Harry Maguire: How the world’s most expensive defender got lost at Manchester United

Manchester United defender Harry Maguire
Harry Maguire has been relieved of his duties as Manchester United captain ahead of the upcoming 2023-24 season

Manchester United paid a record £80million to make Harry Maguire the world’s most expensive defender in 2019.

Four years later, he is set to leave Old Trafford for West Ham in a £30million deal after being stripped of the captaincy this summer and after slipping into fifth-choice center under manager Erik ten Hag.

A lot has happened in those four years – BBC Sport charts the highs and lows.

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Summer 2019 – the £80million defender

Manchester United were ready 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 his composure under pressure.

It was widely believed that these were all the qualities United needed after the chaos of recent months under Jose Mourinho and Solskjaer’s failure to get the club back into the Champions League places.

Twelve months before, Mourinho had wanted to sign him. Pep Guardiola was keen on bringing Maguire to Manchester City.

2019-2020 – an impressive first season

Less than three months after arriving from Leicester, Maguire had captained United for the first time. Less than three months later, the Englishman received the armband permanently following Ashley Young’s move to Inter Milan.

As he embarked on United’s latest rebuild, having Maguire as his foundation and leader seemed a no-brainer for Solskjaer.

It worked too. They finished that first Covid-affected season in third place. Maguire has started every Premier League game and United have tightened considerably at the back. The champions of Liverpool, who lost only three games, conceded only three goals less.

Summer 2020 – the Mykonos incident

The certainty around Maguire was stripped away on Thursday August 20 when he was arrested on the Greek island of Mykonos then sentenced to 21 months in prison suspended for beating a police officer and attempted corruption 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 considered innocent under Greek law – will be heard on February 7, 2024.

He continued to insist the incident had no further effect on his football, but when the new season started the following month he did not appear to be the same player.

2021 – weaknesses start to be exposed

Maguire was exposed and individually guilty of an ‘appalling’ display in a 6-1 home loss to Tottenham in October 2020 – with Solskjaer describing it as his ‘worst day’ as manager.

But it wasn’t until 13 months later, in November 2021, that Solskjaer was fired – after a torrid run that included Maguire and United’s defense dismantled 5-0 by Liverpool at Old Trafford when the eventual margin of victory could have been much worse.

Now the defender’s flaws – lack of pace and mobility – were on full display. His confidence seemed damaged and the criticism began to mount.

2022 – Ronaldo captaincy

A major fallout with Cristiano Ronaldo over the captaincy disrupted team unity and offered no support when Maguire could have done away with some.

Reports of the breakup were initially denied by caretaker boss Ralf Rangnick, but BBC Sport understand there was a problem, before Ronaldo acrimonious exit in July 2022.

April 2022 – bomb threat

In April 2022, his Cheshire home was the the subject of a bomb threat. Maguire accepted the negativity around his performances but, citing the effect on his family, said he felt that a line had been crossed.

Summer 2022 – new director, new plan

Ten Hag took over as manager last summer with a clear plan. He wanted Martinez as a left centre-back.

Martinez was not on United’s pre-season tour of Thailand and Australia but Ten Hag traded Maguire for Victor Lindelof anyway. When Maguire played, it was on the right. Given that World Cup winner Raphael Varane is playing there, suddenly Ten Hag had taken away Maguire’s position in the team.

He never seemed to find it.

After starting nearly every game in 2019-20 and 2020-21, last season Maguire made just 16 starts and 31 appearances, logging 1,600 minutes on the pitch, down from almost 5,000 in his debut campaign United.

May 2023 – doubts over United’s 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 slot, with Diogo Dalot at the back. Maguire was an unused substitute. It didn’t sound like Ten Hag felt there was much of a future for him.

It’s fair to say that Maguire has had to show a lot of character over the past few months amid backlash from fans.

It was booed by United fans in Melbourne last summer when he played a pre-season game against Crystal Palace. England supporters have also turned against him on occasionduring the reading of his name before a friendly match with the Ivory Coast last March and against Germany in September at Wembley.

Still, to his credit, Maguire remained stoic and kept his dignity.

After the EFL Cup final in February, when Maguire lifted the trophy with Bruno Fernandes despite the last two minutes, he said: “I’m a footballer who wants to play games and I want to lead the boys down the tunnel to the start of the match”, but that his main task was to “move the club forward and bring success back”.

Manchester United defender Harry Maguire
In February, Harry Maguire became the first Manchester United captain to lift silverware since 2017

Maguire said nothing after the FA Cup final loss to Manchester City, as he remained on the bench throughout.

Between the two games, Maguire only started six times. Tellingly though, only one of them – the final day win over Fulham – came after the 3-0 thrashing at Sevilla in the Europa League on April 20.

It was after the games against England following the FA Cup final defeat that Southgate spoke about Maguire’s lack of playing time, putting him in the same category as Kalvin Phillips, who had limited time on the pitch at Manchester City last season.

Nonetheless, word stuck that Maguire saw his future at Old Trafford.

July 2023 – loses captaincy and Onana rant

During Ten Hag’s second pre-season, he took the club’s captaincy away from Maguire, handing it over to Bruno Fernandes. Maguire said he was “personally extremely disappointed” because he first revealed it on social networks.

Similar to last pre-season, there were fans at some games who made fun of his appearances.

It was always likely that Ten Hag would change captains this summer, now he has his feet under the table at Old Trafford and his rebuild is taking shape.

Maguire would have had a limited role at best behind Raphael Varane, Lisandro Martinez, Victor Lindelof or Luke Shaw.

In what appears to be one of Maguire’s final appearances for United, he was reprimanded by new goalkeeper Andre Onana for a loose pass in a 3-2 loss to Borussia Dortmund in a pre-season friendly.

Despite a big contract with at least two years to go, and Ten Hag publicly saying Maguire was still part of his plans – a fresh start probably seems like the best move for everyone.

With Euro 2024 coming up at the end of this season, England boss Gareth Southgate has told Maguire he needs to play more often to secure his place in the squad.

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