David Brooks, James Maddison Prove Persistence Does Finally Pay Off

David Brooks, James Maddison Prove Persistence Does Finally Pay Off

Tuesday, 28 August, 2018 - 07:00
David Brooks (left) and James Maddison cut their teeth at Sheffield United and Coventry City respectively and both earned Premier League moves this summer. Composite: Getty Images, Sportsphoto
London - Ben Fisher
For David Brooks, there was the toughening-up experience of the midweek under-19 reserve league against Staveley Miners Welfare and Handsworth Parramore and a loan stint at Halifax Town, while James Maddison earned his stripes in League One with Coventry City after being thrust in at the deep end at 17.

Like Harry Maguire and Kyle Walker, among others, before them, both have grafted and excelled in the lower reaches of the game, with bumps along the way, but are flying the Football League flag as they flourish in England’s top tier.

It is early days but Brooks and Maddison appear to have made seamless transitions from the Championship, after departing Sheffield United and Norwich City for £11.5m to Bournemouth and £24m to Leicester City respectively this summer. Both are only 21, both success stories of category two academies, Brooks having joined Sheffield United from Manchester City following a successful trial at 17, while Maddison joined Coventry’s youth setup just before his seventh birthday.

“The journey isn’t a straight line to success and that’s probably a message that is sometimes lost on kids, agents, parents and maybe even coaches, because all we see is this X-factor, Big Brother culture where success comes quick,” says Nick Cox, Brooks’s former academy manager at Sheffield United, now of Manchester United. “Success and talent are not innately combined with each other.”

Brooks, who made his Championship debut only last September, earned his first Wales cap in November and Maddison was primed to train with Gareth Southgate’s England this summer until suffering a knee injury, so perhaps it should be no surprise that they have made a splash.

For Brooks, those midweek matches at Stocksbridge Park Steels’ stadium formed part of the academy programme and helped teach him the other side of the game, improving his physicality and discipline, to complement his technical ability and awareness, as did that loan spell at Halifax three years ago.

“We sent three boys at that particular time,” recalls Cox. “After the initial month, Halifax kept the two, big athletic lads and Brooksy came back. I would contest that it’s not been as easy at it looks for David. It’s taken a huge amount of knocks and determination from a whole host of people.

“It’s that classic story of an overnight success but it’s taken him years and years to do it. David should be hugely commended for doing the difficult thing when you come out of a big club. The tendency is to go to another category one club, or hang around in someone’s under-23s. But he made a decision to come to a rough and ready environment at Sheffield United, rolled his sleeves up and got on with the job.”

Both slender, gifted players, Maddison scored for Leicester against Wolves on Saturday, while Brooks has impressed in two outings for Bournemouth, playing as a winger as opposed to the No 10 role he enjoyed at Bramall Lane.

At Bournemouth, Brooks joins a stable of young talent that also includes the midfielder Lewis Cook and goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale. Leicester have also happily dipped into the talent pool beneath the Premier League, signing Demarai Gray and George Thomas, the latter also from Coventry. Do technical players cope better with the step up? “Potentially,” Cox says. “Good players thrive from playing with other really good players and if you’re surrounded by worldly-wise players, that can protect you a little bit; it makes the transition that bit easier. The Premier League is more technical but I don’t think you can underestimate how physical the league is, how athletic players are becoming, how athletic the game is going.”

For Richard Stevens, Coventry’s academy manager , it was inevitable that Maddison – by his own admission a player hungry to be the name on everybody’s lips – would make an impact. Maddison made his first-team debut for Coventry at 17 but it was not all plain sailing; some of his under-16s team-mates were offered schoolboy contracts three months before him, but he did not panic. “When your mates have been offered something you haven’t, it’s a setback,” Stevens says. “But there was an inner belief that he wanted it. Setbacks give you coping strategies to realise you can deal with things when they get tough, or something doesn’t go how you anticipate.”

Maddison, a fearless midfielder, has passed every test with flying colours, including his England Under-21 debut last year and an impressive loan spell at Aberdeen six months after his £3m move from Coventry to Norwich in 2016. “As soon as you say his name, you just remember his winning goal against Rangers,” says Tony Docherty, the Aberdeen assistant manager.

“It will go down in folklore up here, an outstanding free-kick in the 90th minute. What impressed me most about James was that when he came to us, he knew it was an important part of his journey. He knew if he got this bit right it would help him and he saw the bigger picture. Some players maybe would have got turned off by a loan to Scotland but he focused on it and made it work.”

Maddison’s parents, Una and Gary, and Ben, his younger brother, still live over the road from the entrance to Coventry’s Ryton training base and Maddison pops in when time allows. A player’s support network is key but personality has been an undoubted catalyst in Maddison’s rise. “He backs himself, he knows he has got ability and he trusts that,” Stevens says.

“James adores football; he loves the game and the thought of playing. He is a showman, he wants to get on the ball, create and get attacking opportunities. He has never once hidden because he knows what he has to offer. James was always a super talent, everywhere you went, everyone knew about him. Even at 12, 13, 14, people were always aware of him. It would be, ‘there’s that midfield player playing’ – the same as when I used to go to Tottenham and I’d always know about Alex Pritchard, this blond boy who would usually rip you apart.”

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