When Manchester United paid a record £80m to make Harry Maguire the world’s most expensive defender in 2019, one of the big attractions was his ability to lead.
Within three months of his arrival from Leicester, Maguire had captained the Old Trafford club for the first time. Less than three months after that, the England man was given the armband on a permanent basis following Ashley Young’s move to Inter Milan.
Now Maguire has been stripped of the captaincy..
At United, arguably, he is now Erik ten Hag’s fifth choice central defender behind Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez, Victor Lindelof and even Luke Shaw.
With Euro 2024 to come at the end of this coming season, England boss Gareth Southgate has told Maguire he needs to play more often to secure his place in the squad.
Sources close to Maguire have insisted for months he wants to stay at United. But to what end?
Other clubs, including West Ham, want Maguire. The question has to be asked, is this the moment to leave?
Summer 2019 – the £80m defender
Manchester United were prepared to make Maguire, at that time, the second most expensive signing by an English club, after Paul Pogba. Then manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spoke about his ability to read the game, his strong presence and calmness under pressure.
It was widely accepted these were all qualities United needed after the chaos of Jose Mourinho’s final few months in charge and Solskjaer’s inability to lift the club back into the Champions League places.
Twelve months previously, Mourinho had wanted to sign him. Pep Guardiola was keen to take Maguire to Manchester City.
2019-2020 – impressive debut season
As he set about the latest United rebuild, having Maguire as a foundation seemed a no-brainer for Solskjaer.
It worked too. They finished that first Covid-affected season in third place. Maguire started every Premier League game and United tightened up considerably at the back. Champions Liverpool, who lost only three games, conceded just three goals fewer.
Summer 2020 – the Mykonos incident
The certainty around Maguire was stripped away on Thursday, 20 August when he was arrested on the Greek island of Mykonos and subsequently given a 21-month suspended sentence for hitting a police officer and attempted bribery following an altercation in a bar.
At the time, Maguire told BBC Sport he feared for his life. He insisted he had done nothing wrong and his appeal – which automatically means he is regarded as innocent under Greek law – will be heard on 7 February 2024.
He continued to insist the incident had no additional effect on his football but when the new season started the following month, he did not seem to be the same player.
2021 – weaknesses begin to be exposed
Maguire was exposed and individually culpable in an “abysmal” display in a 6-1 home defeat by Tottenham in October 2020 – with Solskjaer describing it as his “worst day ever” as manager.
But it wasn’t until 13 months later, in November 2021, that Solskjaer was sacked – following a torrid run including Maguire and the United defence being dismantled 5-0 by Liverpool at Old Trafford when the eventual margin of victory could have been much worse.
Now, the defender’s failings – lack of pace and mobility – were being highlighted. His confidence appeared affected and criticism began to mount.
2022 – Ronaldo captaincy row
A major fall-out with Cristiano Ronaldo over the captaincy disturbed squad unity and offered no support when Maguire could have done with some.
Reports of the rift were initially denied by interim boss Ralf Rangnick, but BBC Sport understands there was an issue, before Ronaldo’s acrimonious exit in July 2022.
April 2022 – bomb threat
In April 2022, his Cheshire home was the subject of a bomb threat. Maguire accepted the negativity around his performances but, citing the affect on his family, said he felt a line had been crossed.
Summer 2022 – new manager, new plan
Ten Hag took the manager’s job last summer with a clear plan. He wanted Martinez as his left-sided central defender.
Martinez wasn’t on United’s pre-season tour of Thailand and Australia but Ten Hag switched Maguire with Victor Lindelof anyway. When Maguire played, it was on the right. Given World Cup winner Raphael Varane plays there, at a stroke, Ten Hag had taken away Maguire’s position in the team.
He has never looked like regaining it.
After starting almost every game in 2019-20 and 2020-21, last season Maguire made just 16 starts and 31 appearances, totalling 1,600 minutes on the pitch, compared to almost 5,000 in his first United campaign.
May 2023 – doubts over United future
At Brighton in May, when Varane and Martinez were missing through injury, Lindelof was moved to the right and Luke Shaw took the left-sided slot, with Diogo Dalot at full-back. Maguire was an unused substitute. That did not give the impression Ten Hag feels there is much of a future.
It is fair to say Maguire has had to show a lot of character over the last few months amid the negative fan backlash.
He was booed by United fans in Melbourne last summer when he played in a pre-season match against Crystal Palace. England supporters have also turned on him on occasion, when his name was read out before a friendly with the Ivory Coast last March and against Germany in September at Wembley.
Yet, to his credit, Maguire has remained stoic and kept his dignity.
After the EFL Cup final in February, when Maguire lifted the trophy with Bruno Fernandes despite coming on for the final two minutes, he said “I’m a footballer who wants to play games and I want to lead the boys out in the tunnel at the start of the game,” but that his main job was to “move the club forward and bring success back”.
Maguire said nothing after the FA Cup final defeat by Manchester City, when he remained on the bench throughout.
Between the two games, Maguire started just six times. Tellingly though, only one of them – the final day win against Fulham – was after the 3-0 hammering at Sevilla in the Europa League on 20 April.
It was after the England games that followed the FA Cup final defeat that Southgate spoke about Maguire’s lack of game time, putting him in the same category as Kalvin Phillips, who had limited time on the pitch at Manchester City last season.
Nevertheless, the word remained that Maguire saw his future at Old Trafford.
Now he’s had the club captaincy taken off him. Maguire said he was “personally extremely disappointed” as he revealed it first on social media.
It was always likely Ten Hag would switch his captains this summer, now he has his feet under the Old Trafford table and his rebuild is taking shape.
Maguire, it seems, will have a limited role at best.
His contract is a big one – and he still has at least two years left. Finding a club to take that on in its entirety will not be easy. United may have to offer an incentive.
But surely, that is the best way forward for all parties now.