Harry Maguire is still captain of Manchester United, but his standing at Old Trafford has never been less. The 29-year-old has been dropped to the bench by new manager Erik ten Hag with Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane favored as the heart of Manchester United’s first-choice position this season. However, Gareth Southgate is still dependent on Maguire.
Southgate had to justify his choice of a player who only started twice
Maguire has long played his best football for England. The defender was an important member of the team that reached the 2018 World Cup semi-finals and the Euro 2020 final. Southgate clearly feels loyal to Maguire for what he has done for his country over the past few years.
However, England now has better options than Maguire. Fikayo Tomori, for example, is the winner of the Serie A title with AC Milan and plays first-team football for one of the biggest Italian clubs in the Champions League. However, he was not given a chance to prove himself with the national team under Southgate.
The boundaries of the Maguire game are clear for all to see. The 29-year-old feels comfortable enough deployed as part of a low defensive line, but his lack of recovery speed means he struggles on a proactive team. That’s why Ten Hag dropped Maguire off the Manchester United bench in the early part of this season.
“He’s an important player for us and it’s important to support our best players,” Southgate replied when asked to justify Maguire’s selection for England’s UEFA Nations League final matches against Italy and Germany. “Whatever my reputation, I put it out there. He is our most dominant aerial defender.
“He and John” [Stones] Unbelievable with the ball – the amount of pressure they put on the team in tournaments because we don’t always have a pivotal midfielder who can push through the game. This means that there is a huge amount of pressure on our central defender to use the ball well and these two players are as good as any player in world football at doing that.”
This winter’s World Cup could be a turning point in Maguire’s career for club and country alike. While the 29-year-old’s career with Manchester United may never recover, a successful England championship could lift his tally to a point where there is interest from elsewhere in the center of defence. He can prove the skeptics wrong.
Alternatively, a weak World Cup may exacerbate Maguire’s problems. A disappointing tournament will surely lead to Southgate’s end as England manager which will see Maguire lose a key ally at the top of the game. Things must go well for Maguire in Qatar or his career may never recover.