Time flies when you’re having fun; it’s been two very strange but eventful years since we last spoke with James Maddison. In that time the Leicester City midfielder has cemented his reputation as one of the best playmakers in the Premier League, won the FA Cup, and become a father. No small strides then…

There’s few players in the game like James Maddison. We’re not just talking about his style of play, but also his creativity both on and off the pitch and his straight-up personality, which shines through whenever he speaks – Maddison knows himself, so why try and be anything different? That level of honesty and openness is refreshing, especially when it comes from one of the top performing players in the world’s most popular sport, and it’s what makes him such a fascinating man to speak to.

Whether its the importance of dreaming and ensuring that those dreams evolve along with your achievements, or the importance of expressing yourself and being individual, his insights are always down-to-earth and on the money. This is an ordinary guy who has achieved extraordinary things, mostly through graft and determination. But as he says, he just takes each day as it comes.

One thing that does stand out for us during our conversation though is the affect that becoming a father has had on him, bringing a level of maturity and joy that comes with parenthood. It’s clearly reflected in the special relationship he has with his own dad – strong bonds that make the man. See, two years really can fly by, but it’s what you do with your time that really counts; Maddison has certainly made the most of it and is only looking forward to what’s to come, his positivity as infectious as ever.

It’s been one hell of a ride for you these last few years, on and off the pitch. How would you describe it?

Very successful to be honest. A big two years. Two years is a long time, especially as a footballer, because you don’t get a very long career. I think these days you see kids starting at maybe 17 or 18 and you see people retiring these days in their early 30s so you know it’s not a long career. It depends though, you could be like your Cristiano's or your Messi's and go to your late 30s, but you see a lot of people retiring early to mid 30s.

The point I was making though is that it’s not a long career, so two years is a long time in a career of 15 or so, and a lot has happened. Another two years at Leicester, another two years playing in the Premier League, winning the FA Cup, becoming a father… there’s a lot of emotion on and off the pitch and I’d say it’s been a successful couple of years.

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Covid, trophies, fatherhood, injury, fine form. The extremes your mind must have gone through are crazy. How’s your head now?

You just get through it like everyone does, you know? Obviously the pandemic was one thing that everyone in the whole world was affected by and you just get through it. It’s just like becoming a father or going through injuries, you just take it all in your stride, take every day as it comes. There’s tough times and there’s better times and great times as well, but I feel that everyone in the world, no matter what job they’re in, goes through that. I’ll go through good times and bad times, you’ll go through good times and bad times, everyone will.

But yeah, it’s been very much a rollercoaster of emotions, but everyone goes through that in life in general.

Want to go back to a year ago and a post match interview you did. It was a beautiful way to really show a true personality. You really need to be commended for that. Do you feel like there needs to be more space for people like you to be able to show who you are?

To be fair, I don’t know any other way! That’s just how I am. When I talk I just talk how I do off the pitch, whereas a lot of people can go into this media-trained kind of mode and I think it does come across as a bit boring and that’s why a lot of fans that watch football on the TV probably turn off when it comes to the post match interviews, because – players more than managers – but players become very robotic. 

Even now, still you see younger players who can be maybe a bit better. One person that I’ve noticed recently who speaks very well in interviews is Jude Bellingham. For such a young man he speaks with so much charisma and personality, and that’s how I am in interviews, because you want your personality to come across in the way you talk and the way you carry yourself, not just how you play football.

That interview that you’re on about, I also love football so I enjoy talking about football, the tactics and the dynamics of the game, so that was me just being normal and it happened to go out there and people spoke about it quite a lot.

Felt like the football world fell in love with you a little bit more there – how did that feel?

I wouldn’t say fell in love! I don’t think there’s many people in love with me [laughs], my mum maybe! But I did get a lot of praise for that interview and I didn’t really get why, because that’s just how I am. That’s how I feel I am in every interview, but that one obviously just went a bit more viral than the others.

I like to hear people enjoying my interviews, that’s what it’s about for us footballers. For the fans we should put on a performance on the pitch and hopefully they can enjoy listening to us off it when we get the chance to do the post match stuff.

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I want my son to look up to his dad as a role model and a figure that he can be proud of. Gives you that added incentive when you’re working, training harder every day."

It showed how you have this edge to really perfecting your craft. Can you let us in to how that works? What do you do that others maybe don’t to keep bettering yourself?

I love analysing and watching after. If you ask my girlfriend it drives her insane, because if we have a game, she’ll come to watch, I’ll be playing in it and then we’ll go home and probably watch the game, and she’s probably had enough of it! But I just like to analyse, I like to get better, I like to improve.

Freekicks is a good example, because you can just practice relentlessly. I must’ve had a natural ability to score and good shooting technique, but to really master that and become someone who is a trusted set-piece taker in the Premier League is not easy to do, and I’ve done that by hard work and practice. That’s just how I am.

I can’t speak about what sets me apart from others, because I don’t know what they do, but I just like to analyse and look at what I can do better, and it all stems from loving football really.

That pitch you’ve got at home looks decent? Do you find yourself out there after training?

Whenever I can, yeah. To be fair the weather round here is rubbish so I’m mainly up there when I take my dogs out. When I can I do though, but it’s hard with training. It’s rare that I’d come home and need to go out to my astroturf pitch. It’s there if ever I need it. In the off-season I’ll get my mates round and my family and dad for a 5-a-side game out there but apart from that I’ll use it very rarely.

What a home you’ve built as well. Just touching on that and your creative side. How much did doing something like building a home open your mind up to being creative away from football in a different lane?

Well I just worked with an interior designer, and she was very creative like myself and just turned this house into what I wanted it to be with the garden, the pool, the pitch, the inside. When it’s your home you want it to be exactly how you want it, and I love it.

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It’d fit right in in California. You love it there don’t you?

Ha, yeah, I wish we could have the California weather to go with it.

I’ve only been to Los Angeles and yeah, I absolutely loved it. My girlfriend is from California as well, so there is that tie. Her side of the family are obviously from California, which is nice. Hopefully can get out there a bit more than I currently do. When I went it was absolutely beautiful.

As you said, two years is a long time in football. Would you say your mindset has evolved over that time?

I don’t know about my mindset… maybe subconsciously.. The added responsibility of becoming a father, you can’t train for that. There’s no text book. You just have to take it one step at a time. It’s just taking it all in your stride. No one can tell you what to do because it’s your baby, you know. It just changes your outlook on things. You look at things differently. My boy’s eight months old and he’s just the centre of the world now. A beautiful thing that I love. The best part of my life.

Another person to make proud…

That’s it. You want your kids – my son in this instance – I want him to look up to his dad as a role model and a figure that he can be proud of, to say I’m his father. Gives you that added incentive when you’re working, training harder every day. It’s not just for yourself, it’s for your family too.

On winning – Go back to trophies. Getting the FA Cup tattoo. You’re sentimental aren’t you?

Yeah, all my tattoos have meaning. Some of them look very random, but they all have meaning and I like that. The FA Cup stuff, that’s what I’ve achieved. Sometimes it’s hard in the moment to realise that I actually just won the FA Cup… we played the FA Cup final on the Saturday and we had a Premier League game on the Tuesday, so we got to enjoy the win Saturday night, then it was back to training on Sunday, focus on the next game.

So sometimes it can be forgotten when it’s like that, so sometimes you need to take a step back and realise that we’ve just won the FA Cup, a trophy that I used to watch when I was a little boy with my dad. I’ve got the exact full-sized replica in my house so when my son’s a little bit older he’ll be able to see that.

Sentimental stuff like that is important. When he points at the medal in the trophy cabinet I’ll be able to tell him.

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You should always dream, even the ones that aren’t possible. You have to keep dreaming, otherwise you have nothing to go after."

I want to ask you about the afterparty, but before that, when you’re on the tattoo bed and you’re getting that ink and it’s the FA Cup… that’s mad, isn’t it?

To be fair that isn’t what I was thinking…what I was thinking was Jesus Christ this hurts! But it’s something that shows that dreams really do come true. Another tattoo I’ve got is of me as a kid with the number 10 on my back. It’s true, I was a little boy that dreamed of winning the FA Cup and did it and am now fortunate enough to get that tattoo as a winner.

And the party was a good night?

It was short-lived to be fair, because we had to play Chelsea again on Tuesday away. We were fighting for top four to get in the Champions League, so we literally had a few drinks together and then it was back to the training ground and we had a bit of food and that. It was nothing crazy, nothing too mad.

Do you still dream in that respect then, like in the way you would as a kid, of other things to achieve?

Oh of course, yeah. You can never not dream. You should always dream, even the ones that aren’t possible. You have to keep dreaming, otherwise you have nothing to go after. It’s like targets and goals. Sometimes if you reach your targets you have to set new targets and goals. Some dreams do come true: playing in the Premier League, representing my country, winning the FA Cup, all that sort of stuff. But then you’ve got to set new dreams, new goals to keep pushing.

Every player wants to win. Tell us about your mindset in that regard. How much does it hurt to lose?

I hate losing more than I love winning, if you can make sense of that. I hate losing at anything, honestly. Play Uno at home in a friendly family game and I’ll be fuming if I’ve lost! I’ve always had that nasty, competitive side to me, and sometimes it can probably get the better of me when I’m losing. Foul mouth and sharp tongues! But it’s just because I love winning and I hate losing. I hope that stays with me forever though. My dad’s the same. We both love playing snooker and he gets competitive. He acts like it’s father and son bonding, but he wants to beat me and I want to beat him!

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Do you know when you’ve hit a ball perfectly and it’s destined to go in? Do you know as soon as it’s left your boot?

Yeah, you can tell. When you’ve made contact with it you know straight away whether it’s a good one or not. Sometimes you can make the best contact and you think you’ve hit that perfectly but then you look up and it hits the top of the wall or the keeper still saves it, but when you’ve made that initial contact with the technique that I have I will know if it’s top corner-bound or not.

All that repetition, training and generally bettering yourself is paying off and your performances are the fruits of your labour – how good does that feel?

It’s just like anything – when you get rewards back from what you put in it’s a nice feeling. Not even just free kicks. That’s an example for me because I’m a footballer, but for anything in life if you put effort into it and you then see the rewards of that effort it’s a satisfying feeling.

You talk about your dad having that ruthless edge… do you take inspiration from anywhere else in that respect?

I don’t have anything to single out to be honest, but I take inspiration from everything to be honest. The Oscars the other night – the Will Smith incident apart – a couple of the speeches and the way they talk, they’re very well spoken. Listening to some of the quotes from Denzel Washington, I take inspiration from him even though we’re worlds apart in terms of life. So anything, any other sports I watch, I take inspiration from other sports players, actors, musicians. If I hear someone talking at the Brits about their story I’ll take inspiration from that. Anywhere.

It feels like you almost took a step back and really focused on getting back to the top. Is that fair to say?

I just take every day as it comes, focus on this season. You can never look too far ahead or too far behind. We’re in the moment we’re in. In footballing terms I’m in good form, I’ve been scoring goals, so I just want that to continue and hope that we can have a good finish to the season, then I’ll enjoy the break in the summer with the family… just taking every day as it comes.

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I hate losing at anything, honestly. Play Uno at home in a friendly family game and I’ll be fuming if I’ve lost! I’ve always had that nasty, competitive side to me."

Have you thought about summer yet?

No I haven’t to be honest. I’ll think about that nearer the time. I’m quite a last minute sort of a person anyway in terms of booking holidays. So I’ll focus on the summer after that last game.

You’re part of an incredible nucleus of players. You Dele, Ben Chilwell – it seems like such a pure bond – what is it you’ve all got in common?

We all met through football I guess. I know Ben, knew Dele… But if you’re talking Jack as well… we all just get along really, just have a good time together and enjoy each other’s company. We’re just good friends outside of football as well. Sometimes you can get on well with people in football from your team or your country or whatever but it never goes further than that, whereas we all really enjoy each other’s company. We’ve had holidays together, we go for dinner regularly.

We all have similar interests. We all love football, like fashion and like hanging around together.

Touching on fashion there, where do you pick up fresh brands that are coming out?

Ah, that’s when I’m in an Instagram hole! I like looking at NBA players. I think we’re a little bit behind in our development in terms of League Fits for example. They express themselves in the clothes they wear to the games as well, whereas here it’s more of all in the same, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but you can also get positives about having your own stuff to wear.

It’s not just NBA players though either, I like anyone. I’d give a compliment to someone walking down the street in Nottingham if I liked what they were wearing or because of how they wear it. Fashion is not ‘I can wear something more expensive than you’, fashion is enjoying and feeling comfortable in the clothes you are wearing, whether that be big baggy bootcuts or tight jeans; it’s whatever you feel comfortable in.

Do you like the process of putting a look together?

Yeah, looking at outfits and fashion in my own time is definitely a hobby of mine. I wear some stuff to training and some of the lads will have something to say, or even the gaffer – sometimes he has a joke with me about what I’m wearing. But I enjoy wearing it, so I don’t mind taking a bit of stick, you know? That’s what fashion’s about I guess.

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Your on pitch look, the extension from how you carry yourself off it to on it – do you feel that being a PUMA player enables you to show who you are?

PUMA are a brand that seem pretty fearless in what they do. Whether that’s bold colours of the boots or engineering under the hood, there’s a strong mix of creativity as well as focus. That’s what I like about them. Take the Instinct pack – they’re bold and popping but they feel like elite performance tools too. That’s how I approach things – express myself but I’m determined all the same.

Obviously can’t not talk about England. How much do you relish the challenge of showing that you deserve a spot in that team?

I make no hidden thing about it that I want to play for England again. I made my debut in late 2019, and I’m just hungry to do well for Leicester and put myself in that bracket, in the manager’s thoughts. I know it’s tough competition – we’ve got some great players – but I believe that I can play at that level. I watch football all the time, I’m a student of the game, but I’m not in control of that. I can only control what I do for Leicester I guess, and my current form, which has been very good of late. So hopefully that can continue and I can put myself in their thinking, because there’s no better feeling than playing for England. It’s the pinnacle of what you can achieve, putting on that shirt.

Properly rooting for you in that regard. Getting to a World Cup would be a different level. When you talk about dreams, what goes through your head in regards to what you want to experience?

That’s the ultimate dream, that is. Playing for your country at a World Cup – I can’t think of anything that gets better than that, apart from winning it! Representing your country at any level is amazing though. I remember when I first played for the under 21s away to Ukraine. It was snowing and it was freezing, but it was my first ever England cap. There was literally no one there in the stadium. I think there was about 300 people, but my dad flew out because he wanted to watch the first time that I represented my country, and it was the best feeling ever.

So whether it’s a World Cup or a friendly, I think playing for England is class, and I want that feeling again. Hopefully if I keep working hard and showing what I can do on the football pitch, then we’ll go from there. I know I’m capable of playing at that level.

To be able to do it in your son’s lifetime now, it would be so special, wouldn’t it?

Yep, and hopefully he can go one better than me and get a few more appearances.

Project Madders MK.II has already begun?

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James Maddison wears the PUMA Future Z 1.3, which you can pick up at prodirectsoccer.com