After being signed for a reported fee of £80 million, a world record fee at the time for a defender, expectations were high for Harry Maguire. As Maguire was signed at the age of 26 it was perceived that Manchester United had bought the defender at his peak, this added to the pressure for the England man as he was expected to fit in straightaway. After a shaky first season, Maguire has come into his own at the club, but how crucial is the United’s Captain?
Maguire picked up an injury in the Premiere League defeat to Aston Villa last week, as was reported by The Mirror, having to leave the pitch in the 67th minute, Aston Villa went on to score the winner at the end of the game, while Maguire was not on the pitch, as reported by BBC Sport.
It would be unfair to say that Aston Villa won the game because Maguire was not there as the result was much more complex than that, however, it is fair to say that Maguire brings a certain amount of sturdiness and ariel ability to United’s defensive line, and without him, things start to look a lot more fragile.
Perhaps a key reason for this is the fact that since the signing of Raphael Varane from Real Madrid this summer, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been playing Maguire and Varane as his main defensive partnership, especially in the league. The centre backs have played three full games together back to back, and United won all three. Breaking up this blossoming partnership may well be the cause of the defensive fragilities on show during the end of the game.
It must also be noted that at the back end of the 2020/21 season, Maguire picked up an injury that led to him not only missing the last few games of the league campaign but also the Europa League final. Of those last four league games, United lost two, drew one and won one, this was a sheer drop off for a team who had not lost in the league since January. The absence of Maguire was apparent in these games; however, it was much more noticeable in the Europa League Final.
Villarreal scored their goal from a set piece, and with Maguire’s ariel ability, it could be argued that had he been on the pitch this would not have happened. The defence looked shaky throughout, a leader was missing, and it led to United throwing away their last hope of silverware that season. Manchester Evening News stated that ‘Arguably, had Maguire started the game, United would have won the competition’. These five games alone show how crucial the captain is to United.
Another aspect of Harry Maguire’s game that is crucial to United is his leadership. There were many raised eyebrows amongst fans when Maguire was made club captain a mere four months after he signed, as was announced by the clubs official website. However, the defender has proven his worth in this area, repaying the faith shown in him by the manager.
Solskjaer stated; ‘he has come in and been a leader in the group’, when Maguire arrived at the club, leaders were hard to find in the team, Maguire coming in and being an instant leader was not only important for morale, but crucial to the job Solskjaer was trying to do in changing the culture of the dressing room.
Of course, these days there are many more leaders; Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and Edinson Cavani all show leadership qualities on the pitch, but Maguire has been a consistent leader at the club for a few years now, earning the trust and support of his colleagues. Trust and respect are crucial for a captain, but it also means their absence effects the squad.
Maguire’s absence was certainly felt in United’s midweek Champions League game against Villarreal, although United managed to escape the game with all three points due to a late winner from Ronaldo, the makeshift defence of Victor Lindelof, Diogo Dalot, Alex Telles and Varane looked Shakey at best. For Villarreal’s goal it was clear that there was a lack of communication between the defenders, an area in which Maguire excels.
United consistently gave chances to Villarreal and if it was not for their lack of clinical finishing, the result could have been much worse for United. Of course, the absence of Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka contributed to the defensive issues, but it felt as though a leader was missing from United’s back line, much like the Europa League final against the same opposition months earlier.
The injury to Maguire’s calf has led to him being left out of the England squad for next weeks international fixtures, this can only ben good news for United fans who, especially after Saturday’s draw with Everton in the league, will want Maguire back to full fitness as soon as possible.
There is no doubt that Harry Maguire is a key part of United’s defence, his aerial ability, leadership, and defensive quality all make him a defender who makes those around him look better and more assured. With a tough run of fixtures coming up for United after the international break, every Manchester United fan will be hoping that the captain is back and at his best soon.
Written by Jennifer McCord