After months of negotiations, Manchester United finally nabbed Harry Maguire from Leicester. All it took was a world-record fee (for a defender) of £80 million, but the 26-year-old center back should nevertheless provide a massive boost to the club’s new-look backline. Let’s take a closer look at this summer’s biggest signing.
Better late than never
Last summer, with the Reds fresh off a second-place Premier League finish and a narrow defeat in the FA Cup final, Ed Woodward made the curious decision to start meddling in transfers. (Spoiler: It didn’t go well.)
José Mourinho desperately sought defensive reinforcements, feeling that his current backline was too fragile to mount a legit challenge for silverware. When he asked for Maguire, though, Woodward balked at the World Cup star’s price tag. Resentment festered throughout preseason and everything ultimately unraveled because of this breakdown between manager and board.
Happily, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been allowed to splash the cash on his defense this summer. With Maguire joining Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelöf, and Luke Shaw at the back, this should be the best United defense since the good old days of Sir Alex Ferguson.
Still, the decision to wait a year on Maguire cost the club millions of pounds. And, even with the deal now complete, did the Reds really save any money by dragging out negotiations all summer?
Back in 2011, Harry Maguire’s Sheffield United faced off with Manchester United in the FA Youth Cup final. The young Blades lost the match, but Maguire won himself a very important fan: one Sir Alex Ferguson. Afterwards, the legendary Reds manager called the young defender, who suffered a concussion during the loss, to encourage him to keep his head up and reach the very top.
Well, mission now accomplished. Maguire’s rapid ascent took him from Bramall Lane to Hull City (where he played for Mike Phelan) to Leicester. Along the way, he emerged as a star for the Three Lions at World Cup 2018, too. With a CV like that, Maguire’s move to Old Trafford seems to be written in the stars.
Oh, and Sir Alex’s eye for talent remains as keen as ever. According to Opta, Maguire made only one error that led to a goal since 2016. That’s equal to Virgil Van Dijk and far better than Kalidou Koulibaly.
Jamie Vardy christened his Leicester teammate “Slab Head” in honor of Maguire’s rather generously-proportioned noggin. He certainly puts his head to excellent use in both boxes, but his combination of aerial dominance and physicality too often leads to lazy assumptions about Maguire’s technical skills — or lack thereof.
He’s comfortable on the ball, not afraid to launch attacks out of defense, and can even deliver a mean long ball down the field. In fact, Maguire ranked near the top in passes into the final third by Premier League center backs. Just picture Daniel James, Anthony Martial, or Marcus Rashford latching onto some of those.
If you want to nitpick, Maguire lacks top-shelf speed and that could be a problem in Solskjaer’s new high press. But, at every previous stop, he more than made up for that deficiency with outstanding positional awareness. Plus, Lindelöf can help cover whenever Maguire gets matched up with a speedster.
Rock at the back
Harry Maguire should fit into this Manchester United side perfectly. He prefers to play on the left side of central defense, with Lindelöf more comfortable on the right. Maguire is a monster in the air, while Lindelof sweeps away problems on the ground. Both are ball-playing center backs, but Maguire takes the ball forward a little more adventurously than his new partner.
And, if there was any doubt about his ability to make an impact in different situations, Maguire has won Player of the Year awards at all three of his stops.
Manchester United obviously hope that this signing is their Van Dijk moment. Liverpool showed how one quality addition, even if it resets the market, can lift a club. VVD not only locks down their entire defense, but also allows his teammates to take more chances upfield. Van Dijk’s presence transforms the entire Liverpool eleven.
Okay, that’s a lot of pressure to heap on Harry Maguire, but such is the price of being the world’s most expensive defender.