Harry Maguire: Man Utd captain deserves praise after British media ripped him apart

Harry Maguire

An £80m footballer who can’t move.

A Manchester United captain? Seriously?

Looks utterly dejected.

Harry Maguire is ****.”

After the most bizarre set of incidents in Mykonos that still lack clear explanation, Harry Maguire became an easy target for the English media as Manchester United’s 2020/21 campaign kicked off in equally nightmarish fashion.

While one publication felt justified in reiterating an expletive describing the Red Devils skipper sent in by fan mail, Patrice Evra mused in the Sky Sports studio that it was time for him to be dropped, Manchester Evening News gave his performance against Tottenham a 1/10 rating and Rio Ferdinand on BT Sport prescribed being taken out of the firing line until Maguire could regain his confidence and form. 

Make no mistake about it, Maguire’s first five appearances of this season were completely disastrous. United’s defence was about as resilient as a chocolate teapot and the pressure on Maguire reached a crescendo on England duty when he was sent off within half an hour against Denmark for two frankly moronic lunges into opposition legs.

The English media lapped it up and, in all honesty, why wouldn’t they? England’s cult hero of the 2018 World Cup who just so happens to have since become Manchester United’s captain is always going to create marketable headlines, even more so when an internal crisis of confidence is being played out in the most external way possible.

One might question why the national press weren’t more sympathetic towards a player so important to the national team, who just two years ago was very much the media’s meme-generating darling. But ultimately, journalists, bloggers and pundits are just doing their jobs - reporting and analysing events as they unfold in a way that naturally intrigues their audiences.

The only problem is that, since Maguire began to turn his season around with a thumping header against Newcastle, the day-by-day coverage of the centre-back’s form and the constant speculation over his mental wellbeing has suspiciously dried up.

There’s been no withdrawal of opinion from those who told Maguire to request a leave of absence just a few weeks after the season started, no retractions from those who insisted he should be dropped, and barely even any praise for the fact the United captain managed to wrestle back his form while remaining firmly in public view.

Harry Maguire comparison

Make no mistake, since being sent off with England Maguire has been a different animal. In the five Premier League games after that point, he’s won just over 4 aerial duels per match; previously, his average was a mere 1.5. His interceptions have risen by more than one per game, his ball recoveries by nearly four per game, and even his offensive contributions have improved with a far greater return for efforts at goal.

Objectively, Maguire’s form has drastically improved, and so have United as a defensive unit. They’ve conceded just three goals in five games compared to an incredible twelve in their first three, and Maguire has been present for every single minute of that.

To what extent has that been covered by the British press? Sure, pundits have given brief acknowledgements here and there, and Maguire’s ratings on MEN are generally upwards of five these days. But overall, discussion of how the centre-half’s managed to get himself back on track despite being under such heavy public scrutiny has been a fraction compared to the wideness of the coverage of his temporary demise.

And in many ways, that sums up the disappointing thing about the nature of the British media, which I’m no doubt guilty of too having written about football for the last eight years. There is an intrinsic thirst for knocking people down - from the higher the height, the better - but not such an appetite for crediting those who manage to pick themselves up again, or for acknowledging when targets of criticism ultimately go on to prove the doubters wrong.

Harry Maguire vs Newcastle

Maguire deserved the negative attention he received at the start of the season, not necessarily through his actions but rather his reputation - if you’re the Manchester United captain and paid just shy of £190k per week, you’ve got to expect it when things start to go wrong.

But he’s equally deserving of praise right now too. Even if he’s simply performing at the level expected of the most expensive defender in the world, the fact he’s managed to return to it while remaining under the scorching heat of the public spotlight is in itself incredibly commendable. Other players would take a lot longer to recover - other players, like Ferdinand suggested, would need to be taken out of the firing line.

It seemed everybody wanted to give their two cents when Maguire was playing with all the fear and pressure of a man who had the world on his shoulders. Now that weight has been lifted through vastly improved performances, everybody’s leaving it to someone else to pat the 30-cap international on the back.

It simply shouldn’t be that way. Any idiot in a pub with a pint of beer in their hand can rush to judgement when a player who earns millions of pounds per year struggles for form. Pundits and journalists should be brave enough and wise enough to give us something more than that, and recognise that criticism should be dished out in similar measure to praise.

The treatment of Maguire tells us such an equilibrium is a long way off.

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