In his latest column for Sky Sports, Paul Merson says Harry Maguire has never let England down, defending the Manchester United defender after the criticism and jeering he has faced this week.
Maguire, who was a half-time substitute in England 3-1 win over Scotland on Tuesday, was jeered by the Hampden Park home crowd every time he touched the ball and scored a second-half own goal.
The treatment of the Manchester United defender led a “livid” Gareth Southgate to brand it as “an absolute joke” and the England manager blamed the actions of “people in our own country” for Scotland fans jumping on his back.
Maguire has also spoken out, claiming he can handle all the criticism that comes his way after a difficult night against Scotland, adding any focus and pressure he can take from his team-mates is a positive thing.
Speaking exclusively to Sky Sports, here’s the Magic Man’s take on a topic that has been taking all the headlines this week…
‘Maguire has never let England down’
Harry Maguire’s a top player, playing at a really high level and playing for his country. He’s getting abuse from people not fit to lace his boots, if we are being honest.
At the time, I jumped on him a bit when he went to Man Utd, but I really respect him as a player and what he’s done, particularly at international level. He’s never let England or Gareth Southgate down.
Against Scotland, he scored an own goal and of course he would’ve liked to have avoided that, but that’s just his luck at the moment. Every little error is scrutinised for days and days
However, after the own goal he did well. He never gave the ball away once against Scotland. His mental strength and his ability to play under so much pressure and scrutiny is fantastic.
‘Southgate trusts Maguire; We aren’t blessed with other options’
Should Gareth have come out and defended Maguire like that? I’m not so sure.
Maguire is old enough and big enough to deal with what comes his way, but Gareth probably felt he had to do something. He wanted to put a line in the sand because he’s going to keep picking him.
It’s not like we are blessed with central defenders at the moment. John Stones is injured. Lewis Dunk and Marc Guehi had decent games in the last couple of weeks, while Levi Colwill isn’t capped yet.
There’s also not a lot of time now before the Euros. Southgate’s not going to have the opportunity to give new players loads of caps and the necessary experience he feels they need before a major tournament.
Southgate trusts Maguire, who has been a central figure for him.
That’s the game. Gareth knows it. As a player, if he was tearing it up for Aston Villa and someone else got picked for England, he’d be fuming. But as a manager, you come to trust players. It’s the same with Gareth and Jordan Pickford, and others. They have done a job for him and he is showing loyalty back.
‘Maguire gets in Southgate’s best team’
Why should Gareth not pick him? He’s never let him down with England.
I could understand it if for example, Kalvin Phillips didn’t get a call-up. He doesn’t play for Man City. He doesn’t really play for England if you are picking their best team.
But with Harry, he gets in England’s best team under Southgate.
He’s helped them get to World Cup semi-finals, a Euros final, a World Cup quarter-final where they lost on penalties, and so on. He was in the team of the World Cup under Gareth.
Analysis: Southgate ready to stick with Maguire
Sky Sports News’ Rob Dorsett:
Maguire has become a caricature of calamity in a lot of people’s eyes in and around football and his manager Gareth Southgate has had enough, plain and simple. Rarely have I seen the England manager so animated as he was when he spoke to me in the mixed zone at Hampden Park last night. His paternal instincts came out again. We’ve seen it with the younger players in the squad in the past but last night it was one of the senior players he was looking to protect.
I don’t think the England supporters were critical or mocking Harry Maguire, by contrast they were cheering his name. But the point Southgate is making is the criticism Maguire has had from pundits, the media and on social media has created this caricature of calamity which is fair game for opposing fans to have a go at.
I get the sense Gareth Southgate will dig his heels in here and become more stubborn and continue to pick Harry Maguire and continue to play Harry Maguire even if the noises around that get louder and louder against the idea of him playing for England.
To put that into context, Maguire scored an own goal last night and he was unlucky. That can happen to any player. He actually played pretty well for the rest of the 45 minutes he was on, his positional play was good, he didn’t give the ball away and yet even on our own Sky Sports website and App we’ve given him 4/10, two less than anybody else. The vast majority of England players got 7 or 8 out of 10.
Nobody’s wrong, it’s subjective and everyone is entitled to their opinion but Southgate has had enough of the opinions he thinks are misguided being directed pointedly at Harry Maguire.
Should Maguire have left Man Utd?
It feels like there was a conversation between Harry and Gareth. He must have had assurances over his England spot if he stayed at Manchester United. There must have been a conversation and in the end, he didn’t want to go to West Ham.
I thought West Ham would have suited Maguire.
I talked in the past about the way United play, with their defence playing high up and that not particularly suiting Harry. I thought West Ham was a good move for him. They sit a bit deeper and he’s not the quickest in the world, so he would have been much more comfortable under David Moyes.
Should he move? Maguire will have his reasons why he didn’t, but football is a funny old game. An injury or two changes things completely for him at Old Trafford. For example, who would have thought Maguire would have been partnering Jonny Evans at the heart of the Man Utd defence at Arsenal in the second half?
You just never know what is around the corner.
Is the Maguire situation too much of a distraction for England?
I don’t think it is. They are basically qualified for the European Championships next summer. They’ll be there in Germany again and Maguire has been a regular in Southgate’s side.
What’s the issue? Look at England’s record under Gareth, it’s superb compared to what we’ve done in the recent past.
Gareth’s a strong character. He knows his own mind and he’s not going to waver from it.
Maguire will be in the next England squad, and the next, all the way to the Euros. We’ve just got to let Gareth get on with the job.
It’s not an easy job at the best of times, but he’s done it well and we’ve got to let him get on with it.
Maguire’s one of his key men and that’s not going to change because of a few boos and ironic cheers.