This article is part of Football FanCast’s Pundit View series, which provides opinion and analysis on recent quotes from journalists, pundits, players and managers…
Paul Merson has apologised for criticising Harry Maguire after the defender’s sensational display against Chelsea.
The former Arsenal man had slammed Manchester United’s move for Maguire, branding the £80m fee “ridiculous”.
He questioned the former Leicester star’s ability to adjust to a team who will dominate the ball and leave space behind the defence, while also stating that his performances for England were less impressive as they came in a back three.
After Maguire’s dominant display against Chelsea on Sunday though, Merson told Sky Sports’ The Debate: “He has a presence, he’s commanding, he doesn’t mess about. I thought he did very well.
“I thought I was very critical of him on Soccer Saturday if I’m being honest. I tried to get hold of him today (Monday) and I will talk to him tomorrow (Tuesday) as he texted me back.
“And I thought I was a bit critical if I’m being honest – I thought what I wanted to say did not really come across the way I thought it should have.
“I sort of did not really give him the credit he deserves of how good he is. I was brought up in the day and age where it was clear your lines – a Tony Adams or a John Terry, or someone like that.
“So I was a bit disrespectful in that way. He has played in World Cup semi-finals, he is an international and I was out of order and I will be the first to admit that.”
Merson is right to tone down his criticism of Maguire slightly, as calling the transfer fee “ridiculous” is completely unfair on the player, who has nothing to do with the sum, especially before he’d even kicked a ball for the club.
However, he should not have to reel back his other very frank assessments after just one game.
Playing with three centre-backs does alleviate the pressure on the individual players, and it is also true that players who are used to defending deep can struggle when stepping up to a bigger club (looking at you Dejan Lovren).
More space is left behind them for strikers with superior pace to exploit, and it also highlights mistakes, as teams like United will rarely be camped in their own half with ten other players around to sweep up any mishaps, meaning errors are more likely to become errors leading directly to goals.
With all that in mind, it seems silly for Merson to have to apologise for doing his job, especially considering Maguire has only impressed for 90 minutes in a red shirt. He is a pundit after all, and wouldn’t it be a bit boring if they all said the same thing?
This is not to say whether the former Gunner’s verdict on Maguire will be correct, but it is quite plausible that he could struggle at times for the reasons Merson suggested, and to scratch that off as some ludicrously over-the-top statement, and one that requires mass clarification, is far more baffling than the original claim itself.