Sue Cain, the deputy headteacher at Chesterfield’s St Mary’s Catholic High School, fondly remembered Harry Maguire as a “remarkable pupil” who was “very capable academically”.
“I think he would have gone on to study business or maths and probably have been an accountant,” Ms Cain predicted back in 2018. Given the frequent bouts of turmoil that have consumed the Manchester United centre-back over the last five years, it would be hard to begrudge Maguire wistfully contemplating how much simpler his life could have been had he opted for a life of spreadsheets rather than in the broadsheets.
Maguire has occupied a Greek prison cell, a police safe house and Manchester United’s bench in recent years. Yet, throughout the controversies, Maguire’s England call-up has always arrived.
After playing precisely zero minutes for United this season, Maguire has managed to wriggle into Gareth Southgate’s England squad yet again ahead of the Three Lions’ upcoming internationals against Ukraine and Scotland. Here’s why.
Shortly after he reluctantly accepted the England manager’s role on a full-time basis, Southgate explained his formula “to produce a winning England team”.
“I never pick on reputation,” the former centre-back declared in 2017. “Form has to come into it. You have to look at the opposition and the type of game you’re expecting and select the players best suited to that.”
Yet, in March this year, Southgate claimed that it was “impossible” to pick on form alone. “We’ve got to pick our best players where possible, and then there’s a balance between going for a certain level of player who isn’t playing as regularly, or a level that’s physically fit and doing well,” Southgate explained, trying to avoid stumbling over himself as he hastily backtracked.
In that same international window – during which Maguire played every minute in a pair of victories over Italy and Ukraine – Southgate lamented what he viewed to be a dwindling pool of English talent among the elite, claiming that less than a third of players to start a Premier League game last season were eligible for the Three Lions. This perceived shortage has only helped Maguire.
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Southgate may have voiced conflicting opinions on form and reputation but there is a clear pattern to his squad selections; players are judged by their form for England.
Jordan Pickford’s performances for relegation-stricken Everton have fluctuated wildly but the Sunderland-born shot-stopper has remained Southgate’s first-choice goalkeeper for every major tournament chiefly because he rarely errs for his country.
Maguire, for all the criticism he gets at United – when he is allowed on the pitch – has been commanding at the heart of England’s malleable defensive set-up. A member of UEFA’s official team of the tournament for Euro 2020, Maguire was arguably one of the most consistent defenders at the World Cup in Qatar, revelling in the more pedestrian pace of international football.
The only competitive international that Maguire has not started since 2021 was the humiliating 4-0 Nations League loss to Hungary in June 2022 – England’s heaviest home defeat since 1928.
Since Southgate’s appointment as England boss in 2016, John Stones has collected 56 caps – just one fewer than Maguire. Manchester City’s treble-winner is a nailed-on starter but has been ruled out until mid-September with a hip injury.
Aston Villa’s Tyrone Mings, a natural left-footed option for the side of defence which Maguire favours, is unlikely to return to the pitch this season after damaging his ACL on the first weekend of the new Premier League season.
That leaves only Lewis Dunk (Brighton) and Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace) as available centre-backs from Southgate’s last squad in June.
A serious injury to Maguire’s United teammate Luke Shaw has robbed the Three Lions of a versatile option, capable of playing at full-back or more centrally. Chelsea’s Levi Colwill can comfortably plug that gap but, if Southgate were to overlook Maguire, he would be relying upon players with little or no international pedigree.
Arsenal’s Ben White was part of the squad that flew out to Qatar but travelled home early after rumours of friction with the England coaching staff. James Tarkowski (Everton) earned his second and most recent cap in 2018, Ezri Konsa (Aston Villa) has never played above the under-21s and Brighton’s 28-year-old Adam Webster last represented his country when he was a teenager. At least Wolves captain Max Kilman has international experience with England’s senior side – although that was in sports halls for the national futsal team.
While Maguire’s form for England and Southgate’s loyalty have played their part, circumstance has smoothed his selection this time.