OLIVER HOLT: Mockery of Harry Maguire does no one any good

OLIVER HOLT: Mockery of Harry Maguire does no one any good but he is running out of time to rediscover the player he used to be – when you are Manchester United captain, there is no such thing as respite

  • Harry Maguire was one of the pillars of England’s success at the 2018 World Cup
  • But his form has suffered in the chaos at Manchester United in recent years
  • Making fun of Maguire has become a match-day ritual for many on social media
  • The defender was even jeered by England fans against Ivory Coast in March
  • He is a player desperately short of confidence but can become an asset again 

Dele Alli was in the England starting XI that played against Croatia in the World Cup semi-final in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow four years ago. His star has fallen so fast it feels like a surprise to see his name on the teamsheet. He is the only player from that time who has lost his reputation more precipitously than Harry Maguire.

Maguire was one of the linchpins of England’s success in Russia. He was a colossus at the back for Gareth Southgate’s side, our own dependable, formidable version of an ambling Alp. 

Goals from him and Alli helped the side ease their way past Sweden in Samara in the last eight. The BBC report of the game included a description of the first goal that began: ‘Maguire, outstanding once more…’

Harry Maguire was one of the linchpins of England’s success at the 2018 World Cup in Russia

Things have changed. Maguire’s form has suffered in the chaos and drift at Manchester United — ‘disappointing end to a season full of lows’, he wrote on Twitter last month — and he has gone from being one of the most admired players in the national team to everyone’s favourite scapegoat. The criticism he receives, criticism on an epic scale, long ago crossed a line into cruelty and mockery.

Making fun of Maguire has become a match-day ritual for many on social media. ‘Viewers brutally mock Harry Maguire,’ one website headline read after footage of him being nutmegged by a David de Gea save in the build-up to a Kevin De Bruyne goal in the Manchester derby last season ‘went viral’.

‘Man Utd’s Harry Maguire mocked after Armando Broja turns him inside-out,’ another headline said after more viral footage ’emerged’ earlier this year.

Spurs’ Cristian Romero laughed in his face after Maguire scored an own-goal in a match between the two sides last season. ‘Maguire mocked for marking Aaron Wan-Bissaka in build-up to Southampton goal,’ another website headline read during lockdown.

But things have changed and his form has suffered in the chaos and drift at Manchester United

Cristian Romero roared in Maguire’s face after he scored an own-goal against Tottenham

You’re getting the picture. Mockery has become a theme with Maguire. Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies ridiculed him recently when he professed amazement that Maguire, not Cristiano Ronaldo, was United captain. ‘You are Ronaldo, one of the greatest players ever,’ Davies said, ‘and what’s his name is your captain? Harry Maguire is your captain?’

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Maguire was jeered by England fans during the March friendly against Ivory Coast at Wembley, something that felt like a throwback to uglier times and met with a withering response from Jordan Henderson. 

‘Harry Maguire has been a colossus for England,’ said the Liverpool skipper. ‘Without him, the progress made at the last two tournaments would not have been possible. To be booed at his home stadium for no reason? What have we become?’

What we have become, partly, is a nation that professes itself dissatisfied with Southgate as manager even though he took us to that World Cup semi-final in 2018 and the European final last summer.

The 29-year-old was jeered by England supporters in the friendly against Ivory Coast in March

He has achieved more with a younger group of players than Terry Venables, Sven Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello ever could when they were in charge.

Yes, Maguire’s form has been poor for United, in particular, and, yes, he deserves some of the criticism he is getting but the intensity and the unpleasantness of some of it is a product of the new culture of entitlement that has settled over English football. The success over which Southgate has presided and of which Maguire has been a key component is not enough any more.

It was still happening on Tuesday night during England’s Nations League draw with Germany in Munich. Not the booing. But the mockery and the relentless scapegoating. 

In the first half, Maguire was rolled by Kai Havertz in the build-up to a disallowed Germany goal, an incident which unleashed an outpouring of ridicule on social media. You guessed it — the footage went viral.

Jordan Henderson hit back at Maguire’s critics and said the defender has been ‘a colossus’

His treatment long ago reached the point where it was uncomfortable. Criticise him for his naivety in getting involved in a fracas on holiday in Mykonos, sure, and criticise him for his form, of course. That’s part of the game. But the intensity of the mockery makes you wonder how much more Maguire can take. And how much more he should be allowed to take.

Southgate has stayed loyal to him because he is a loyal man and Maguire has done very little to let him down in an England shirt. The opposite, in fact. But his performance against Germany will have left the England manager worried. He would have been hoping that Maguire might have started to play his way back into form by now but there is little sign of that happening.

In the Allianz Arena, Maguire, not surprisingly, looked like a player desperately short of confidence. He was not directly to blame for the Germany goal, scored by Jonas Hofmann, but that does not change the fact that it was a goal England’s defence should have done more to prevent. Maguire looked uncomfortable, too, when faced with the dancing feet of Jamal Musiala, the game’s best player. He was hardly alone in that.

He has not lost his ability. The colossus of 2018 is still there somewhere. He can become an asset again one day. But, with the World Cup fast approaching, Maguire has lost his authority. He is, for now, more of a weakness than a strength. He should not be a figure of fun. He is not a raging liability. But he is someone who is filling a position that could be improved.

Maguire was rolled by Kai Havertz in the build-up to a disallowed Germany goal on Tuesday

It almost feels now as if Maguire has become a victim twice over of the criticism aimed at him. His treatment at the hands of the boo-boys and the meme-makers has made Southgate’s dilemma more thorny. If he replaces Maguire now, if he takes him out of the line of fire, he may feel as if he has given in to the mob and cast one of his stalwarts adrift.

If it were someone else, maybe he would be allowed to have a little time away from the spotlight but when you are Manchester United captain, there is no such thing as respite. Maguire can be our colossus again but with Qatar in view, he is running out of time to rediscover the player he used to be.

Murray silencers the doubters 

Andy Murray has been told many times by many people in the last few years that he really ought to bring the curtain down on his career. 

He has been told to accept the ravages of time and the effects it has had on his body and step aside. Well this week, the man who may be the greatest tennis player this country has ever had beat top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas to reach the semi-finals of the Stuttgart Open — where he then overcame Nick Kyrgios. 

It was the first time Murray had beaten a top five player since 2016. Other players would have listened to the siren voices telling them to give up. Murray, thankfully, is not built like that. 

Andy Murray’s win over Nick Kyrgios was the first time he had beat a top five player since 2016

White is not the beacon of morality he professes to be

The sports broadcaster Arlo White has been, in the past, a Krakatoa of spewing self-righteousness about his superior journalistic ethics.

This week, if you looked for the coverage hard enough, White could be found fronting the propaganda for the LIV Golf league, a series bankrolled by Saudi Arabia, a country which murders journalists in cold blood, represses women and persecutes minorities.

The next time he feels the need to preach about what a beacon of rectitude he is, he should keep his mouth shut.




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