Late in the January transfer window, Liverpool were linked heavily with a move for Coventry City’s 19-year-old midfield starlet James Maddison. So too were Tottenham Hotspur. Journalists with ties to both clubs had confirmed that interest was very real. Which made for something of a shock when Norwich City signed him on deadline day.
Norwich didn’t even seem to pay an inflated price to get him in, with only £2.5M guaranteed and up front tied to a further £5M in performance and appearance-based add-ons. As part of the deal, he would also stay with Coventry for the remainder of the season, loaned back on a free immediately by his new parent club. It’s a move nobody really saw coming.
"I think the fact we left it so late in the window certainly played in our favour," said Norwich manager Alex Neil when asked how it was his side had beaten out Liverpool and Tottenham for the rising talent. "If we had gone earlier we would have most likely lost him to a bigger team. I know there was one team in particular aggressively trying to hi-jack it."
Give the handful of well-sourced rumours connecting Maddison to Liverpool over the final week of January as well as a final flurry on deadline day, it’s a safe assumption they were that team. When Neil says they left it late, though, he doesn’t just mean until the final days. As it transpired, Norwich didn’t move for Maddison until the final hours of deadline day.
"We were pursuing another signing that night so we had money available, but unfortunately for us it didn’t transpire," he said. "We said and thought all along we could add some more youth the the ranks for the club going forward. Once that other move didn’t go through we had money we wanted to put to good use and he was the one we highlighted."
The bigger clubs who had been monitoring Maddison—and who, given Coventry’s reluctance to lose him in January, seemed content to wait for six months—were caught unaware. It’s surprising, though, with that interest out there Coventry were content to sell Maddison on for such a reasonable fee. One has to speculate they may be expecting a further pay day.
If his transfer includes a significant sell-on clause, then for Coventry selling now to a club that will give him the opportunity to improve his game and earn a big money move in two or three years could in the end bring them more than selling him directly to a club where he might end up staying for the rest of his career. That’s the only way it makes much sense.
Whatever the particulars, though, Norwich pulled off a minor coup beating Liverpool and Tottenham to a talented youngster both clubs had rated very highly. If he does well for the Canaries, it won’t be long until they’re linked with a move for him once again.