Before the transfer window closed on September 1, 2023, many football lovers thought that the England defender would find his way out of Manchester United.
The England international had been stripped of the club captaincy and relegated to fifth choice in the centre-back hierarchy, and the 30-year-old Maguire looked on the verge of leaving Manchester United in the summer.
A £30 million ($36.6 million) bid from West Ham looked set to end his career at Old Trafford after four seasons, only for manager Erik ten Hag and the club’s senior management team to keep him for a last dance.
An injury crisis has hit the Manchester United team, and it has seen Harry Maguire taking his chances and threatening to re-establish himself as a first-choice centre-back for Erik ten Hag, who is not his biggest fan.
A winner against Copenhagen on Tuesday, October 24, 2023, has put Maguire in the conversation as one who deserves to play regularly under the Dutch trainer who did not seem to enjoy the Englishman so much in his first season in charge of the club.
While many hold the opinion that this rise in the form of Harry Maguire is a purple patch, I hold a different view, and this is why
Manchester United wins more games with Maguire than without him
Manchester United wins more games with Maguire than without him.
Since the arrival of Erik ten Hag at Manchester United in the summer of 2022, Harry Maguire’s win percentage, when compared to other central defenders at the club, is better than that of his colleagues. You may not like it or believe it, but that is the cold, hard reality.
With Harry Maguire, Manchester United stand a better chance of winning a football match. In 38 games under Ten Hag, the club has picked up 29 wins, which is about 78%. Closest to this feat is Lisandro Martínez with 65% and Victor Lindelöf, who has 62%, completing the top three.
It gets even better for the Englishman. In 20 games he has started for Manchester United under Erik ten Hag, the team has picked up 16 wins. In the 2023/2024 season, for every game Manchester United has played with Harry Maguire starting, the club has won; against Crystal Palace (3-0), Brentford (2-1), Sheffield (2-1), and Copenhagen (1-0). That is two clean sheets in four, one goal scored, one assisted, and a 100% win rate. It is worth noting that he was used as a substitute against Crystal Palace, a game they lost 1-0.
In fact, with the former Leicester City player starting, Manchester United has won all eight games in the English Premier League in the last 12 months. The last time the team lost with Maguire starting was 14 months ago when they suffered a humiliating 4-0 defeat to Brentford. One could counter-argue by saying that the wins have not been against the Big Six sides or an elite European side, but since when did a win become less important because of the team one plays against?
A win is a win, and Harry Maguire is a catalyst for success for Manchester United. He knows it, and so does Erik ten Hag.
Maguire plays best with Raphael Varane as a left centre-back
Maguire plays best with Raphael Varane as a left centre-back.
I admit that Harry Maguire might never be a correct fit for a team with ambitions of playing with a high defensive line. However, I maintain that I firmly disagree with the notion that Maguire is inadequate as a defender.
The idea for someone to transition from being one of the best centre-backs at the World Cup to being considered subpar overnight does not sit well with me at all.
Every manager walks or operates with a system or set of standards and values, and I understand the argument for why Erik ten Hag does not highly rate Harry Maguire.
I maintain my stance that successful managers don’t design systems that highlight their players’ vulnerabilities. Instead, they build teams that can compensate for these weaknesses. Regrettably, Ten Hag consistently failed to create a system that accommodated the England international, resulting in Maguire facing unjust criticism and online abuse.
However, the narrative is slowly evolving, and it’s becoming apparent that when Ten Hag does field his former club captain, it tends to be in matches where the Yorkshireman can avoid his primary weakness – being isolated one-on-one against speedy opponents.
Erik ten Hag has shown reluctance in deploying Maguire in his preferred role as a left centre-back, where he’s often partnered with Raphael Varane this season.
Notably, in both games against Crystal Palace in the Carabao Cup and the UEFA Champions League against FC Copenhagen, the team kept clean sheets and scored a combined four goals.
The other two times Maguire did not start as a left centre-back with Varane on the right, he played with the Irishman, Jonny Evans, and the club conceded in both games (Brentford (2-1) and Sheffield (2-1)).
Last season, the United manager was asked about his continued decision to play Maguire at right centre-back, preferring Shaw and Lindelof on the left and he said:
“Not this season. The angles are not good for Harry if he is playing on the left side; it’s difficult for him also defending in wide areas on his left foot, but I think he is more capable on the right.
“Victor is very good; he can use both feet, and I think he also did a brilliant job in the rest of defense and the defensive transitions. That’s why we prefer to do it with them in this way.” Ten Hag has also made clear that Maguire has been through extra training intended to help him adapt to playing on the right, offering him “video (footage) of how to outplay opponents and how he can have more impact in possession in building up” during sessions.
For whichever position Harry Maguire has played or whoever he plays with, it is pretty clear he has a great relationship with Raphael Varane, and that can be the true partnership for Erik ten Hag’s desired success.
It takes a resilient man to be Maguire
Harry Maguire has been on the receiving end of some harsh criticism, with most of it being unfair ‘scapegoatism.’
He was booed by his fans on pre-season tours, mocked by away fans (Arsenal, Crystal Palace, and Scotland), and jeered by his countrymen during England games, but all of this has not deterred him from rising above the occasion.
It takes a resilient mind like that of Harry Maguire to overcome a rough patch successfully.
He showed grit in assisting Scott McTominay when Manchester United needed a win badly against Brentford. He was a great hero against FC Copenhagen in the UEFA Champions League.
For years, he was badly treated, unnecessarily scapegoated and heavily criticized. Yes, he may not have played great and maybe he seemed odd, but he, Harry Maguire, is not the problem.
By all means, critique him, have an opinion of him (good or bad), but this brand new Harry Maguire is showing everything Erik ten Hag had always wanted from him: the desire to play for a football club like Manchester United, the desire to win every aerial duel, be the first point of attack, be calm, and above all, be brave.
This is not a purple patch; this is a resurgence, and it will only get better for him.