Harry Maguire left to enjoy first taste of silverware as Man United’s captain only from the sidelines
Harry Maguire was beating his chest, joining in with the supporters signing Take Me Home, the anthem with John Denver’s lyrics adapted to incorporate Old Trafford. A few minutes later, Manchester United scarf around his neck, he went up to collect the first trophy of his captaincy. It was not quite as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the manager who signed Maguire for £80 million and fast-tracked him to the captaincy, must have imagined.
United won silverware on Solskjaer’s 50th birthday but the Norwegian is no longer in charge. Nor, really, is Maguire, who was confined to a couple of minutes on the pitch, plus stoppage time. The Carabao Cup, with its three handles, was lifted by two players: Bruno Fernandes invariably wears the armband these days and is Erik ten Hag’s usual skipper.
The uncomfortable reality for Maguire is that United’s transformation has come with his demotion. Solskjaer’s first lieutenant has become Ten Hag’s fourth-choice centre-back. But, eight days before he enters his thirties, Maguire finally had a first major medal to show for his career.
“I don’t have any mixed emotions, it’s been so long since the club won a trophy,” he said. “I am club captain and my main job is to move this club forward and to bring success back to the club and today has been part of it.”
He occupies an anomalous position. Perhaps he has for a while; when United imported multiple Champions League winners, in Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo, he was the captain who had won nothing. Now Ten Hag believes he has a group of leaders, in the recent recruits Casemiro and Lisandro Martinez, plus David de Gea, Varane and Fernandes; Maguire, supposedly first among equals, is now only the senior figure on the bench. If it feels the start of something for Ten Hag’s United, there is the question if Maguire is nearing an end.
“Obviously, I am a footballer who wants to play games and I want to lead the boys out of the tunnel at the start of the game but also I understand this is part and parcel of football when you play at the top level and you have got huge competition for places,” he said.
He appears an example of Ten Hag’s toughness and his decisiveness. Martinez was signed in the summer, Varane installed as his partner after August’s 4-0 thrashing at Brentford. Maguire has only started three league games since then, but he can testify to Ten Hag’s diplomatic skills. “He tells me honestly that he believes in me but this is football,” he explained. “Rapha is playing really well and we have seen the manager’s ideas, what he wants. He does like a left-footed centre-back playing. This is Manchester United. The manager speaks to me daily and he really respects me and believes that I am a top centre-half with all the attributes to play in his team but also he understands that the players who are playing – and I understand that the players who are playing – are playing very well.”
Which Maguire has only done in an England shirt in the last 18 months. If it is a moot point if he’s really a Ten Hag-style centre-back and if he would seem a logical candidate for a summer exit, Maguire may still be suffering for his traumatic 2021/22 season.
He became a face of failure, Solskjaer’s handpicked captain floundering as his regime imploded. Recency bias can dominate the thinking but it is worth remembering that the first two years of his time at Old Trafford counted as a qualified success: lacking silverware but with United finishing second in the league and reaching the Europa League final, with Maguire a cornerstone of the side.
“When I first came to this club it felt like we had turned a corner then we had a bad season and things changed again,” he reflected. The Ten Hag revival seems built on firmer foundations. He has already outstripped Solskjaer in one respect and looks likely to in others. “For a club of our size, it has been a bit too long since we won our last trophy. We knew our last final was a disappointment on penalties in the Europa League,” Maguire added. Then, with Maguire injured, United were set back. Now it feels the start of something.
“What is being built here is why we are in all four competitions,” Maguire added. “It’s going to be tough to win all four but whilst we are in them we go into every game trying to win it.”
Do so and he may get his hands on more silverware but alongside Fernandes’ and with the Portuguese probably leading the team. If Solskjaer saw Maguire as a potential great United captain, he may instead be a great non-playing captain.