World Cup 2022: How Harry Maguire got his head right to prove his critics wrong

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World Cup 2022: How Harry Maguire got his head right to prove his critics wrong
World Cup 2022: How Harry Maguire got his head right to prove his critics wrong

Rio Ferdinand

Host nation: Qatar Dates: 20 November-18 December Coverage: Live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru, BBC Sounds and the BBC Sport website and app. Day-by-day TV listingsFull coverage details

This World Cup has been a test of Harry Maguire’s character as well as his ability – and he has shown everyone he has plenty of both.

His struggles at Manchester United were a big concern for me before the tournament because your form doesn’t change just because you put on a different shirt.

Maguire hadn’t been playing much for United this season and when he did come into the team he looked nervous and a long way off the level we are used to seeing him play at for England.

The amount of criticism he was getting was way over the top, but you can’t get away from the fact he had not been anywhere near his best for several months.

That meant he came to this World Cup with his international place under scrutiny too, but any doubts I had about whether he should be playing for England in Qatar were answered straight away.

The first game, against Iran, was a pivotal moment. If he had been shaky there for whatever reason, then this might have turned into a very different tournament for him.

But he made a positive start, got on the ball and got some belief back – and he has kept on building his confidence in every game since then.

He was our best player against the United States, when he showed what an excellent defender he is when the ball comes into our box, and looked extremely composed against Wales too.

A different player for club and country?

The way England are set up is one of the reasons Maguire looks more at home playing for his country than he does for his club.

Gareth Southgate uses a system that plays to everyone’s individual strengths and protects their weaknesses – such as Maguire’s mobility.

Being in a team that defends deep with a low block suits him far better than when he plays for United and he is much higher up the pitch.

For United, Erik ten Hag wants his centre-halves to be 10 yards inside the opposition half when the team is in possession, which leaves a massive gap between Maguire and his goalkeeper for opponents to exploit.

That doesn’t really happen with England because he has got more team-mates around him, and less space behind him where his lack of pace can be exposed.

All of this helps Maguire defensively, and the other part of his game has never been in question. He is so comfortable on the ball and bringing it out of defence, which is still vital to the way Southgate wants to play.

England defenders John Stones and Harry Maguire
John Stones and Harry Maguire started all three of England’s group games together and kept two clean sheets. They first played alongside each other against Lithuania in October 2017 and were partners at the 2018 World Cup and last year’s European Championship

Having John Stones alongside him is important too, of course. They have played together in either a two or a three at the back at this level in all sorts of situations, including at the past two major tournaments.

In total, they have played together 31 times for England in the past five years and lost only three times over 90 minutes, so that trust is there – they know each other so well, and you can tell.

The importance of feeling wanted by your manager

After the way he has started this World Cup, Maguire will not be thinking about his problems at United any more.

It was down to him to get his head right in order to prove the doubters wrong, but he could not have done it if Southgate hadn’t stuck with him in the first place and let him answer his critics on the pitch.

The manager’s part in this was to make Maguire feel wanted and valued, which Southgate has done by picking him in his team.

England boss Gareth Southgate and defender Harry Maguire
Maguire has started only one Premier League game for Manchester United since August and has only made nine appearances out of a possible 21 for his club in all competitions all season, but Southgate continued to pick him for England

I think the moment you feel the manager doesn’t quite think you are worthy or ready, then there is a persoalan.

That kind of man-management is one of Southgate’s main strengths. He has created a happy environment that allows all his players to flourish.

I was part of England squads where you knew certain players didn’t want to be involved and would make excuses over injuries to avoid call-ups.

Now it is different. Southgate has clearly brought the squad together and, looking from the outside, they all want to be there and they all feel a part of it because they enjoy it so much.

The big thing for me is that they all look like mates, genuinely, which was not really the case in my day.

Rashford has refocused to get back to his best

Maguire is not the only England player to have come through a difficult time to shine at this tournament.

His United team-mate Marcus Rashford has been on a similar journey where he seemed to lose some of his confidence, with the difference being he has been playing so well in the Premier League this season. Now he is doing the same for England.

I’m so pleased to see him flying again and maybe he just needed to do some refocusing to get back on track.

He had been carrying some injuries as well, so getting a proper pre-season last summer was massive for him. He looks fresh and, as I said on BBC One after the Wales game, a smiling, hungry, dynamic and upbeat Marcus Rashford is a devastating player. At the moment he is all of these things.

When he gets the ball, he turns and runs and is aggressive with it – he is not receiving it and playing it backwards. Instead he is facing his defender up and saying, ‘I am going to test you’.

Rashford has three goals already, after only one start. He took us to a different level against Wales and it is going to be very difficult to drop him for the Senegal game now.

Four years ago it was Harry Kane who got most of the goals when we reached the semi-finals in Russia. This England team is doing things differently, but I am getting similar vibes about our chances of going far this time too.

I feel confident about the whole team and I love the fact that when we have made changes we have not looked weaker at all. It feels like we are ready and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Rio Ferdinand was speaking to Chris Bevan in Doha, Qatar.

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