Why has Southgate stopped picking his England squad on form?
I asked Southgate this exact that question in the last England camp.
It’s a worrying message the England manager is sending. His current policy, which sees the likes of Maguire and Kalvin Phillips in particular picked when they are not getting minutes for their clubs, sends a poor message to those players in the Premier League and elsewhere, who are bang in form.
They are doing all they can to force their way into the England squad but are being overlooked for Southgate’s ‘old reliables’.
However, I do totally understand Southgate’s reasoning for this.
After being named permanent England manager in 2017, Southgate said he would ‘never pick on reputation, form has to come into it. However, in his answer to my question back in March, he rowed back on those comments when asked about the continued inclusion of some players who were not playing for their clubs.
He also said that if he picks on form alone, he will be chopping and changing the squad with each and every international camp, and that that lack of consistency cannot build up a coherent and communicative team ahead of next summer’s Euros in Germany.
There is a problem in that too. The selection policy is creating a big imbalance in this England squad. Eight members of this current squad have more than 40 caps and nine players have four caps or fewer. That doesn’t sound healthy.
Is it open season on Maguire? Will the booing stop…or is it now in fashion?
Has Maguire been jeered before?
“Scotland fans are ironically cheering every Maguire pass. Weird.”
Sky Sports’ live blog summed it up perfectly. Maguire, who started on the bench for England in their 3-1 win over Scotland, was brought on at half-time after an injury to Marc Guehi, and was subjected to ironic cheers from the Scottish fans for every pass he made.
It’s not the first time this has happened. A week ago, Maguire was cheered onto the field by Arsenal supporters. Sky Sports’ Peter Smith reported at the time: “Arsenal fans boo Rasmus Hojlund…then they cheer Maguire’s arrival! They’re now chanting his name!”
Maguire has become a figure of fun for opposition fans for club and country.
It’s not just opposition fans either. There were jeers for Maguire when his name was read out ahead of England’s game against Ivory Coast at Wembley in March 2022, and again for the game against Germany later that year.
The boos have been heard at club level too. The then Man Utd captain was booed ahead of kick-off and throughout his side’s pre-season win over Crystal Palace in Melbourne in July. He suffered the same fate in Dublin for Man Utd’s friendly against Athletic Bilbao.
The jeering of Harry Maguire was bizarre. It was loud, persistent, and something I have never seen in a football stadium before.
It’s an issue that has been building for the 30-year-old. Perhaps the biggest concern of all is that it has become a thing. Fashionable. Regular. And perhaps even inevitable whenever he appears in the coming weeks.
Has Southgate inadvertently added to the pressure on Maguire?
When you think of England under Southgate, one of the first players that springs to mind is Maguire. All 59 of the defender’s international caps have come under Southgate, whose loyalty to him has been unstinting.
But has that loyalty gone too far? Is Southgate now inadvertently helping to intensify the scrutiny upon his player?
“He’s been an incredible player for England in one of the most successful teams we’ve had – critical for what we’ve been doing.
“We allow him to be open to that? It’s a joke; an absolute joke. It makes me livid.
“I’ve no problem with the Scotland fans – they’re having fun. But what stirs that up is people in our own country. Other players will think: ‘Is that what awaits us?’
The spotlight does not fall on Maguire anywhere near as much as it might at Manchester United given that he would rank no higher than fifth in United’s defensive pecking order.
But Southgate thinks differently. For him, Maguire is one of the first names on the teamsheet. However, with that guarantee of regular games comes a guarantee of regular scrutiny – and, if things go badly, regular criticism.
Maguire is not a bad player. But his dramatic downturn in form over recent years is surely a result of ever-draining confidence. How, though, can that confidence be rebuilt if the only opportunities he gets to do so are in an England shirt, playing in front of a national audience when clearly lacking sharpness?
Maguire’s desire to represent his country is admirable – but the time has perhaps come for Southgate to allow him to attempt to rediscover his form and confidence away from the harsh glare of international football.
Where does Maguire stand in the Man Utd pecking order? Could he yet revive his career at Old Trafford?
Maguire had the chance to leave Manchester United this summer and resuscitate his career but turned down a move to West Ham, reportedly because he could not agree a pay-off with United.
The proposed transfer had seemed like the perfect solution for all parties and a chance for Maguire to remind everyone of the talent that saw United pay £80m for him in 2019.
It appeared a strange decision from Maguire, who started this season as Erik ten Hag’s fourth – possibly fifth – choice at centre-back behind starters Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez, Victor Lindelof and even Luke Shaw, who played ahead of Maguire last season when injuries hit.
Fortunately for Maguire, injuries may mean he starts against Brighton on Saturday. But he would need a near-perfect performance to move up the pecking order and when United’s injury crisis eases, it is hard to see Maguire as anything more than a rotation option.
Could a run of commanding displays change that? Possibly. But for all Ten Hag’s praise of Maguire, there seems a disconnect between the manager’s words and actions.
If Maguire were to re-establish himself at United this season and silence his doubters, it would be a remarkable turnaround. He doesn’t deserve the criticism he gets from sections of the United fanbase – both in person and online – but it’s hard not to think that an opportunity was missed this summer.