Harry Maguire exclusive: Man United in the Europa League to win it

The England defender was one of the star performers in Thursday's 1-0 win at Real Betis

Manchester United's English defender Harry Maguire reacts during the UEFA Europa League last 16 second leg football match between Real Betis and Manchester United at the Benito Villamarin stadium in Seville on March 16, 2023.  (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER  /  AFP)
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Harry Maguire was one of Manchester United’s best performers in his team’s 1-0 win at Real Betis in the hugely atmospheric Estadio Benito Villamarin on Thursday.

It came on the day he made Gareth Southgate’s England squad again for the Euro 2024 qualifiers against Italy and Ukraine.

Thursday's Europa League last-16 second leg was the sixth game Maguire has started for United since the World Cup finals, where he played well for England. United have won all six, but while he is club captain, Maguire isn’t the first-choice starter that he was in his first four seasons at Old Trafford.

The National spoke to him after the game in Seville.

How was tonight’s game?

It was an important one. We performed well at Old Trafford, especially in the second half. Betis are a good team, they’re fifth in La Liga, but the second half at Old Trafford was electric.

Tonight, we knew how important the first goal would be and how the first 20 minutes of the game were so important. Away from home in Europe is totally different from a home tie and we spoke about that in the dressing room. The manager has got a lot of European experience and knew exactly what he was talking about and we have a lot of players with European experience. That showed.

Betis came at us with intensity and a high tempo for those first 20 minutes but we matched them and after that I felt we controlled the game. That’s not easy to do here. It’s a great, loud stadium. I played here with England when we got that famous victory against Spain. Betis are a good club with a good team. They’re pushing to play in the Champions League next season, yet we went through the tie comfortably 5-1 on aggregate and I felt we controlled both games.

Betis v United ratings

How do you see the Europa League this season?

We’re in it to win it. If you look at the last 5-10 years, the competition has really picked up. It’s not the competition we want to be in as a club, we want to be in the Champions League, but it’s a great competition. There’s a lot of strong teams in it – we’ve played some of them this season and I remember losing that final against Villarreal.

How do you think you did tonight?

I’m happy. We won the game and kept a clean sheet. It was my first start in a couple of weeks but I’ve still had six starts since the World Cup. I want to help the team on and off the field. My job is to make sure this club is successful. Whether I’m playing or not, I have a big responsibility. As a footballer I’m disappointed when I’m not playing but all I can do is work and train as hard as I can.

Is six starts in 10 weeks enough for you?

You’ve known me since I’ve joined this club and know I always want to be on that pitch and leading the team out. I want to strive to play every game for this club, but I also understand that the lads playing are playing well, really well. They’re top-quality centre backs who are in good form. And that’s football. We also know that things can change quickly in football.

We have four international centre-backs at this club – and for good international sides. That’s a lot of competition and I believe that any four of us could play week in week out at a top Premier League club. Everyone is pushing each other and that’s good for Manchester United.

Is this the best Manchester United side you’ve been involved with?

I’d probably say so. We had some very good moments under Ole [Gunnar Solskjaer]. We got to semi-finals, we reached the Europa final and lost on penalties, we finished second in the Premier League.

This manager [Erik ten Hag] has really set a style and a philosophy. I buy into it. If you don’t you get moved on. It’s demanding.

In what way?

He demands high standards, perfection while understanding that things can never be perfect. He tells you if things are wrong, he’s authoritative and he’s the leader of the club. The lads are buying into it and you can see that by the amount of games we’ve won this year. There has been some downs – as there always are – and we’re nowhere near where we want to be. Manchester United want to be challenging for the league with lot more points than we’ve got now, but if you look at where we were last season we’re making good progress.

Have you thought about your future?

No. There’s a game every three days and I’m training as hard as I can. I’m in a good place mentally and physically, I feel good. The training sessions are really intense, especially the day after a game. There will be lads unhappy because they’ve not played or sat on the bench. That’s part of football, but it adds more competition and high-quality training where the lads are covering similar distances to what they do in a game. That’s a credit to the players and the coaching staff here putting on those sessions.

What will success look like for Manchester United this season?

We want to win every game in the Premier League and see where it takes us, but you also have to be a realist and understand our position. We need to get top four and we’re in a strong position to do so. We don’t settle for that, we should push for the team above us in the league, whoever that is. This club needs to win trophies. We’ve won one and our minimum aim should be to win another trophy this season.

Updated: March 17, 2023, 11:52 AM