‘My performances were brilliant’: Harry Maguire defends England spot – and the stats prove him right

Harry Maguire believes he has fully justified Gareth Southgate’s faith in him as he continued to excel for England even during his troubles at Manchester United.

The centre-back also claims that the harsh criticism leveled at him was due to the club he played for – and that it would not have been the same if he had stayed at Leicester City.

Maguire’s redemption arc at United was one of the unlikely success stories of an otherwise difficult campaign for the club and the 31-year-old was in understandably high spirits after Sunday’s dramatic FA Cup quarter-final win over Liverpool. “It should go down as one of the FA Cup classics,” says a smiling Maguire.

Even after losing the captaincy at United, even after losing his place and being put up for sale – with West Ham United on the verge of signing him last summer – Southgate continued to select Maguire for England.

“I think that given the way I have played for my country in the previous tournaments and matches, the fact that I have not played for my club as regularly as I should for six months should not really be a guarantee that I not being included in a squad because when I played for my country, I played and performed well,” Maguire claims.

“I think at the end of the day, when he kept picking me, I had to perform and my performance for my country has always remained at a high level. He picked me in Qatar (for the World Cup) and I felt my performance in Qatar was brilliant. I hadn’t played much that season, there are always question marks.

Harry Maguire tackles Timothy WeahHarry Maguire tackles Timothy Weah

Maguire (right) was England’s centre-back in Qatar – AFP/Glyn Kirk

“I think he has the hardest job in the world in putting together a squad, because football is a game of opinions. I understand that. There are now a lot of people who probably think I shouldn’t be in the squad. There are millions of people who think I should be.”

There are certainly more now who believe Maguire is worthy of selection than in recent years when it seemed that, as his form collapsed and he lost his place, he had been let go by United manager Erik ten Hag and was no longer part of his plan.

Interestingly, Maguire disputes this. “I ended up having a season (2022-2023) where I didn’t play as much as I would like. Licha (Lisandro Martinez) and Rafa (Raphael Varane) played very well and the team kept a lot of clean sheets and that’s football sometimes,” he said.

Harry Maguire on the bench of Manchester UnitedHarry Maguire on the bench of Manchester United

Maguire (front right) was benched by Erik ten Hag – Getty Images/Michael Regan

“The boss always told me and spoke highly of me, he also spoke a lot to the press when you asked him questions, that he always believed in me. So I always knew that opportunities would come and I just had to take them.

“I feel like I’m performing very well for my club. A few setbacks with injuries have been a bit frustrating and disappointing, but I feel like I’m in a good place.”

Even through the tough times – and only last September Maguire was ruthlessly teased by the Scottish fans and scored an own goal in the friendly win in Glasgow – Southgate has not wavered. He remained determined to make decisions independent of club form.

The manager has even described Maguire’s treatment as an “absolute joke”, while the player’s mother Zoe also addressed the criticism and abuse he has faced in a social media post.

“But I also think different clubs look at players in different ways and that has a big impact on when fans see him pick a squad,” argues Maguire, who joined United for £85million in 2019.

“I could have played for Leicester and had one bad game, and then played six good ones and a couple of bad ones, and everyone would think I’m in great form.

“If I did that for Manchester United, it wouldn’t happen like that. Every goal we concede is analyzed and scrutinized. That’s the pressure that comes from playing for Manchester United or playing for a big club.

“I think you see a lot in the careers and paths in England. You get built up, built up, built up and then you have to maintain that really high level to stay there, otherwise you get shut down pretty quickly.

Maguire has been a stalwart of Southgate’s eight years in charge and is on the verge of winning his 63rd cap in the friendlies against Brazil and Belgium before the squad is selected for this summer’s European Championship.

Only Harry Kane has been selected more often by Southgate and Maguire will – as things stand – start alongside John Stones at the tournament in Germany.

“I have always believed in my ability to perform on a football field. I have had a difficult year in which I received a lot of criticism. I was captain of Manchester United and the team was not performing well. Looking back, I expected that (criticism),” Maguire said. “I have always believed in myself. I have great people, family, friends around me, Gareth has shown great confidence in me, trusted me all the way, and that has given me the confidence to make sure I am ready and available to play and perform steps.

“I really believe that I am mentally strong. I have overcome a lot. Through experience you learn to deal with things better. Of course, everyone likes it when everything goes well, and people speak highly of you. But throughout my career, that just doesn’t happen over a 10- to 15-year period. There will be times when you have to overcome setbacks and challenges.”

Given Southgate’s unwavering support, it is not surprising to hear Maguire say he wants him to stay on as England manager. Southgate’s current contract expires at the end of this year.

“Certainly,” he says. “I’ve had a great relationship with him. I have played a major part in the success and progress we have shown as a country. And I’m sure he’ll say the same thing now: it’s all about winning a trophy.

“I don’t know what will happen after the European Championship. I don’t know if he knows what’s going to happen. But I feel like what he’s done from when he first took over this job to where we are today, we’ve made tremendous progress and he’s a big part of that.

England will go into the tournament as one of the favorites, with Southgate himself having already indicated that the focus must be on winning.

“I feel like as a group we are ready to win,” Maguire said. “If you were to ask any player in the squad, they would say the expectation is to win the tournament.

“But we understand that it is tournament football and if we want to win the European Championship you will probably have to win a penalty shoot-out, so you have to be prepared for that aspect.

“Against France in the World Cup, that match (quarter-final) could have gone either way, but it went to them. We have to make sure we are ready to perform to the best of our ability, so when the opportunity arises… I think tournament football is based on big moments and we have the players to produce those big moments. I think everyone understands that.”

Maguire: Mainoo could be the next Bellingham

Kobbie Mainoo trains with EnglandKobbie Mainoo trains with England
Kobbie Mainoo has earned his first England call-up: PA/Mike Egerton

Kobbie Mainoo has the same level of extraordinary maturity that Jude Bellingham possessed when he was first called up by England.

Maguire has compared his 18-year-old Manchester United team-mate to Bellingham, who was also just 17 when first selected by Southgate and is now arguably the most exciting player in the world.

“I wasn’t worried at all. It’s unbelievable that he’s (only) 18, he’s so mature,” Maguire said of Mainoo. “He looks a bit like Jude when he was a young boy. He has an adult head on his shoulders. I see his capabilities in training day in, day out. He just wants to work hard and do well.”

Maguire said there is no reason why Mainoo cannot now make the squad for this summer’s European Championship.

“I don’t see why not,” he said. “To play at a big tournament it is of course important to have experience, but also the young boys come in and sometimes they play without fear and can excel that way.”

Maguire added: “I’ve actually been a big fan of his (Mainoo’s) since he first started training with us (at United). I remember talking to (goalkeeper) Tom Heaton about him and I said, ‘I feel like this kid has everything’.
He handles the ball brilliantly. He is very strong and powerful, and you can see the progression to play that role, especially for Manchester United. The ‘six role’ is a huge role and responsibility to take on and I am sure the positional part of his game will improve drastically the more he plays… he fully deserves his call-up.”

As a senior professional for club and country, Maguire will take Mainoo under his wing. “I told him if he needs anything just ask me, text me, anything, schedule, he totally deserves it. He has been excellent for us this season,” he said.

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