Manchester United’s signing of Raphael Varane this summer was expected to make Harry Maguire look better in defence.
The reality has been quite different. The signing of Varane has highlighted Maguire’s shortcomings instead. Varane has been outstanding when he’s been available this season. The Frenchman exudes quality on the ball and he’s the signing in central defense that United have desperately needed. He’s everything that United thought they were getting with Maguire.
Maguire was exceptional at the European Championship in the summer, but the same player that performed for England in the tournament didn’t return to Carrington for pre-season. Maguire has looked devoid of confidence and he’s currently enduring the worst season of his career. While there was the promise of a return to form against West Ham, Maguire couldn’t build on that.
Maguire was poor again away to Burnley at Turf Moor on Tuesday. He was judged to have interfered in an offside position for Varane’s disallowed goal, however, he also failed to get to assert his authority over Burnley’s Wout Weghorst and Jay Rodriguez. That proved costly immediately after the second half began when Maguire somehow made 6’4″ Wegorst look nimble and agile.
Wegorst turned Maguire inside out and played through Rodriquez before the United captain hopelessly tracked back to attempt to make amends. Rodriguez was too quick. Maguire couldn’t. Burnley were level and they forced the points to be shared.
Tuesday night was the latest performance that Maguire will want to forget about. Ralf Rangnick left him on the bench recently, perhaps to coax him back into form, but that decision has made no difference. He continues to underperform and the only solution appears to leave him away from the starting lineup. You shouldn’t have to suggest such a solution for an £80m centre-back.
While it can be argued that it is unfair to judge a player by their price tag, it’s hard to get away from the fact that Maguire commanded a world record for a defender. That will always follow him during his United career, rightly or wrongly.
Considering that, it’s clear that signing Maguire for £80m was a mistake. The 28-year-old had performed well enough-nothing special, just consistently OK-until this season at Old Trafford, but this campaign his limitations have been regularly exposed.
The same can be applied to Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who was brought to the club for £50m and who watched on from the bench at Turf Moor as Diogo Dalot started at right-back again. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer signed Wan-Bissaka and stuck by him during his stint at the club, but he’s been reduced to sporadic involvement since Rangnick’s arrival from him. His attacking qualities of him simply are n’t good enough.
Rangnick was recently asked about what attributes he looks for in a full back and Wan-Bissaka might have turned the TV off if he was listening to the interim boss’ words. Rangnick’s description suggested that Wan-Bissaka needs to make great improvements to turn to the starting XI. You expect a complete full-back when spending £50m and Wan-Bissaka is far from the finished article.
It was also ironic to see Kieran Trippier score a free-kick for Newcastle on Tuesday night while Wan-Bissaka sat on the bench. United wanted to sign Trippier in the summer but refused to meet Atletico Madrid’s valuation for the England international.
United might have paid slightly over the odds for Trippier, but it would have been worth it. The right-back is a leader, aggressive, exceptional at the back and outstanding going forward. United have chosen the wrong players to pay over the odds for.
Their recruitment has left a lot to be desired over the last decade and it’s an area in which they have struggled.
Maguire and Wan-Bissaka are not worth £120m. That money has been missed by United and it seems they’re going to have to sign a new centre-back to partner Varane if they are serious about challenging for the Premier League title next season.
Looking forward to the next season for success has grown frustrating and tedious at United.
United fans deserve better and the club can’t repeat their transfer mistakes if they want to deliver just that.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.