Roll With The Punches

Harry Maguire just cannot catch a break at present. Given his performances in an England shirt over the last few years, one might have expected the international break to provide some welcome respite from his current struggles at club level. Unfortunately not. Another error-strewn display against Germany means that his nightmare year continues. Having become a laughing stock on social media during United’s seasonus horribilis under Solskjaer and Rangnick, he’s now become a pariah of the national team too. 

Quite why Maguire evokes such animosity is a bit of a strange one. Compared to a lot of modern players he seems quite likeable and grounded to me. Unlike many of his peers, Maguire’s route to the top was fairly unconventional. He hasn’t grown up living a life of privilege in the academy system having been spotted as a school-age prodigy, he made it all the way to captain of Manchester United having spent a few years kicking around the lower leagues. It’s not quite the rags to riches career trajectory of Jamie Vardy say, but it’s still a path that’s become increasingly uncommon. 

There’s no denying that Maguire’s performances were uniformly abject for much of last season. He appeared to suffer a major hangover after the Euros and his form hasn’t recovered since. However, the fact he was playing alongside numerous teammates content to phone it in week after week didn’t exactly help matters. Although he was crap, I didn’t once get the impression that he didn’t care or that he’d given up. Others went missing entirely, but you couldn’t accuse Maguire of hiding or shirking responsibility at any point. Recall that whilst all this was occurring another high-profile, self-proclaimed leader of the team was holed up in Dubai nursing his hamstring for 3 months. 

The clamour to write him off at this point doesn’t make much sense to my mind, especially considering he played very well during his first 2 years at the club. He was overpriced at £80M certainly, but the player doesn’t set the transfer fee. Considering he’s spent most of his time here alongside a fragile keeper, extremely limited defensive colleagues and with a failing midfield in front of him, I honestly believe that he’s done okay. I certainly don’t think he’s in anyway more culpable than the rest of his teammates. Bruno Fernandes has been routinely garbage throughout the same period yet nobody is suggesting that he’s finished.

Maguire isn’t the first player to suffer like this and he shouldn’t lose any sleep about England fans selecting him as their MUFC-affiliated scapegoat in a World Cup year. He’s in good company here and would be wise to just bide his time and take his opportunities when they arise – which they will sooner rather than later given the congested fixture list and Varane’s inability to stay fit for any length of time. Also, he (or his family members) would be best advised to swerve journalists seeking off-the-record comments. Everyone is aware there are mitigating circumstances to his current form so there’s no need to actively brief against his teammates. You’re the captain, just own it and let your football do the talking. 

As he sat at the Etihad watching events unfold, Maguire might have been forgiven for being quietly relieved he was spared the latest indignity to befall United there. Once upon a time conceding 5 or 6 in a derby would have sent me spiralling off into a deep sulk, whereas these days I just shrug it off and crack on. There’s little point in getting down about it, they are simply miles ahead of everyone else currently. As unpalatable as the result was, United remain a team acclimatising to life under a new manager and with several new signings still finding their feet. After a miserable start to the season the last couple of months have provided a number of encouraging signs, so I refuse to abandon all hope yet. 

Nevertheless, the fact remains it was a complete abomination of a performance. The starting midfield was a disaster which left the defence totally exposed. Ten Hag looked on shaking his head but I’d have preferred for him to do something decisive. It was obvious what was occurring within the first 5 minutes as the team were all over the place. The loyalty shown to McTominay was totally misguided, especially considering he’s only a stop gap defensive midfielder and we had one of the world’s best sat on the bench. The funds were released to sign Casemiro after the debacle at Brentford, so why hold him back now given that deficiencies in this position persist?

I wasn’t confident pre-match, but then what sane person is watching this team? Similar to Gary Neville, a couple of misguided souls in the WhatsApp group got all giddy after an unbeaten September and predicted an away win. Instead, it was another of those days that have become commonplace in recent years; United looking utterly bamboozled when confronted by opponents playing with pace and intensity. Having more than matched Liverpool and Arsenal in recent weeks, I was faintly optimistic we might be past having complaints about lacking the fundamentals. Clearly this wasn’t to be the case. 

I think I first decided not to like Erling Haaland a few years ago, the minute I discovered he had signed up with Mino Raiola. As a result of that move I figured he would never join United and was therefore more than likely a bit of a bastard. I didn’t like his agent (RIP btw), I don’t like his dad, I don’t like his City and Leeds supporting childhood and I don’t like his smug-looking, leader-of-the-Hitler-youth-in-a-previous-life face. All completely ridiculous I know, but then that’s me. Consequently, the derby was the first time I’d ever seen him play. Verdict? Yes, I was completely right. Roll on his inevitable move to Spain in 3 or 4 years time. 

Ten Hags explanation as to why Ronaldo didn’t feature did little to suppress the chat around that current predicament. Why on earth wasn’t he encouraged to move on in the summer? Similar to the situation surrounding Pogba that proved a constant distraction over the last couple of seasons, United would be better served by informing Ronaldo he is free to leave the club given he’s no longer a first choice starter. An amicable solution needs to be found here, otherwise the noise surrounding the issue is only going to intensify over the coming months. It’s a sideshow that United could do without. 

One final shoutout this month to United’s ticket office, unwavering in their ability to dream up convoluted ways of making life as difficult as possible for their customers. When you’re thousands of miles from home, queuing to get into a game under the watchful eye of twitchy riot cops and stewards checking the passport of every single ticket holder, you start to question the sanity of everyone involved in such a farcical scene. It’s so over the top and completely unwarranted. Not one to brag or anything, but I’m finishing off this piece propped up on a sun lounger the morning after the night before in Cyprus. Despite the moans and constant hassles involved in following this team of ours, it’s at times like this you realise we’ve still got it better than most. Yamas!

Copyright Red News – October 2022

rednews.bigcartel.com

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