The World Cup is over and we return to club football. Fifteen Manchester United players went to Qatar, one came back with a trophy.
A number of United players have come out of the tournament with their reputation improved, but one in particular – Harry Maguire – has come back in a blaze of glory. But should we be getting carried away?
As a United fan it was wonderful to see Maguire play so well in the competition – he was named in Sky Sports’ team of the Tournament – and some so-called experts such as Danny Murphy are now arguing that he must be restored to the United side.
It has often been said that Maguire thrives for England because he plays in a back three, but that was not the case in this World Cup. So, is it a case of “he’s back”? Or is it just the England setup that brings the best out of him? Or is international football just a different beast entirely?
A little of each is the most likely answer to the question. But Maguire’s United future depends on the proportions. How much of this renaissance is due to improved form? Because the other two reasons are of no use to Erik ten Hag.
Maguire suddenly hasn’t got faster, nor improved his turning circle. If United are to play with a high line, those elements are crucial. It seems unlikely that Ten Hag will be willing to sacrifice that basic element of his match strategy just to accommodate one defender, no matter how good he is at what he does, and no matter that he is captain.
It is also about having a fast mind – being a reader of the game. Almost invariably, Premier League football is far, far faster than international football – indeed it is probably the fastest in the world. Is Maguire ever going to be equipped for that pace?
He also turns 30 shortly, so his reaction speed is not going to get better, and indeed could start to decline slightly.
Ten Hag has said he wants Maguire at the club – and why wouldn’t he? If the England man is happy to play a bit part from the bench, being brought on when United are under the cosh and defending deep, for example, then he would be an asset.
But it seems unlikely that Harry would be happy to do that, his age, again, being very relevant. 29 is not the time to start bench warming.
One of the players Maguire was brought in to replace, Chris Smalling, has excelled in the slower Serie A and it is easy to imagine that Maguire could do the same.
Given that it is unlikely Ten Hag is going anywhere soon, United’s style of play is unlikely to change much and so unfortunately, it feels as if Maguire could be the best defender in the world in terms of a particular skill set, and yet remain a bad fit for the Dutchman’s system.