Harry Maguire celebrates after England's victory over Germany at Wembley
Credit: CATHERINE IVILL
/Pool via REUTERS
For Harry Maguire a career low point came last October when Manchester United were thrashed 6-1 at home by Tottenham Hotspur and he was being castigated as “atrocious”.
After that game Maguire was sent off for England in the Nations League tie against Denmark and more questions were asked as to whether he was distracted and should be taken out of the spotlight for his own good as he appeared to struggle in the aftermath of the assault conviction on the Greek island of Mykonos, which he is appealing.
Instead Maguire played on and at times played through physical pain to display a remarkable mental resilience which is why Gareth Southgate was always going to leave a place open for him in his squad for the European Championships even when the 28-year-old’s season at United was curtailed after he suffered a high ankle sprain in early May.
For most players that would have ruled them out of the Euros but Maguire has returned to be such a key defender in England’s campaign as they prepare to face Ukraine in the quarter-finals in Rome. The impact he has made is typical of the “character” shown during the months of adversity.
“I think in a footballer’s career every player goes through periods of ups and downs,” Maguire said. “That’s where you really show your character to overcome that period and that’s something I’m really proud of within myself.
“When you play for Manchester United every bad game you have is made into a real bad period of form. I remember the game against Tottenham where we were really bad and conceded six goals. All of a sudden the period of form has turned atrocious for myself and the rest of the lads just through one game but that’s what happens and that’s what you expect. It’s about how you deal with it, how you bounce back. I think first and foremost you work hard off the pitch and you take that onto the pitch and that gives you confidence to go and play well.”
Maguire has certainly done that and was crucial in leading United into second-place in the Premier League and also into that Europa League final which they lost to Villarreal. It was no co-incidence that without him United were beaten and won just one of their final five games and while Tyrone Mings deputised ably for England the defence is stronger for Maguire’s return and the leadership he also brings.
Pick your England team to face Ukraine
Prior to the last-16 tie against Germany it was Maguire who was going around the pitching talking to his team-mates while he set the tone for the contest in winning all eight of the duels he was involved in the first-half including a couple of hefty challenges on Thomas Muller. His passing and ability to bring the ball out for the back have also made a difference.
Victory provided England with a sound launchpad for the tournament, having beaten Germany in a knock-out tie for the first time since 1966. “We want to play aggressive, play on the front foot, we don’t want to play with worry or fear,” Maguire explained. “That’s a big thing for us as a group. We want to play fearless and go out there and really express ourselves.
“To do that we can’t really be worrying (about) the bad scenarios but of course we have a lot of leaders in our group, a lot of experienced players as well as exceptional young talents. I think that’s when the leaders would have to stand up and overcome a setback in a game which we have all experienced at club level and international level.”
There has been some concern among England’s staff that Maguire might struggle, after his lay-off, from which he returned four weeks ahead of schedule, to play Tuesday against Germany, travel to Italy and face Ukraine on Saturday and then – hopefully – a semi-final back at Wembley next Wednesday. But he has insisted it will not be a problem for him and Gareth Southgate has also dismissed concerns that Maguire is in danger of being suspended for the last-four tie given his yellow card against Germany.
“I feel in a really good place,” Maguire said. “The rehab and the strength work that I’ve done in the gym through the period off has really benefited. It is really showing now. Obviously with an ankle injury you sometimes get setbacks but – touch wood – I haven’t had a setback yet.”
Southgate has stressed the importance of not under-estimating Ukraine especially after the euphoria of beating Germany. “They are a tough team, a good team with great principles,” Maguire said.
“I think, physically, we are going to be in a great position. People will say we will be tested mentally but we need to make sure that, as a group of players, we are mentally prepared.” He has shown that resilience already.