There was a moment midway through the first half of England’s comfortable win over Ivory Coast where a failed and missed back pass flew through the air and began to fall over the head of Harry Maguire. He’s a consistent header, as you may have heard, and was at one point enough to earn him cult status among the supporters who follow him. You could call it his defining characteristic.
Except that’s not the case. Although built like your archetypal centre-half, a bit heavy and as wide as he is tall, Maguire’s gifts are in his feet. As the ball fell from the sky above him, he didn’t push it away. Instead, he backed off, settled in and ripped himself off the air with one of the finest first touches of the entire Wembley night, which sent a ripple of applause and a soft coo around the crowd.
You wondered, at that time, if some of those who were silent had something of a bad conscience. Wembley’s response to that first contact had been very different to that which had followed Maguire’s name before kick-off, when a small but vocal minority present inexplicably booed their own player. It wasn’t the first time this had happened to Maguire recently either.
Sarcastic cheers met his late replacement in Manchester United’s Champions League loss to Atletico Madrid earlier this month. It was a depressing new low in the United captain’s career at Old Trafford and just as disappointing as the reaction here at Wembley. There was also a handful of similar teasing in the hour before kick-off against Switzerland on Saturday, when he was announced as one of the substitutes.
This time it was louder and more sustained than in either incident, though just as inexplicable. Maguire’s name was first booed when it was read aloud as part of the starting lineup over Wembley’s public address system. His first contact here was later met with a similar volume of mockery. Every time the ball came close to him in those first few minutes, there were boos again but a little quieter, until there were no boos at all.
It was as if those who intended to take down one of their own couldn’t even bother to continue the charade. And thankfully, there were also a few shows of support. Shortly after this delicate first touch, sprinkled with applause, the English group began to play on Maguire’s song, to the tune of “La Bamba”. He didn’t sing a chorus of the defender’s chant among the rest of the crowd, but that’s nothing unusual for one of these friendlies.
There soon followed a characteristic arrow forward with the ball by Maguire from deep within his own territory. He initiated the move that led to Ollie Watkins’ goal. Watch a replay of the second, you’ll notice Maguire’s direct forward pass also leads into Raheem Sterling’s. The centre-back’s ability on the ball – both passing and dribbling – is a drastically underrated aspect of his game.
It was one of the reasons why he was promoted so quickly to starting centre-back status by Gareth Southgate shortly after his international debut, and the England manager made that point earlier this week when asked about Maguire’s recent malaise. “We have a player here who has been exceptional for England and has almost, with John [Stones]changed the type of football we were able to play from the back over a period of time.
Perhaps the most infuriating aspect of Maguire’s boos was that, while his fiercest defenders would admit he has been desperately poor for United at times this season, he has virtually always performed well for his country. With a clean sheet and a hand in both goals, it was another performance where England looked like a better side with Maguire in the side.
Southgate has made this point many times and reiterated it again this week. “He was a cult hero for England and he was instrumental in our reaching a World Cup semi-final and European Championship final in a tournament in which he was one of the tournament players and named to the squad with the tournament.” He couldn’t have done much more to earn the respect of his own followers.
But as Southgate would surely agree, that’s not really the point either. However Maguire played for England and however he performed for United, he deserves better than to be booed by his people at club and international level. Every player does. These recent incidents at Old Trafford and Wembley are depressing responses to the form of a player who is much better than his detractors believe.
Harry Maguire rises above boos to stay resolute for England
Source link Harry Maguire rises above boos to stay resolute for England