Another Brick in the Wall – What will Harry Maguire bring to this United side?
Written by Anirudh Madhavan
Doom and gloom
A swirling air of doom and gloom seemed to pervade the hallowed corridors of Old Trafford at the end of last season. A disastrous end to the season had just unfolded, with a feckless display against Cardiff City. The club’s most successful player of the season was subject to criticism from the fans. And Gary Neville, by then the unofficial spokesperson of the fans, had another steaming rant on Sky Sports. With their noisy neighbors defending their Premier League title, it seemed like a miserable season. The rot of jealousy stunk a lot more, once Jürgen Klopp’s band of warriors laid siege to their sixth European Cup. With a broken team, spirit and recruitment model, the legions of fans who bear fealty to United’s crest were baying for change.
“A director of football!”, “Woodward is the issue!”, “Throw money at it again!”, “Have faith in the abilities of our youth!”, “Do we keep or sell Pogba?”, These multiple conflicting issues, all of which highly divide the fan base, seemed to be leading the discussion in the United circles. And then a murky quiet emerged. United managed to work reasonably quickly, pushing the deals of Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka over the line. And then seemed to proceed to stop. Last year, United had moved swiftly for Diogo Dalot and Fred. Then, disaster had ensued. The same seemed inevitable this year. While United fans wanted additions in midfield to aid the overtaxed, overly criticized Pogba, the real issue lay elsewhere. With Eric Bailly, who seems to consistently keep the medical department engaged at the club, once again in their care, United’s problems were exacerbated at Center-Half.
With a British duo of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling flattering to fail, United needed a top-quality partner for Iceman Victor Lindelof. Finally, with little over a week to go for the season’s opener against Chelsea, United have pounced. In the process of splashing a massive outlay, to the tune of £85million on Leicester City’s Harry Maguire, United’s executives and Ed Woodward have made a statement. To the fans, however, this is finally the laying of a brick in a porous defensive wall. So is Maguire going to be the next Pallister, Bruce, Vidic or Ferdinand, or just not Messrs Jones and Smalling?
Maguire, whom the cyberspace have christened Slab-head, is a towering presence. 1.94 meters tall, and with a massive forehead to boot, he is a colossal presence defending his own goal and a menace up the other end. Growing up in St. Mary’s Catholic high school in Chesterfield, Maguire was an excellent athlete from a fledgling age. The school’s PE instructor, Martin McKee recollected in an interview with The Guardian during the World Cup, “He was a good cross-country and 800 m runner and a discus thrower. We have a big push on discipline. A strong philosophy on how football should be played – the complete opposite of Colombia (referring to the ill-tempered World Cup clash) the other night. Harry mostly kept his head and I think he would have got that from us. I can’t remember one incident on a football pitch where I had to tell him off.”
Having seen the likes of Bailly and Jones rush into tackles and then a stretcher moments later, United know their new signing is more measured. He is not afraid to put his head in the mix, but also keep his bearings in the process. Maguire started off, at the youth set up at Sheffield United. Part of the side that reached the 2011 Youth FA Cup Final, his stock rose. Maguire’s boss at the time, Micky Adams remarked in an interview with The Express, “The one thing people would have been worried about was… he was a big, gangly lad and maybe a lack of pace would catch him out. The one thing you didn’t worry about with Harry was his ability on the ball.”
Maguire made the step up into the first team, playing 134 times between 2011-2014, also reaching an FA Cup Semifinal in the process. This prompted Hull City to splash £2.5million on the Yorkshire youth and be part of a side that featured Andy Robertson. In 2017, Maguire was signed for £17million by Leicester City. Playing every minute of the 2017-18 campaign, Maguire captured the imagination of a nation over the course of the World Cup. Earning his new nickname, and many more fans over the course of the tournament, Maguire was talked about in the same breath as many illustrious compatriots. Purportedly, Jose Mourinho was imploring his club chairman to fork out £75million to sign him!
Maguire has made the first massive jump of his career now. What is he likely to bring to this Manchester United side? Maguire was wanted by Pep Guardiola, which speaks highly of his abilities to play the ball out from the back. In him and Lindelof, United finally have players who can pick the ball off their keeper and open up the play. They both have a big diagonal in them, and also the cushion to feed Paul Pogba in his channel. Maguire is just 26, Lindelof 25. In the pair, United have the promise of two injury-free centre-halves (touchwood) for a major part of the six to seven years to come. United’s backline is one of the youngest in the top 6, and that will appease the fans and Solskjaer to an extent. Maguire can spring United’s attacks, but also defend excellently. United have been woeful both defending and attacking set pieces for a number of years now. Maguire is likely to add threat at one end and snuffle out dangers at the other.
Is everything rosy? Not quite. Given the energetic, front-foot football Solskjaer is likely to implement, Maguire will have to ensure his pace limitations do not affect him against pacey opposition. The price tag is a massive weight on the player’s shoulders. Whether he chooses to use the pressure to motivate or deflate him, lies solely in his hands. The expectations, responsibilities, and faith reposed in a Manchester United player are manifold. Maguire has an excellent support system, family and mentors to help keep him relaxed, but also grounded and motivated. He must know what is at stake, but also grow as a player and personality along the journey. United may yet make a signing or two that appeases their marketing department and sets the pulses of fans throbbing. Yet, if United go on to achieve their season’s aspirations (presumably securing a top 4 finish), this could be the signing that makes that a reality.
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