Harry Maguire has signed for Manchester United and in doing so becomes the most expensive defender in football history at £80m. Adam Bate charts Maguire’s astonishing rise to prominence through five matches for club and country…
In one sense, it has been a long road for Harry Maguire to make it to Manchester United. After all, he has already made over 350 senior appearances in professional football. It’s a lot of experience for a 26-year-old player. Among his new team-mates at Old Trafford, Ashley Young is the only outfield player to have made more league appearances in English football.
But in another sense, Maguire’s rise has been astonishing. Phil Jones was 19 when he made his Manchester United debut. Chris Smalling was 20. Most of his colleagues were playing top-level football somewhere. Maguire was in the third tier. He was still in the Championship with Hull at the age of 23. Few had heard of him as recently as 2016.
Now he is the most expensive defender in the world and a national hero for his exploits with England. That burly frame has helped with the cult status but so has his ability with the ball at his feet – a product of playing in midfield until he was 16. There’s nobody quite like Maguire. Here, we pick out five games that mark his rise from relative obscurity…
Chelsea 2-0 Hull – January 22, 2017
Manchester United’s assistant manager Mike Phelan knows Maguire well from their time together at Hull but following the club’s promotion to the Premier League in 2016, the defender was made to wait for his chance. Phelan, the Hull boss at the time, did not start Maguire until the trip to Bournemouth in October – and promptly dropped him following a 6-1 defeat.
It wasn’t until December that Maguire became a regular starter and he really began to impress when Marco Silva’s appointment the following month sparked a brief renaissance. It was an appearance against champions-elect Chelsea on Super Sunday in late January that captured the attention of a wider audience despite Hull losing 2-0 at Stamford Bridge.
“It was the best centre-half performance I have seen this season,” said pundit Danny Murphy, while Martin Keown praised Maguire’s calmness under pressure. He finished the game having made more tackles, clearances and interceptions than anyone else on the pitch. His forays forward caught the eye too. Only Diego Costa had more shots.
Soon after this, there was talk of interest from a host of Premier League clubs with Chelsea among them, but upon Hull’s relegation from the top flight, it was Leicester who secured his signature for the now modest-looking fee of £17m.
Lithuania 0-1 England – October 8, 2017
Only eight games into his career at Leicester, Maguire took the next step when he was rewarded with his England debut by Gareth Southgate as part of a new-look team away to Lithuania. International football was seen as a step up for a player who had spent most of his career in the lower leagues but Maguire helped England to a 1-0 win in more ways than one.
Not only did he play his part in the clean sheet but his ability with the ball at his feet as part of an experimental formation made a difference too. “In some aspects, the back three worked,” said Southgate of the system that he would go on to use to great success at the following year’s World Cup. “The goal came from Harry Maguire bringing the ball forward.”
Maguire’s performance ensured he kept his place for the goalless draws against Germany and Brazil the following month. Further caps in wins against the Netherlands and Costa Rica meant that he went to the World Cup with England yet to concede a goal in any of his international appearances. That changed in Russia, but so did Maguire’s life.
Leicester 2-2 Man Utd – December 23, 2017
Before all that, there was a game that, try as they might, Manchester United supporters will not be able to forget. Given the opportunities that Jose Mourinho’s team had to win the match, it was not Maguire’s finest defensive display but how can you argue with a 94th-minute equaliser that earned 10 men a point? Maguire’s goal stunned United.
They were unable to cut out Marc Albrighton’s deep cross and Maguire eluded the labouring Smalling to divert the ball beyond David de Gea. Mourinho called his team’s defending “childish” and for some exasperated fans, it marked the moment that they ran out of patience. That it was Maguire who popped up as the hero only underlined the contrast.
Sweden 0-2 England – July 7, 2018
The following summer, Maguire became a cult hero thanks to his efforts for his country at the World Cup. It was his role in the win over Sweden that really sent the hype – and the memes – into overdrive. Maguire’s first international goal helped England to their first quarter-final victory at a major tournament inside the 90 minutes since 1966.
His popularity was helped by the fact that he was not at a top-six team with all that this brings. However, that had also led to doubts going into the tournament. This game ended all that, as Jamie Carragher later pointed out. “I think a lot of the time we look at players who aren’t at one of the top sides and question whether they can deal with the pressure.
“People are looking at them because when you play for a side outside of that group, you’re not always in the press, there’s not always someone analysing your games being critical when things don’t go well. You get away with a few things. When you play for England that ramps up – particularly at a tournament – and he just completely excelled.”
Liverpool 1-1 Leicester – January 30, 2019
When interest from Manchester United failed to materialise into a transfer in the aftermath of that World Cup, the next test for Maguire was how he would react. He responded by continuing to impress for Leicester. The goal that turned out to be his last for the club proved to be a significant one too – one enjoyed by Leicester and United fans alike.
Maguire’s equaliser against Liverpool at Anfield was the start of a run of four draws in six games that ultimately cost Jurgen Klopp’s team dearly in their pursuit of the Premier League title. It could have been very different. Klopp felt that Maguire should have been sent off rather than yellow carded for a tug on the shirt of Sadio Mane as he ran through on goal.