Have we really got to the point where the safety of a Manchester United player and his family have been threatened in their home? In the same week in which a teammate’s own personal tragedy ought to have put sporting results and performances into their correct context? Apparently, this is exactly the point we find ourselves at.
Just days after the awful news that Cristiano Ronaldo and his partner Georgina Rodriguez had lost one of their baby twins, Harry Maguire was faced with the reality of police officers with sniffer dogs in his home after the United captain had received a bomb threat.
The right-minded portion of the football community has rallied around Maguire, with United’s interim boss Ralf Rangnick saying on Friday morning: “It’s another bad sign of the crazy world we're living in, I feel sorry for Harry he had that terrible experience.
“He knows everyone is behind him, the club, his teammates. It's sad enough that crazy things like that happen.”
It goes without saying that nothing Maguire does or doesn’t do should result in such a terrifying experience, let alone the psychological damage it might well have done to the club captain’s fiancée and children. But how on earth has it come to this?
Sure, Maguire has been disappointing on the field this season. Indeed, for a large percentage of United fans he has become the poster boy for the club’s failures as they have bounced from one crisis to the next, first under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and then after the arrival of Rangnick, with #MaguireOut becoming the social media staple following United defeats now that the Norwegian is out of the picture.
But new boss Erik ten Hag is walking into an absolute storm when it comes to Maguire this summer. And among the seemingly endless list of issues that the Dutchman will be tasked with addressing, the status of the England centre-back is fast becoming the most pressing of the lot.
Maguire has been the lightning rod for most of the campaign. Some fans claim he plays better for England than for his club, there are accusations of poor leadership, bad positioning and a shortage of the necessary speed. For others, his lack of command in the dressing room is cited as a problem, with an inability to make senior players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Pogba sit up and listen being a black mark against his name. To some, there is an English bias on display at Premier League clubs which is exemplified by Maguire’s almost ever-present status in the starting line-up.
His £80 million transfer fee has also been a stick to beat the former Leicester City and Hull City defender with over the past three years, but transfer obsessives who fixate on fees and comparative value have no place in the argument over what United should or shouldn’t be doing with Maguire. It isn’t their money.
While anything from some to all of the assessments on his form and position within the club might carry some truth, it is worth remembering that United conceded nine goals in their last four Premier League games of 2020-21 – three of them at Old Trafford – when Maguire was missing with the ankle injury which also ruled him out of participation in the Europa League final against Villarreal. Even after that penalty defeat there were widespread claims that United had missed their captain. Maguire is by no means the only person to blame for the Red Devils’ ills over recent seasons, and there is every chance that he is left out against Arsenal this weekend and United still get stuffed. Then what?
Yet Ten Hag does have a call to make here. He needs to overhaul his squad, identify players who deserve to be a part of the Manchester United of the future whether they already train at Carrington or currently ply their trades elsewhere, and all the while be plotting a vision for the years to come.
Does Maguire really deserve to be leading that? Or even be a part of it? And how much does his current position as club captain, handed to him by Solskjaer less than six months into his United career, carry any weight.
The truth is that Ten Hag should be questioning the captaincy just as seriously as he is scrutinising every other area of the Manchester United setup. Now is a time when nothing should be off the table, and it may even be to Maguire’s benefit to be taken out of the spotlight and handed a rank-and-file position in the squad under a new captain. Maybe even a fresh start somewhere else would be the tonic.
Ten Hag needs to set the direction of the club from top to bottom, so the identity of a leadership group is of paramount importance, and that might well mean taking the captaincy from Maguire.
But neither can the club be seen as bowing down to mob rule and despicable threats to life.
A transition of captaincy would always have had to be done sensitively, but now more than ever there will need to be a careful and deliberate plan to move things along if indeed Ten Hag wants somebody else to have the armband.
In the meantime, those ‘fans’ who think it’s fine for Maguire and his family to be threatened deserve to have an even worse captain and a terrible team rolled out each week and then see how they like it. Better still, go find a different club.
*18+ | BeGambleAware