In the weeks ahead Harry Maguire could very conceivably become the most expensive defender of all time yet still a feeling persists that he remains under-rated, seen as below the calibre of clubs linked with him this summer – chiefly, Manchester City and Manchester United – and the £80m–£90m price-tag required to obtain his services.
Why is this? Could it be because his C.V. is solely populated with ‘unfashionable’ clubs? Is it even down to his appearance as a player and man? Certainly his career so far is suggestive of a bona-fide superstar in the making rather than the ‘cult hero’ the BBC allude to here.
Underneath all the memes and the nickname ‘Slabhead’, there is a high-quality player who has excelled at every level he’s reached so far in the game – so why is the Premier League’s ultimate echelon seen as being outside of his reach? Why is he seen as undeserving of a record fee?
Maguire made his professional debut for Sheffield United against Cardiff in April 2011 aged just 18 and it reveals a good deal that his manager Micky Adams was willing to throw him into the fray of a relegation battle at such a young age.
The following season, while still a teenager, his performances at the heart of the Blades defence were so consistently brilliant he made the PFA Team of the Year and clean-swept his club’s end-of-season awards. In fact for the two seasons after that he was again selected for the Team of the Year and picked up United’s Player of the Year gong.
By now he was 21 and a lot of people were talking. They talked in glowing terms of this highly promising kid who played beyond his years; of his robust defending and excellent reading of the game. Of his ability to step out of the back-line and mount attacks. He’d be the perfect signing for a lower half Premier League side. That seemed to be the gist of it.
At the KCOM Stadium his trajectory temporarily levelled out. It is after all a big leap from League One to the top flight with its Agueros and Kanes so Maguire took a short while to scale this steep learning curve.
It didn’t take him long though and by his second and third campaign he was indisputably Hull’s leader and main man. In 2016/17 he won his club’s Player of the Year award and was widely viewed as one of the best centre-backs around. That year he made the same amount of interceptions as Burnley’s Michael Keane in what is likely to be his international team-mate’s high-watermark year.
He’d be a perfect signing for a top ten side. That’s what they were saying at that juncture and sure enough Leicester City swooped for £17m in what the BBC described as a ‘sensible’ start to their summer spending.
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It is fair to say that the move has transcended mere logic. In his first season at the King Power, Maguire comfortably won the club’s Player of the Year award and then capped off a fantastic year by first breaking into the England set-up before quickly becoming an integral figure as the Three Lions reached a World Cup semi-final. Last term he was immense too, putting in a series of defensive masterclasses that have nullified the best and the rest while in possession he has boasted a 85.6% pass completion rate.
Maguire is now reportedly at the centre of a tug-of-war between both Manchester giants with a fee expected to break records for a player in his position. It’s a link that has been met largely by scepticism and negativity.
Harry Maguire is very, very overrated
— Footy Accumulators (@FootyAccums) June 6, 2019
Hopefully pep is watching this game and having second thoughts on Harry Maguire. Headless chicken.
— Samuel Houghton (@Sam_DH_MCFC) June 6, 2019
Why is this? Simply put because the player has always excelled exclusively beyond the glamorous world of the top six and made his name having come up through the divisions. Additionally, he’s a powerfully-built centre-back from Yorkshire. Everybody looks at Maguire with preconceptions.
It doesn’t help either that his nickname is ‘Slabhead’ – it creates the impression of a meat-and-potatoes defender, someone who can rise the highest at set pieces and boot the ball the furthest to avert danger. But that overlooks the uniqueness of Maguire; yes, he’s got all the attributes of a classically English centre-back, but he infuses with it quality and bravery on the ball, the ability and willingness to make a difference in possession. Isn’t that what every top club craves from their centre-backs these days?
Everything about the 26-year-old tells us that he flies in the face of such put-downs. Everything about his career meanwhile tells us that he is a magnificent talent who has yet to find his ceiling. Every challenge has been met, from League One to World Cups. There’s nothing to suggest top six football will prove too big an obstacle for him.
Isn’t it about time we let such silly preconceptions go and appreciate Maguire for the talent he is?