Harry Maguire is home. In Qatar, surrounded by his Three Lions’ teammates, he has returned to form and has silenced the doubters who questioned Gareth Southgate for even including him in his World Cup squad.
This World Cup comes off the back of the toughest 18 months of his career. He has faced a lifetime of abuse, more than any other player in the Premier League in that time and been vilified by even his own fans.
For critics, he’s the main reason for Manchester United’s recent demise. He’s rightly or wrongly, the captain of that club and as a result has taken the brunt of the blame. Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival overshadowed any dressing room respect he was building and he was the scapegoat when they lost to Brighton and Brentford at the start of the season.
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Erik ten Hag’s solution was to drop his captain and since then results have improved, but Maguire took the brunt of the fans’ abuse. It’s been a continuous, and very serious thing. In April, he contacted the police after somebody sent him a letter claiming that they had placed bombs around his family home. To go through that sort of thing and come out the other side with his head held high shows the measure of the man.
His lack of club football was a concern, but for Southgate, he has never lost faith in his centre-back. Those same folks that like to say the England manager is ‘boring’ wheeled out the same old lines about him having ‘favourites’ when Maguire was not only picked in the squad, but chosen in the opener against Iran.
But Southgate doesn’t have favourites. He has players that have never let him down while wearing an England shirt. Number one on that list is Harry Maguire. When England’s Golden Generation were at their pomp, the only conversation anybody seemed to have was ‘how do we get them to replicate their club form for England?’.
Now, the whole narrative has switched. Southgate has created an environment around the national team that gets the best out of players, even when they are out of form for their club. It’s a miraculous environment that shouldn’t be overlooked, and Maguire, now 29, has been a key member of the squad for three tournaments. In every single one he has been phenomenal.
From set pieces, he is England’s biggest weapon. His reading of the game is better while wearing a white shirt and he looks far more comfortable when he isn’t being asked to play in a high line, as his club demands. Sure, the Three Lions will face far trickier tests as we enter the knockout stage, but Maguire looks to be enjoying his football again and as a result, England are yet again seeing top performances from him.
For a centre-half, trust is everything from a manager. Clearly Maguire’s confidence has been trashed at club level, but Southgate has never lost faith in him. He retains his full trust and now having started every group game, the public are back onside too. A top class display against the USA proved Southgate right and as we enter the knockout stages, England will rely once again on their lovable, and dominant ‘slabhead’.
This tournament environment is absolutely perfect for the Sheffield-born lad. He has got away from all the media storm that surrounds him in England and the Three Lions’ training base at the Souq Al Wakra has become his safe haven.
The Lions’ Den YouTube videos have revealed the true side of Maguire. His was the feature of the latest live stream and showed up in his flip-flops, relaxed as anything. He had a go at the darts game and joked with host Josh Denzel, with a beaming smile on his face. Even though he’s now a senior figure of this squad, we’ve seen him dive-bombing into the pool to scare Bukayo Saka and looking like a leader without the weight of the world on his shoulders.
The scrutiny on the Three Lions and Maguire will only increase as Southgate’s men enter the knockout stages. But for now, it's been refreshing to see Maguire looking at home in an England shirt once again.
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