Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 27 October 2020

Greek court case has clearly taken its toll on a haggard and haunted Harry Maguire

After two of the worst performances of his career, England and United defender will be hoping the only way is up

The focus during the national anthems is increasingly on the sound. Deprived of a crowd, it is ever more possible to hear how out of tune the footballers are.

Yet when the camera closed in on Harry Maguire on Wednesday, it was his appearance that stood out.

Maguire looked haggard and haunted, a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Half an hour later, his burden grew greater. A reckless lunge at Yussuf Poulsen could have brought a red card.

A similarly late challenge on Kasper Dolberg, almost equally far from England’s goal, instead yielded a second yellow. Maguire’s solitary, despondent trudge down the tunnel was one of a player whose existence is collapsing around him.

In that respect, Maguire is a metaphor for 2020. More pertinently, his personal and professional lives have gone horribly wrong in two months.

He was given a suspended sentence of 21 months in a Greek prison after being found guilty of aggravated assault, resisting arrest and attempting bribery while on holiday in Mykonos.

Maguire is appealing and has protested his innocence but, whatever the rights and wrongs of the case, it has clearly taken a toll.

It is no exaggeration to say he has produced arguably the two worst performances of his career in his most recent games for club and country respectively.

Manchester United’s 6-1 defeat to Tottenham was notable for confusion and a lack of communication at the back.

Maguire, the designated leader, seemed to have lost confidence in himself. He was never the quickest, especially on the turn, but has looked slow and cumbersome of late.

He tried to compensate with commitment but showed a lack of judgment with the twin lunges that led to his dismissal at Wembley.

A heady rise has been followed a dramatic fall. In a golden three years he went from relegation with Hull to captain of United, the world’s most expensive defender and a World Cup semi-finalist. Now this.

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“He’s having a difficult period and in these periods you learn a lot about yourself, you learn a lot about other people,” said Gareth Southgate. “You learn who’s there for you in those difficult times.” Maguire seems to have the England and United managers in his camp and they have exiled others for less.

While Maguire was just the third England player to be sent off at Wembley, the more relevant statistic is that his was the earliest red card for an outfield player.

Southgate noted the difficulties of playing with 10 men for an hour. He will be without the banned Maguire in Belgium next month. His resounding endorsement of Maguire last week – “pivotal to every good performance we have had over the last few years… a top, top player,” – suggests he will not reconsider his defensive plans for Euro 2020 but, unless Maguire can recapture his past form, he must.

But Solskjaer has the more immediate problem. He has invested so much in Maguire and not merely the £80 million ($103.6m) transfer fee.

Elevated to the captaincy after just five months, he was the cornerstone of the defence. Now it looks rudderless, with no alternative obvious organiser, as he seems in need of a break.

Yet United’s fixture list – Newcastle, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, RB Leipzig, Arsenal, Istanbul Basaksehir, Everton – offers little scope for a restoratively easy clean sheet. Further defensive disasters could come at a considerable cost.

The loyal Solskjaer will presumably back him, just as Southgate did. “He’ll come through it, he’ll be a better player and a stronger man for it,” the latter said. But after one of the worst, most self-destructive displays in an England shirt in living memory, Maguire must hope he has hit rock bottom.

Updated: October 15, 2020 03:40 PM

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