Harry Maguire’s career at Manchester United: First half good, second half not so good

After four seasons, 175 games, 42 yellow cards and one League Cup trophy, Harry Maguire’s Manchester United career is coming to a close. The 30-year-old centre-back is set to join West Ham United after the two clubs agreed a £30million ($38.2m) fee.


West Ham agree £30m Maguire deal with Man United

Maguire’s time at United is best split into two halves. The first era, from the 2019-20 season to 2021-22, saw him become one of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s most dependable players, playing 71 matches in a row before an ankle injury at Villa Park ruled him out of the end of the 2020-21 season and the Europa League final against Villarreal.

Fans were dismayed at his absence, most convinced United would have been better placed to beat the Spanish side if he had been fit for the match in Gdansk. When Maguire did return to footballing duties, it was part of a Euro 2020 run where England reached the final and he was voted into the team of the tournament. An emphatically taken penalty in a losing shooting served as the apex of his career.

In the summer of 2021, the consensus was that Harry Maguire was an integral part of both Manchester United and England and was one of the best centre-backs in Europe.

But the start of the 2021-22 season heralded the second era of Maguire at United, a period where he was derided among the club’s fanbase before being dropped by Erik ten Hag. There are many reasons behind his downturn in form, but ultimately Maguire could not adapt to the rapidly changing defensive environment at the club and his confidence sagged.

The Maguire of 2021-22 and 2022-23 was either too slow or too hasty when engaging attackers. He would too often leave space in behind for opponents to play into and would make a number of pronounced and well-punished mistakes when playing. He looked uncomfortable stepping in for Raphael Varane on the right of a defensive partnership, but Ten Hag made it very clear Maguire was behind Lisandro Martinez, Victor Lindelof and even Luke Shaw in his preferred position on the left.

Come the day of United’s FA Cup final defeat to Manchester City, Maguire was the club’s fifth-choice centre-back and a comedic punchline for fans and meme-makers. This summer’s pre-season tour saw him stripped of the club captaincy before being (correctly) berated by new goalkeeper Andre Onana for a defensive error and then booed by fans during a friendly in Dublin.

A man who tried to embrace the pressure of Manchester United ended up being overwhelmed by it and treated like a pantomime villain.

The centre-back is not blameless for the decline he’s experienced. Maguire’s “below-shoulders” attributes (his lack of pace and cumbersome-looking running style) eventually made him an awkward fit for both Solskjaer and then Ten Hag, who wished to turn United into a more proactive and aggressive attacking side. Maguire’s attempts to address his critics directly often backfired.

While on England duty in March, Maguire claimed he couldn’t remember the last time he lost while playing under Ten Hag and that he had nothing to prove at international level considering his experience. The quotes – when read in their full context – made sense. Maguire had featured in a number of games for Ten Hag without suffering a loss, but those fixtures were often in cup competitions against weaker opposition. He does also have a wealth of experience at international level and is part of one of England’s most successful centre-back duos with John Stones.

Yet the timing of the quotes affected its tone. His harshest critics deemed him arrogant and that he was attempting to skim over his periods of bad form.

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Celebrating his penalty in the Euro 2020 final (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

The news he is leaving Old Trafford will bring a sigh of relief from his old fans and questions from new ones. Can the 30-year-old rediscover his old form and become the player he was just two years ago?

Will this gamble from West Ham and Maguire be enough to keep the player’s spot in the England team for Euro 2024?

A parting of the ways is best for all involved. Ten Hag will most likely look to bring in a new centre-back; either someone younger who can succeed a member of the Martinez-Varane partnership, or an experienced veteran on cheaper wages to be a hassle-free fifth-choice option.

For Maguire, he can restore his confidence and rehabilitate his reputation at West Ham and the London club will get a serviceable defender who might still yet rediscover his best form and become an on-field leader. Maguire at West Ham may require some tactical tweaking; Nayef Aguerd’s left-footedness means Maguire is not guaranteed his preferred left centre-back position in Moyes’ back four, but he is certainly closer to the front of the queue at the London club.

Maguire could continue to work on his skills on the right in a defensive duo with the Moroccan, or he can play on the left of a back three, with Aguerd centrally and Kurt Zouma on the right. West Ham’s recent moves to bring in Edson Alvarez from Ajax and James Ward-Prowse from Southampton create a clear picture of the midfield that will play in front of Maguire.

Maguire’s ball-carrying from deep will be an advantage to this West Ham team along with his talent for winning aerial duels in both boxes. Work will have to be done on the training field and around the tactics board to get the most out of the 30-year-old. Maguire was booked nine times in 31 appearances last season, frequently making needless cynical challenges on fast and/or physical strikers instead of properly dealing with the situation at hand.

Playing in a West Ham team less likely to push high up the field and play with a high defensive line will soothe some of his on-field issues. Playing for a club that garners less day-to-day discourse should make his life calmer off the field.

In that same March interview, Maguire expressed his awareness of the fraught situation his underwhelming form had landed him in.

“I’ve played nearly 200 times for Manchester United, I’ve captained the club for three years now, but I also understand that when you are the captain of Manchester United, you do come under the most amount of scrutiny.

“Last season at club level, my performances weren’t good enough, alongside everybody else at club level, not just myself.”

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Maguire and Moyes shake hands in February 2021 (Michael Regan/Getty Images)

When Maguire was good for United, he was a front-foot defender who ran headfirst into danger and took responsibility for any mistakes, no matter what the situation.

But Maguire in poor form and low confidence was a front-foot defender who ran headfirst into danger when he probably should have taken a moment to think and assess the situation. He would try to take responsibility for any mistakes when it might have been advisable for him to keep a lower profile and wait for the angriest voices to calm.

West Ham should offer the defender a way of reprieve. Maguire may no longer be a Manchester United football player, but there’s still a good defender within him just waiting to be found again.

(Top photo: Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

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