If the performances of Paul Dummett and Adam Armstrong at Manchester City on Wednesday showed there remains a route for local boys into Newcastle United’s first team, Marcus Maddison has proved there can also be a future for those who fall by the wayside.
Maddison was 19 when Newcastle released him after seven years in their youth system. Today the 21-year-old is fast becoming one of the most exciting talents in League One, having scored six goals in 12 appearances for Peterborough since his arrival from Conference club Gateshead.
Barry Fry, Peterborough’s director of football, says the £250,000 youngster could prove his best signing yet at a club which has developed then sold players such as Craig Mackail-Smith and Britt Assombalonga.
The slim, skilful attacker from the old Durham mining village of West Cornforth might easily have drifted out of the game after his rejection by Newcastle and an unsuccessful three-month stint at St Johnstone. However, thanks to the mentorship of Gary Mills, his manager at Gateshead last term, he has reversed his downward slide.
According to Mills, Maddison’s epiphany arrived last Christmas when he was taken off half an hour into a match at Chester as he was “playing for himself”. Mills subsequently sat him down in his office to “deliver a few home truths” and Maddison, speaking to The Independent at Peterborough’s training ground, takes up the story.
“I was just thinking about myself and when I got the ball I didn’t look for other players, which made me a bit of a selfish player and limited my ability,” he says. “He [Mills] knew my mindset wasn’t right. He did a lot of work with me and got the best out of me.
“I felt it developed me into a man,” he continues. “I went there as a young lad, a bit naïve, but playing against big, strong Conference players you have to develop your own game and work out how to play against these people.”
Maddison scored on his next appearance, as a substitute at Halifax Town on New Year’s Day, and ended the season with nine goals. After starting this campaign with another four, he was on the move to Peterborough, where the goals have continued to flow from a No 10 role behind the strikers – three of them from the spectacular, long-range free-kicks he practises daily after training.
Mills believes Maddison can “play at the top level” and says the fact he “could quite easily be in the Northern Premier League” shows the “thin dividing line” for young hopefuls. It also raises questions about the effectiveness of Premier League academies – particularly when it comes to Under-21s football.
“Marcus can be highlighted to [those] players who are released by professional clubs and believe it is the end of the world. It is the start. The best thing that could have ever happened to him was coming out of Newcastle and learning what it takes to fight your way back. Players in Premier League Under-21 teams don’t understand what it means to win a game of football; they don’t understand how to win a game of football.”
Mills, who made his first-team debut aged 16 at Nottingham Forest, is “not a fan of the system” and Maddison offers his own insight. “Some lads get a lot of money young and sometimes it goes to their head. You’ve got everything done for you [and] think it’s your right to be there.”
Despite the best efforts of his coaches at Newcastle, Dave Watson and Willie Donachie, he admits that he was guilty himself of “thinking I was better than I was, thinking I deserved to be a footballer, not showing that I had to be a footballer”. He knows better now.Reuse content