The picture has been doing the rounds for a while now. You’ve probably seen it. Harry Maguire in France with his mates, watching England take on Slovakia at Euro 2016. It’s a largely unremarkable image of lads on tour, following their team abroad on a mission that was perhaps doomed from the start. Except one of them is now out there on the pitch instead, looking to right previous wrongs.
Together with another picture from after the match against Panama, where he reconvenes with that same group who have come out to Russia to watch him play, it’s sealed Maguire’s reputation as something of an England fan favourite. His impressive performances have helped too of course, but he possesses an indescribable everyman quality that’s hard not to fall for. He even turned up for England duty with his gear in a bin bag.
Playing for his country in a World Cup has capped off Maguire’s journey from a promising young centre back, who made his name in League One with Sheffield United, to someone who now looks established at the top level. It hasn’t been without its difficulties but he’s demonstrated considerable mental strength and technical ability at every step of the way.
Two years ago he was just an England fan, the idea of playing international football little more than a distant dream. One year ago he was relegated from the Premier League with Hull City but made enough of an impression to earn a £17million move to Leicester City. Many saw it as a risky investment in an unproven player. A great season on a personal level has easily justified the deal.
Maguire has made great strides in the last 12 months. He was named as Leicester’s player of the season and forced his way into the England squad. Remaining on the bench during his first call-up, the strapping centre half made his debut against Lithuania in the final qualifying match for the World Cup. It was Gareth Southgate’s first experiment with playing three at the back and a trio of Maguire, Michael Keane and John Stones kept a clean sheet in Vilnius.
Excited by the possibilities that this tactical change offered up, the manager persevered. Maguire played the full 90 minutes against Germany and Brazil in November’s friendlies, as two more clean sheets, and composed performances to accompany them, sealed his place in Southgate’s plans. More experienced defenders like Gary Cahill and Chris Smalling were pushed down the pecking order.
Tall, broad and a little ungainly looking, Maguire is a surprisingly elegant footballer. As well as traditional defensive attributes like strength and heading ability, he’s comfortable in possession too. His ease at bringing the ball out from the back has made him a significant part of Southgate's team. He can both pick a pass, and embark on a rampaging run into space if no option presents itself.
A penalty against Tunisia in the opening group game was the first goal England had conceded with Maguire in the side. It was his sixth cap and he made a telling contribution to clinching the winner late on, when he won the original header from which Harry Kane scored. Last night was another strong display in a pressurised environment.
Maguire’s relative lack of experience might even be a point in his favour. Unlike so many before him, he seems to relish the opportunity to play for England. The novelty factor is still so far from wearing off and as a newcomer to the team he’s unburdened by previous failings. He sees to be enjoying himself, and deservedly so. While many feared that he would be found out at international level, Maguire’s remarkable rise continues.
Four years on they've got better gear and haircuts but also one has played in a champions league final and the other has just reached the World Cup Quarter-finals. Two true inspirations to any young players in the game👏🏽