James Maddison's exclusion from England’s Euro 2024 party was sad but inevitable - just as Eberechi Eze making the cut now looks a formality.

For the first three months of the 2023-24 campaign, Maddison was not just the catalyst who made Tottenham tick: He was probably the best player in the Premier League, and streets ahead as signing of the season. Spurs were five points clear at the top in late October, and their midfield pied piper was king of Big Angeball.

So how did he miss the boat for the Euros? Simple - his injury during that chaotic 4-1 home defeat by Chelsea in November didn’t just take the wind from Tottenham’s sails. Maddison was never quite the same player when he came back.

And Eze, who put together a barnstorming sequence of performances in Crystal Palace’s surge towards a top-half finish, became an irresistible alternative.

At his best, Maddison finds a way to influence games - even when the chips are down. It was his deft pass which set up Jude Bellingham’s last-gasp equaliser in England’s soggy 2-2 draw against Belgium at Wembley three months ago.

But just like the away kits on display that night - England in their prune-juice purple, Belgium in their Tintin tribute light blue - Maddison had become almost unrecognisable as Spurs fell short in their battle to qualify for the Champions League.

A symptom of his growing frustration was an off-the-ball rabbit punch which winded Nottingham Forest’s Ryan Yates in April. He escaped censure that evening, but by then, Spurs were becoming masters of falling behind - six home games in a row they conceded first - and Maddison was losing the art of being a front-runner in England coach Gareth Southgate’s grand design.

Eberechi Eze (R) is now likely to make the final squad while Maddison sits it out (
Image:
The FA via Getty Images)

Along with Michael Olise, Eze is the player who makes Palace tick. He can beat opponents with a dip of the shoulder or footwork worthy of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, and we saw glimpses of it during England’s laboured 3-0 win against Bosnia-Herzegovina in Newcastle earlier this week.

Although Maddison’s set-piece delivery is usually top-notch, the Three Lions would not be losing any firepower in that regard by giving Eze the nod. With no Marcus Rashford or Maddison around - the Spurs kingpin left England’s squad camp on Wednesday night after being told he wasn’t going to Germany - Eze may not be in the starting XI against Serbia on June 16… but he is an exciting option to bring off the bench if needed.

Take your pick from Jack Grealish or Eze to sprinkle a bit of magic cutting in from the left flank, but Southgate is well-covered in that area of the pitch. Even the stoniest heart will feel for Maddison, who went to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar but did not feature for a single minute as England were pipped by France in the quarter-finals.

His talent deserves a trot on the big stage at a major tournament. He will be only 29 by the time the next World Cup comes around, so the ship has not sailed yet - but he will need to put a foot on the gangplank soon.