The Harry Maguire pile-on says much more about modern society and those steaming in than it does about the Man Utd and England defender. Why are we like this?
Johnny Nic urges us all to remember ‘What’s So Good About’ Big H…
Who’s this then?
Jacob Harry Maguire is a 30-year-old 6’4” Sheffield-born defender who plays for Manchester United and England.
His youth career at the Blades was very successful and he was promoted to the first-team, making his debut in 2010 in the Championship in a relegation season. He made over 50 appearances for United in each of the following three seasons in League One, in total playing 166 times and scoring a dozen goals.
So good was he that he was voted Player of the Year in each of those seasons and was the league’s stand out young defending talent. At which point Hull City, then in the top flight, bought him for just £2.5million, played him six times and loaned him out to Wigan for 16 games. When he returned to Hull, they’d been relegated but with Maguire back in the centre of defence, they won the Championship play-offs to gain promotion, but once again finished the following season in the relegation places.
In 2017 Leicester City paid £12million for him and put him on a five-year contract. After two campaigns in which the Foxes finished ninth twice, Manchester United turned up with 80 million quite incredible pounds spilling out of their pockets like a drunk at a cashpoint and took Harry to Old Trafford, making him the most expensive defender in the world. Such is the financial profligacy of United. However, in 2019 he was seen as one of the best central defenders in Europe, certainly the best English version.
He hit the ground running, making his debut in the 4-0 defeat of Chelsea and being awarded Man of the Match. Early good form saw him, within six months, made club captain.
Meanwhile he made his international debut in 2017, went to the 2018 World Cup scoring a typically robust header against Sweden in the quarter-final. He helped England reach the Euro 2020 final loss to Italy.
In 2022-23 he only played 16 top flight games after being a mainstay of the defence for the previous three seasons. A transfer to West Ham fell through this summer and at club level he seems out of favour, less so internationally with Gareth Southgate vigorously defending him, though an own goal against Scotland hardly helped his cause last week.
Why the love/hate?
It is worth remembering that Sheffield United, Leicester City and Manchester United fans for at least two seasons all loved Harry. He played really well for all of them. He was widely and regularly praised for his strong defensive performances and for his more progressive work on the ball too.
Those who taunt Harry, be it in the tabloids or on social media, seem to forget that he is actually a sentient animal. The sheer volume and extent is simply ridiculous. The degree of abuse he’s had to endure for the last couple of seasons is pathetic and those who indulge in the worst of it should be ashamed of themselves. Imagine getting joy out of other people’s pain?
I don’t know why putting people down so viciously is so validating for so many. It doesn’t reflect well on their state of mind or the quality of their own self-identity. Because this is extreme. It’s not one or two piss-takes. It’s a whole army of them which never stops. When I was looking for clips of him, there were many more ‘greatest mistakes’ clips available than anything else. The glee with which these sell themselves is particularly nauseating.
It shouldn’t need stating but it clearly does, that Maguire is an excellent footballer. He might have moved away from United in order to play more football, but it’s a sign of his determined state of mind that he wants to stay and fight to play games. We should praise him for being so resolute rather than treat him like so much human garbage.
Recency bias to the point of mindwipe means that it is being forgotten that Maguire has been a fantastic defender for the last 12 years and was much sought after before his move to United. That so much money was paid for him reflects that.
The idea that he’s become old-fashioned or out-moded across these two years just doesn’t bear scrutiny. It all depends on how you want to play. He was bought to play in a team that played in a different way to how Erik ten Hag wants to play now. Fair enough. When in peak form, he could carry the ball out from the defensive third. His surging through midfield was always exciting to witness. He also sprayed 50-yard diags with relative ease. He’s always been a threat from set-pieces and he was one of the reasons England were so defensively tight during the last European Championships.
Yet if you take any notice of memes you’d think he was some sort of hapless klutz playing soccer in clown shoes. He has been very unlucky, as his own goal against Scotland well illustrated. But this degree of unluckiness will just be a phase. Yet the determined and persistent negativity surrounding him means the 95 per cent of his game that is good, is being overlooked for the five per cent that isn’t. The expression ‘can’t do right for doing wrong’, comes to mind. It is as though people are just waiting for him to do something wrong in order to jump on him again.
None of this is to say that he’s a good fit for his manager at Manchester United, or that there isn’t a better fit at centre-back for England, but more to add some balance to the over-the-top criticism. It’s not hard to see where the weaknesses in his game are, but all defenders have weaknesses. He’s not unique in that. Falling out of favour with the manager happens at all clubs, all the time. It’s not unique to Harry, nor is it some terrible or special humiliation.
His contract runs until 2025. If the club is paying him so much money that no other club can afford to sign him, that’s a self-inflicted problem of their own making. He’s well within his rights to sit out the contract and when he has there will be plenty of competition for his signature as an experienced defender, preferably a club that plays a low block and can put younger players around him to do his running.
We will still see the unstoppable headers, the long-range passing and the galloping runs out of defence, I’m sure, just not at Old Trafford. One thing is for certain, his football career is far from over and better days lie ahead for a big man who has been badly treated.
Three great moments
Remember how great this made us feel?
And another mighty header…
This is fun….
He likely will have to move on in January and he will be a great signing for someone. It would be no surprise at all to see a move revitalise his career and restore his form and we will once again see the old Harry Maguire, a solid, resolute defender, heading balls away at set pieces and scoring goals from corners. Even back in analogue days of Ted MacDougal and Tony Woodcock playing at Old Trafford has always put really good players in the brightest of spotlights, so any dip in form is endlessly dwelt upon and in the modern media, used to harvest clicks. There is far more traffic in negativity than in positivity. That says a lot about the state of our modern mentality.
His fall off in form at United can’t be divorced from the wider problems at the club and that shouldn’t be forgotten. They do seem to have a habit of making some players worse. Maguire is not playing as well as he did three or four years ago, but he’s coming down from a snowy peak. At times he does look clumsy. In part this will be the criticism preying on his mind, making him overthink things and is also probably down to his positional sense being awry, meaning he ends up in compromised positions. That in turn may also be down to his team-mates not doing their jobs well enough and as a consequence, leaving him exposed. And, of course, he’s made unforced errors too. I’m sure he’d accept that.
The way this player has been treated has been a lesson in the heinous modern phenomenon of the pile on, with people taking turns to kick a man in order to make themselves feel better. It won’t.
It’s dreadfully ugly. Actively trying to find the worst in a footballer instead of celebrating the best, is no way to live happily and reflects very badly on those who do it. I’m not sure if it is a lot of people, or if it’s just a small amount of very noisy people, I hope it’s the latter. The fact England fans were applauding him at Hampden Park this week was very good to see.
Maguire is a better footballer than 99.9 per cent of us. He helped England to its best tournament performance for over 50 years. This is not nothing. So good luck Harry. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.
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