‘My performances were brilliant’: Harry Maguire defends England place – and stats prove him right

Harry Maguire celebrates with Harry Kane

Harry Maguire believes he has fully justified Gareth Southgate’s faith in him because he continued to excel for England even during his troubles at Manchester United.

The centre-half also argues that the fierce scrutiny he was under was because of the club he played for – and it would not have been the same had he stayed at Leicester City.

The Maguire redemption arc at United has been one of the unlikely success stories of an otherwise difficult campaign for the club and the 31-year-old was in understandably buoyant mood following Sunday’s dramatic FA Cup quarter-final victory over Liverpool. “It’s got to go down as one of the FA Cup classics,” says a smiling Maguire.

Even after losing the captaincy at United, even after losing his place and being up for sale – with West Ham United close to signing him last summer – Southgate kept selecting Maguire for England.

“I think, from how I’ve played for my country in the previous tournaments and the previous games, not playing for my club as regularly as I should for six months shouldn’t really warrant me not being picked in a squad because when I did play for my country, I played and performed well,” Maguire claims.

“I think, ultimately, when he kept picking me I had to perform and my performances for my country have always stayed at a high level. He picked me in Qatar (for the World Cup) and I felt like my performances in Qatar were brilliant – I hadn’t been playing much that season, there’s always question marks.

Harry Maguire tackles Timothy Weah
Maguire (right) was England's first choice centre-back in Qatar - AFP/Glyn Kirk

“I think he has the hardest job in the world picking a squad because football is a game of opinions. I understand that. There are loads of people out there now who probably don’t think I should be in the squad. There are millions of people that think I should be.”

There are certainly more now believing Maguire is worthy of selection than there have been in the past couple of years when it appeared, as his form collapsed and he lost his place, that he had been cut loose by United manager Erik ten Hag and was not part of his plans.

Interestingly, Maguire disputes this. “Ultimately I had a season (2022-23) where I wasn’t playing as much as I’d like. Licha (Lisandro Martinez) and Rafa (Raphael Varane) were playing really well and the team were keeping a lot of clean sheets and that’s football sometimes,” he says.

Harry Maguire on the Manchester United bench
Maguire (front right) found himself benched by Erik ten Hag - Getty Images/Michael Regan

“The boss always told me, and spoke highly of me, he also spoke a lot to the press when you guys asked him questions that he always believed in me. So I always knew there would be opportunities to come and that I just had to take them.

“I feel I am performing really well for my club. A couple of setbacks with injuries which have been a bit frustrating and disappointing but I feel like I’m in a real good place.”

Even during the difficult times – and only last September Maguire was goaded mercilessly by Scotland fans and scored an own goal during the friendly win in Glasgow – Southgate has not wavered as he remained determined to make decisions independent of club form.

The manager has even described the treatment of Maguire as an “absolute joke” while the player’s mother, Zoe, also hit out at the criticism and abuse he has faced in a message posted on social media.

“But I also do think that different clubs have different scrutiny on players and that has a big aspect on when fans see him picking a squad,” Maguire, who joined United for £85 million in 2019, argues.

“I could have played for Leicester and had a bad game and then had six good ones, a couple of bad ones and everyone would think that I’m in amazing form.

“If I did that for Manchester United it doesn’t happen like that… every goal we concede is analysed and scrutiny comes and that’s the pressures of playing with Manchester United or playing for a big club.

“I think you see a lot with England careers and paths. You get built up, built up, built up and then you’ve got to maintain that really high level to stay there otherwise you get shut down pretty quickly.”

Maguire has been a stalwart of Southgate’s eight years in charge and is set to win his 63rd cap in the friendlies against Brazil and Belgium ahead of the squad being selected for this summer’s European Championship.

Only Harry Kane has been selected more often by Southgate, and Maguire – as things stand – will start alongside John Stones at the tournament in Germany.

“I always believed in my ability to perform on a football pitch. I went through a difficult year where a lot of scrutiny came my way. I was Manchester United captain and the team didn’t perform well. When I looked back, I did expect that (criticism),” Maguire says. “I always believed in myself. I have great people, family, friends around me, Gareth has shown great faith in me, trusting me throughout the time, and that’s given me the confidence to make sure I’m ready and available to play and perform.

“I do believe I am mentally strong. I have overcome a lot. With experience you learn how to deal with things better. Of course, everybody loves it when things are going well, people speaking highly of you. But throughout my career that just doesn’t happen for a 10 to 15 year period. There will be times when you have setbacks and challenges to overcome.”

Given Southgate’s unwavering support, it is unsurprising to hear Maguire state that he wants him to stay on as England manager. Southgate’s current contract expires at the end of the year.

“Definitely,” he says. “I’ve had a great relationship with him. I’ve been a big part of the success and the progression that we’ve shown as a country. And I’m sure he will say the same thing now, it’s all about winning a trophy.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen after the Euros. I don’t know if he knows what’s going to happen. But I feel like what he’s done from when he first took over this job to where we are at now, we’ve taken huge strides and he’s a massive part of that.”

England will go to the tournament as one of the favourites, with Southgate himself having already declared the focus has to be on winning.

“I feel as a group we’re ready to win,” Maguire says. “If you asked every single player in the squad they’d say the expectation is to win the tournament.

“However, we do understand that it’s tournament football and if we are going to win the Euros, you are probably going to have to win a penalty shoot-out, so you are going to have to be prepared on that aspect.

“Against France at the World Cup, that (quarter-final) game could have gone either way - but it went to them. We need to make sure we are ready to perform as well as we can so when the opportunity comes to us… I think tournament football is based on big moments and we have the players to produce those big moments. I think everyone understands that.”

Maguire: Mainoo could be the new Bellingham

Kobbie Mainoo training with England
Kobbie Mainoo has earnt his first England call-up - PA/Mike Egerton

Kobbie Mainoo has the same level of extraordinary maturity that Jude Bellingham possessed when he was first called up by England.

Maguire has compared his 18-year-old Manchester United team-mate to Bellingham, who was also just 17, when he was first selected by Southgate and is now arguably the most exciting player in world football.

“I didn’t have any concerns whatsoever. It’s incredible he’s (only) 18, he’s so mature,” Maguire said of Mainoo. “He’s a bit like Jude was when he was young boy. He’s got a mature head on his shoulders. I see day-in, day-out his ability in training. He just wants to work hard and do well.”

Maguire said there was no reason why Mainoo cannot now force his way into the squad for this summer’s European Championship.

“I don’t see why not,” he said. “To play at a major tournament, obviously, it’s big to have experience but also the young boys do come in and sometimes they play with no fear and they can excel in that way.”

Maguire added: “I’ve actually been a massive fan of his (Mainoo’s) since he first started training with us (at United). I remember talking to (goalkeeper) Tom Heaton about him and I was saying ‘I feel like this boy has got everything’.
He can handle the ball brilliantly. He’s really strong, powerful, and you can see the progression to play that role, especially for Manchester United. The ‘six role’ is a huge role and responsibility to take on and I’m sure the positional part of his game will improve drastically the more he plays… he fully deserves his call-up.”

As a senior professional for club and country Maguire will take Mainoo under his wing. “I told him if he needs anything just to ask me, give me a text, about anything, schedule, he thoroughly deserves it. He has been excellent for us this season,” he said.