There is something different about Noni Madueke, the person and the player. Even in the current age of English footballers finding their feet and an opportunity abroad, his story is unique.
Having grown up at Tottenham, he played for the under-18s three years ahead of schedule. Madueke then left but not on his terms and not for first team football. It was destination Jong PSV in Holland, the Eindhoven giants’ second team, to learn a trade and a new way of life in a different country. It represented a huge risk.
Throw in the fact he shunned Manchester United in the process and the evidence becomes clear that Noni Madueke is built differently. Physically, he is, too; strong and quick, akin to a centre forward, but possessing the blend of balance and technique that makes him a winger the envy of all he faces. He can be unstoppable when he gets up to speed, and since progressing into the first team at PSV in 2019, he has shown that consistently.
Method went with the madness, too. Madueke is a product of a generation of trailblazers. Jadon Sancho really broke the mould when he headed from Manchester City to Borussia Dortmund at a similar age, but difference was crucial. Sancho went straight into the first team, Madueke had to work out the quickest route. Once he did, he took the leap of faith.
“Chelsea, Manchester United, a lot of European clubs [made offers],” Madueke explained to BBC Sport.
“I came here one time and as soon as I came I wanted to sign straight away. I knew going from Tottenham to United is pretty much the same thing. The reason I wanted to go was to progress quicker into the first team. PSV is a top European club. It made so much sense at the time and it makes sense now.”
Madueke’s skillset is ideal for a winger but his combination of trickery, drive, pace and power is rare. He plays with his head up and Roger Schmidt, his coach at club level, has noted this already.
At just 19, he is developing at a fast rate away from the sort of attention given by the British media. It is not too outlandish to suggest that, were he plying his trade in the Premier League by now, his creative freedom would be stifled, potentially by a more physical and structured style of play but definitely by unnecessary pressure and comparisons.
There were 24 Eredivisie appearances last season, seven goals and four assists. This term, after seven games, he’s already netted twice. Improvement and development is to be expected, and it isn’t going unnoticed.
“Noni already scored fantastic goals last season,” Schmidt said in August. “But he is now a more complete player and works harder for the team. He has grown tactically and helps our backs to win balls.
“Noni has our idea of gene pressing also mastered. It’s different from what he shows now compared to last season and he now creates opportunities with good ball conquests. Noni seems to like being on the pitch like this and I’m very happy with what he’s showing now.”
It could be said that the best thing about young players stepping out of their comfort zone is actually not noticed. Noni Madueke and others are learning to embrace their gifts, attacking with verve and purpose but defending on the front foot, too. That has rubbed off on the England set up, thanks to Gareth Southgate overseeing the first team, but a change in approach and attitude right through the pathway.
Safety and security in defence don’t always come from dropping back and sitting deep; if ‘modern’ styles of play have proven anything, it is that you can both entertain and win by playing expansively, provided the players are coached correctly.
Noni Madueke is not yet on the scene for England’s senior side but, at this stage of his career, that is a blessing in disguise. Southgate will certainly be aware of him, though. He has only just broken into the under-21 set up, under the stewardship of Lee Carsley and Ashley Cole. There is a long way but the path he is on is certainly the right one.
Now more than ever, with an abundance of quality attacking players being produced on English shores, they have their work cut out to make their mark. Self belief has always been crucial. Without it, you’ll fall behind but now there is a need to take risks. Standing out from the crowd is tough but Noni Madueke has found a way of doing it, thriving in Holland to show he is the next English superstar you may not yet have heard of.
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