Chelsea Academy youngster Jacob Maddox, who is spending the season at Cheltenham Town, is the latest subject of our feature speaking to our players developing out on loan.
Twenty-year-old Maddox, who has won the FA Youth Cup and UEFA Youth League with Chelsea, moved to Gloucestershire in the summer to join the League Two side for his first taste of senior football.
He has already made 29 appearances for the Robins in all competitions, scoring three goals, and in this interview he reveals what he has learned in England’s fourth tier, how his manager and team-mates have helped him adapt, and what his and the club’s goals are for the remainder of the campaign…
First of all Jacob, how have things been going at Cheltenham since you joined?
It’s been very good. It’s a lot different to being at Chelsea, but I think I adapted pretty quickly. The type of football played is very different to what I was used to in Under-23s football.
Looking at the move, it’s been pretty positive because I have been able to work on the things I had to, developing my game in a different kind of way.
My performances have been good as well, I have managed to pick up a few man-of-the-match awards. The feedback from Chelsea has been good, too. They’ve been happy with how I am doing.
You mention developing other areas of your game. What has League Two football taught you?
The main difference for me would be the intensity of the games. It’s 100 miles-an-hour. There have been games where we have managed to play and I’ve been able to show my capability on the ball. Managing to control a game when it’s hard and physical is something good. It has also definitely helped me improve off the ball as well.
Where have you been playing?
I’m playing number 10, just behind the strikers. I played the first 10 games on the left, and then there was a change in system and I moved to a free role just off the striker trying to create things.
You’re the fourth most fouled player in League Two, and you’ve attempted the fourth-highest number of dribbles. That suggests you are prepared to be brave on the ball…
I’m going to get kicked. I’ve been fouled a fair number of times and I feel like I’ve dealt with that well. You just have to get up and keep going. It’s not a bad thing; it shows you are doing well and being positive with the ball.
Michael Duff, who was a Cheltenham legend as a player, took over in September. What’s he been like to work under?
He’s been great with me. He’s come from an academy background so he knows what I’m about. He has tried to point out areas in my game where I can improve and I think I’m doing that. I definitely feel a more complete player. He’s given me his full backing and touch wood I’m performing for him, so I just want to keep that up.
And what about your team-mates - have they helped you out?
Of course. There are some very experienced players here, Luke Varney for example played in the Premier League. The experienced players can teach me things. They’ve been around the game for a long time, and they can teach me little tricks of the trade.
There are two sides to it. It’s a strange one because although I’m young, I would say I am one of the players they look to because of where I have come from.
I have taken that responsibility. They can count on me, especially in the harder games, and that’s something the manager spoke to me about and said he wants. It’s been a massive learning curve taking that responsibility, and trying to provide my qualities.
What’s it been like playing in front of crowds every week?
I’ve got some standing ovations off the pitch, and that’s something new for me. I thrive off it. Knowing that people appreciate what you’re doing is what you play football for. It’s a massive plus.
The pressure is a lot more demanding. People’s jobs are on the line. There is pressure to perform and that helps – you have to be on it all the time. You can’t have off days so you have to be focused and you demand more of yourself.
You’ve played a lot with Mason Mount for Chelsea and England youth teams. How nice has it been to see his success this season?
It’s massive. I’ve played with Mase all through the schoolboy age. Me and Mase always played well together. We used to call it our ‘link-up’. It’s great to see one of your friends and someone you played with for a number of years do well. It shows you anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Everyone has different pathways, but we’re all good players and we are looking to do big things in the game.
You’re from Bristol, so has it been quite easy to adjust to a new area?
It’s been nice to see my family. I feel more mature, I feel like I’ve grown up in more areas and I’m doing more things off my own bat which is more realistic in the professional game. That’ll help me on and off the pitch.
Cheltenham are currently in 18th position. What are the targets for the rest of the season?
Looking at our team, I don’t think we deserve to be where we are in the table. When the manager first came in we couldn’t quite get the win. We were dominating games but just couldn’t find the end product to finish them off and win. Now I think the tables are turning. We are definitely looking up rather than down. It’s exciting times.
It’s been a learning curve not winning every week like I was used to at Chelsea, but that’s the whole point of a loan – to experience different things. It’s a different type of pressure. When you’re at Chelsea, the pressure is to win trophies, whereas here it is to win games. It’ll definitely help me in the long run, and I really appreciate everything Cheltenham has been able to give me.
What are your individual targets for the rest of the season?
To rack up the games, hopefully score a few more goals and get a few more assists, always be productive, and see where it takes me.