was during a game where we were losing 2-0, so I was still focusing on trying to get back into the game instead of my own achievements.”
Then, just a month later, you signed your first professional contract with Coventry, penning a three-and-a-half year deal just hours after your 18th birthday. Was that the perfect birthday present?
“Yeah, it just had to be done on my 18th birthday. It was probably the best present I’ve had. I felt like I had been doing well and the manager said, ‘Listen; you’re doing very well and you’ve been impressing, so I’m going to give you this deal’. I was over the moon when I found out about the news and so were my family, it was a great moment for me.”
Ex-West Bromwich Albion boss Tony Mowbray steadied the ship and staved off relegation towards the latter stages of last season. He has now signed a new two-year deal as manager back in May. What have you made of his impact since he arrived?
“Yeah he is a very, very good manager. You can tell he has managed at some top teams like West Brom because he brings that experience, knowledge and calmness. I enjoy working with him. He is always out on the training ground trying to help all the players, especially the younger ones. Because at Coventry, we have got quite a young squad so he is always helping them improve and we’ve had a few experienced players been brought in recently like Sam Ricketts and [Romain] Vincelot, so I think it is about getting that balance right at the minute. Hopefully we can kick on this season.”
Coventry finished 17th last season in League One, just five points above the bottom four. How far do you think the Sky Blues can progress this campaign?
“Last season was a bit of a weird one because if you looked at the squad we had at the start of the season, you would have never had thought we would have been in that position. Seventeenth; obviously it just wasn’t good enough. I think this season, and I know a lot of teams will be saying this, but I think we can generally push for promotion this year. Whether that is through the play-offs or automatic, we just need to work hard and get the team gelling. That is what pre-season is all about; getting the new signings in and gelling as a team. I think we have made a real improvement so hopefully we can kick on and push for promotion this year.”
Following your impressive breakthrough season last term, where you scored twice in 18 appearances in all competitions, what are your personal goals ahead of the forthcoming season?
“I don’t normally tend to set myself personal goals, as in goal tallies, a certain amount of assists or appearances. I just like to take every game as it comes. I’m that type of person. My short-term goal is to get in the team, get in the starting eleven. I know I am only 18, but I feel like I am good enough to make an impact in this league. I hope to get into Tony Mowbray’s starting eleven and have a good season.”
Despite only being 18-years-old, you are quickly becoming a fans favourite at Coventry. Following your excellent debut season, a local newspaper poll found over half of Sky Blue supporters deemed you more expensive than the £3m AFC Bournemouth paid for Callum Wilson last summer. It must be reassuring for you that the fans are so supportive?
“Yeah, the fans are great. As I said, I’ve kind of grown up supporting Coventry City, going up to the games myself and I know what it is like to be in the stand and watching the team. So being on the pitch and having the fans singing your name is a surreal feeling. I think we owe the fans, especially after a disappointing season last season. We owe them some quality and success this year. So hopefully they can continue to support us and we’ll have a good season.”
Following a rent dispute, Coventry were forced to play their home games at Northampton Town’s Sixfields Stadium during the 2013-14 season. Thankfully that is now in the past and you returned to the Ricoh Arena early last season. How crucial is it for the club to be back, playing in front of your loyal supporters?
“Yeah it was massive actually. At Northampton, it just wasn’t the same. Fans stopped coming and we only had 1,000-2,000 fans at each game, which does have a negative impact on the team. I made my debut at Northampton, so it is kind of a bit weird because I was expecting to make my debut in front of a big crowd because of how big a club Coventry City is. But it is done now; hopefully we are just on the up and on the rise. Now we can just forget about that now, it was a bit of a bad stage for the club. But we are back at the Ricoh [Arena] now, so hopefully we can have a good season.”
Coventry have not lifted a major trophy since winning the FA Cup back in 1987. The Sky Blues also haven’t returned to the Premier League since being relegated back in 2001. Do you think the club can return to their former glory days?
“I do, yes. I honestly do. And I’m not just saying that because I am a Coventry City player. There needs to be a change and a turning point, and I think this season could be that. Hopefully we can look up, and only look up, and keep pushing to get out of this league. And if we do get out of this league, then you never know what could happen.”