Noni Madueke is one of England’s most prodigious talents, a tricky winger with electric pace and as a driven 16-year-old at Tottenham his dancing feet were in a hurry to reach the top. “I just wanted to be integrated into a first-team setup as quickly as possible. “I thought: ‘What’s the quickest way to do that and still maintain a good standard of football?’ PSV was the answer,” says Madueke, who will line up against Leicester in the Europa Conference League quarter-finals on Thursday. “It wasn’t difficult to come here because I was clear in what I wanted.”
Madueke, who was also courted by Chelsea and Manchester United, says it did not feel an especially brave call and his decision in 2018 looks wiser by the minute. Jadon Sancho’s move to Borussia Dortmund a year earlier provided inspiration and Madueke’s impressive progress means more will surely follow. Madueke, who was born in Barnet, believes he was the first English player to join an overseas club before becoming a scholar and says he and players such as Jude Bellingham and Jamal Musiala, who left Chelsea for Bayern Munich, have helped buck a trend.
“I think I was the first one to do it at 16,” Madueke says. “I wasn’t really worried about moving country. Football is football. Players are realising there is a world outside of England, there are other leagues in the world that can help you reach your end goal.
“Most of the boys want to come back anyway to prove themselves in England, but to get to that status where a club wants to buy for a lot of money, I feel like you have to play games.”
It is hard to take in that Madueke turned 20 last month. He is considered and speaks with an air of confidence that has served him well on the pitch, becoming one of PSV’s key attacking threats. “Sometimes I look back and I think: ‘Wow, I’ve just turned 20 and I’ve played maybe 65 professional games, I’ve played in Europe, I’ve scored goals everywhere, sometimes I have to pinch myself.
“It has been a success coming here. I’m never fazed with any stage I’m on and long may that continue. I’ve got belief in myself, belief in God and I know I can perform at any level.”
Last month, Madueke shone for England Under-21s alongside Tino Livramento and Luke Thomas, Leicester’s player of the season to date according to Brendan Rodgers, and the pair spoke about the prospect of facing each other. Former Under-21s teammates Marc Guéhi, Conor Gallagher and Emile Smith Rowe have progressed to the senior squad after featuring in the Premier League this season. “Me and Tino are about the same age. By the time he is 23 or 24 he will be unbelievable. It is great for them to get first-team football at such a young age.”
Has there been a shift in opportunities afforded to young players? “I just think our generation of young players are better. If you look at Emile, Bukayo [Saka], Jacob Ramsey, Tino … I could go on for ever … Jadon even, Callum [Hudson-Odoi]. They are all 22 and under. Our generation, the mindset we have is a bit different, a bit fearless. We feel like we’re ready and we can do it.”
Madueke spent three years with Crystal Palace, who he joined aged nine, and four with Tottenham – he played for their Under-18s at 15 – before leaving for the Netherlands, initially working under Ruud van Nistelrooy in the Under-19s. At Tottenham, those in his age group included Harvey White, J’Neil Bennett and Troy Parrott. He made his first-team debut for PSV aged 17 and his second appearance a fortnight later at arch-rivals Ajax.
There have been no end of memorable moments in his four years at PSV; scoring twice in a Super Cup victory last August, soaking up the experience at Benfica and Galatasaray in the Champions League this season and long before that an Under-19s game at Feyenoord when fans lit flares. “It was a crazy atmosphere. It is great to see people so passionate about even youth football.”
Last week, it was confirmed Van Nistelrooy will take over from Roger Schmidt as head coach next season. One piece of advice has stuck. “He just simplified the game,” says Madueke. “He said: ‘The game is simple, if you have the ball, try not to overcomplicate it but still let your individual quality shine through.’
“It’s going to be nice. I know he is a great tactical coach, a good guy, and he was a great player so he commands that respect straight away”
Van Nistelrooy helped refine his attacking instincts and finishing techniques. “Ronaldo, Romario, Van Nistelrooy, Robben … there are some greats of the game that played here and done well from here. You want to try and follow in their footsteps.”
Madueke is one of the most-wanted English talents and Leicester are among those keen to sign the winger. On Wednesday, Rodgers described him as “dynamic … with a nice left foot”. “Some would say it’s an audition,” Madueke says, laughing. Madueke says he plans on being back in England “definitely sooner rather than later”.
He says: “I want to come back and show everybody what I am about and capable of. There are teams that are interested in me, I know that. I am playing against Leicester, but every team will be watching the game and me. It is just another game I have to play well in. People are starting to take note of what I’m doing.”
He lives in Eindhoven after initially being based in Wintelre, 15 minutes from their training base. As for his Dutch, Madueke says it is “coming along”, but the squad mainly speak English. PSV, who are fighting on three fronts, are treating the competition seriously. “You get to a quarter-final of any European competition … you want to win.
“Maybe at the start, in the group stage, people are looking down on it thinking ‘Aah yeah, it’s just the Conference League’, but we have got an opportunity to win a European competition. There are great teams in it, us, Leicester, Marseille, Lyon, Roma … top teams. Everybody will be watching so you want to put on a show.”
PSV are hunting their 25th Eredivisie title and their first in four years. They are four points off the leaders, Ajax, who they face in the Dutch Cup final this month, with six games remaining and Madueke expects the title race “to go down to the wire”. His immediate focus is on securing a first-leg win at Leicester.
PSV rallied from 3-0 down to salvage a last-minute draw at Twente last time out and Madueke is hopeful of less drama on Thursday. “If it can go a bit smoother, then for sure I would take that option,” he says, smiling. “But we have to be ready for everything.”