t’s Harry Maguire’s birthday today, yet the Manchester United captain’s celebrations will hardly be extravagant or indulgent. United play Manchester City in the Manchester derby on Sunday afternoon and Maguire will go through his usual match preparation.
Maguire’s birthday wish might simply be to start at the Etihad. The centre-back has endured a difficult season after an excellent European Championship and his credentials from him to captain the club have been brought into question.
He was dropped to the bench against Watford last weekend and he’s not certain to win his place back. Victor Lindelof has outperformed him in recent weeks.
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Maguire has taken one step forward and two steps back on more than a few occasions this campaign. There have been performances that promised to return to form but they haven’t been reproduced; consistency is hard to find amid a confidence crisis. Maguire’s strong and resilient display at Elland Road felt like a turning point in his season but then he was guilty for the early goal conceded at Atletico Madrid.
Maguire has insisted he does not pay attention to criticism but his actions contradict his words. Maguire held his hands to his ears after scoring for England in November and United lost 2-0 to City the match before that celebration.
It was strange. It looked even worse when Maguire returned from international duty and United lost 4-1 to Watford, and the centre-back was sent off.
Maguire can’t control those around him, but his family are also known to engage with criticism on social media. The pressure has increased on Maguire this season and he’s not guaranteed to survive it. It’s impossible to ignore the dressing room noise that has made recent headlines and Maguire seems to be fighting for his future at the club for the first time since his arrival.
United invested £80m in Maguire and it’s a slight on the club’s recruitment policy that signing a new centre-back in the summer to play alongside Raphael Varane could be on the agenda. Maguire will be remembered as a failed signing if United move to replace him.
Ralf Rangnick has provided his support for the 29-year-old in public, which is expected, but the interim boss’ team selections have been revealing. Maguire was on the bench again as United drew 0-0 with Watford last Saturday.
Lindelof hasn’t put a foot wrong over the last month and it’s a real possibility that Rangnick could start the Swede with Varane at the heart of United’s defense in the Manchester derby. There is an English obsession with the captain’s armband, but dropping your club captain for a game of such magnitude—for the second consecutive game—would be a damning indictment on Maguire.
Something has gone desperately wrong if your £80m club captain isn’t considered an automatic starter against your rivals in one of the most important games of the season. It would also be a sign that change is coming, something which United need.
Varane seemed like the final piece of the puzzle in United’s defense for the club to mount a serious Premier League title challenge, but Maguire’s limitations have been exposed this season (although here it hasn’t been helped by the incohesive midfield ahead of him).
Yet the power remains in the player’s hand to influence United’s decision in the transfer market. There’s no debating Maguire was world class at Euro 2020 and United need to see that form for the remainder of the season.
It is hard not to sympathize with Maguire. The pressure he’s been subjected to this season has been unprecedented for his career — but that’s what being captain of Manchester United entails. Maguire perfectly responded to the criticism at Leeds and he needs to do the same against City if he gets the opportunity, however, the writing could be on the wall if he’s on the bench again.
Maguire could know where his future lies when Rangnick reveals his team at 3.30pm Sunday afternoon.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.