Harry Maguire rails at ‘soft’ penalties and urges Premier League to lead way

<span>Photograph: Alex Grimm/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Alex Grimm/Getty Images

Harry Maguire has expressed despair at the number of “soft” and “ridiculous” penalties being awarded in top-level football and called on the Premier League to lead the way in raising the threshold.

The England centre-half was on the right end of a questionable decision on Monday night when he was not penalised for a first-half barge on the North Macedonia forward, Eljif Elmas, inside the area. But England’s relief would turn to anger when the hosts in Skopje were awarded a hugely debatable penalty after Rico Lewis was pulled up for a foul on Bojan Miovski. Lewis, on his senior international debut, won a clearing header but, in the act of doing so, he put his hand in Miovski’s face – which was enough for the VAR to recommend the penalty.

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The England goalkeeper, Jordan Pickford, saved the kick from Enis Bardhi but the North Macedonia captain converted the rebound. The Euro 2024 qualifier finished 1-1.

Maguire described the penalty as a “terrible decision” and said that life was becoming close to impossible for defenders. “For me, penalties in the last six months to a year or so, especially in the Premier League … all over the world, really, the Champions League … they are given for anything,” he said. “They are so soft. They are making life so hard for defenders to defend the way it should be.

“You should be able to defend. You should be able to move your arm, you should be able to move your body. You should be able to make contact, you should be able to move your hands and get there. There’s far too many soft penalties given at the moment.”

Like many players, Maguire can point to decisions that have gone against him and his team. He has probably been most aggrieved this season by the one that saw him concede a penalty for handball in Manchester United’s 4-3 Champions League defeat at FC Copenhagen. Or the one that led to a penalty against his United teammate Christian Eriksen in the same competition at Bayern Munich, also after the ball was directed into a hand at close quarters. But Maguire insists that his argument is not only based on matches in which he has been involved.

Rico Lewis’s hand makes contact with Bojan Miovski’s face as the England defender heads the ball
Rico Lewis fouls Bojan Miovski which led to the penalty decision for North Macedonia. Photograph: Boris Grdanoski/AP

“The threshold of giving penalties definitely needs to change,” he said. “And I think the Premier League, the biggest league in the world, needs to start it. They need to come up with something because I’ve seen some penalties in the Premier League since the start of this season which, for me, are just ridiculous.

“It’s not just at my club. Watching them each weekend, I see them given for handballs where I don’t know where lads are supposed to put their arms … [or] minimal contact. It’s a contact sport. So starting with the biggest league in the world, they need to set the standard and the threshold needs to be a little bit higher than it is at the moment.”

Maguire blamed the “really, really bad pitch” in North Macedonia for the way that he lost his balance before going into Elmas for the penalty which was not given. The surface at the Tose Proeski Arena was recently relaid after heavy criticism but it drew more of the same on Monday night, with the England players relieved to escape with deep cuts and grazes.

“Where do I start?” Maguire said. “I’ve not played on a pitch as bad as that for a while. It was basically sand. My foot kept getting stuck. You saw in the first-half, I made a challenge after my foot got stuck in the ground.

“We don’t want to make excuses, we’re all international players and people will say we should be able to play on anything. But it was tough and I’m happy that the lads came away with no injuries. My knees are all grazes. Every time we went on the floor, it was sand. It was like falling on a beach, it was that bad out there.”

Jack Grealish rolled up the leg of his tracksuit to reveal a graze on his shin. “Look at at my leg here,” the winger said. “I don’t know how the referee didn’t give a foul. I have got cuts all over. The pitch was awful. It baffles me how pitches like that are acceptable. There were little stones everywhere. Phil [Foden] has cut his hand because of the stones on the pitch, but it is part of what you are going to get in some places.”