Harry Maguire leaves Manchester United wondering ‘What if?’

Almost four years since Harry Maguire moved to Manchester United, the big Yorkshireman has seen the exit door.

A fee of $30 million has been agreed with West Ham United for the former captain’s sale to the east Londoners and, should personal terms be settled, it will see the world’s most expensive defender leave for around a third of the cost of.

When he arrived at Old Trafford in 2019, he was given a six-year contract with an option for a seventh.

The length of the deal was both a tool to wipe the giant $100 million fee off the club’s books and a testament to how long he was seen as an integral part of the team.

The England player’s welcome to the club was lauded by then manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

“Harry is one of the best centre-backs in the game today and I am delighted we have secured his signature,” he said.

“He’s a great reader of the game and has a strong presence on the pitch, with the ability to stay calm under pressure – coupled with his composure on the ball and a huge presence in both positions – I can see him fitting in well. this team on and off the field.

“He has a great personality and is a fantastic addition to the club.”

Just six months into his time at North West Maguire was given further approval to be named captain.

“Harry has been wearing the captain’s armband and will continue to wear it,” Solskjaer explained of the move.

“He came and was a captain in the team. I’m not surprised, but impressed by his leadership skills, so Harry will continue to wear the armband.”

It is an indictment of the group he was joining that such status could be bestowed upon a man who barely had time to learn everyone’s names correctly.

But this was a club that had lacked direction and a clear sense of strategy for the better part of a decade.

Since Sir Alex Ferguson left in 2013 with a Premier League medal, United have gone through a succession of managerial changes.

They went from supposed tactician Louis van Gaal to winning appointment Jose Mourinho and, of course, untested rookie Solskjaer.

Vast sums were spent on players to aid the efforts of these various managers to no avail, whether it was the established talent of Paul Pogba or the exciting potential of Jaden Sancho’s players who wore the red of United always seemed to deteriorate.

In fact, prior to Erik ten Hag’s arrival, only Bruno Fernandes can really be described as a signing who reached a higher level in the post-Ferguson United era.

Maguire was no different. A solid first season soon gave way to inconsistency, repeated apologies for embarrassing defeats making him the face of failure and then embarrassing blunders the cause.

His stock has continued to fall to the point where he was well outside the starting line-up at the end of last season.

This summer the inevitable happened and he was relieved of the captaincy.

Recent trend bias tends to change the way we view past accolades, Maguire’s extended fall from grace has made it feel like he was always out of his depth at the top, but that simply wasn’t the case.

Revisiting the moment United snapped up the then Leicester City star four years ago helps show just how much unfulfilled potential he had.

“An outstanding top class player”

“Maguire is an excellent top-class player,” Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola said in the wake of the 2019 Community Shield.

The boss of United’s rivals had asked his opinion on the new signing across town and made no secret of his admiration.

We were interested, but we couldn’t afford it. United can afford it. He is a great player, and the national team had an incredible World Cup.

“He’s strong in the air, good on the ball, concentration, he drives the ball, he’s quick, so quick. He’s got all the qualities. Congratulations to United on this signing.”

Guardiola was not alone as he believed the Red Devils had secured a coup.

“Anyone who’s interviewed or spent time with him knows he’s a good character. I think he’s a great buy,” said veteran British journalist Henry Winter, “Manchester United would have liked him about three weeks ago, but it’s fantastic signature. He’s going to bring a smile back into that dressing room because he’s such an engaging character.”

Strong in possession and ferocious in the tackle, Maguire appeared to be the complete centre-back.

Those abilities didn’t disappear in the years that followed, but his self-confidence gradually eroded with every misplaced pass or defensive error.

If he had spent the best years of his career under Pep Guardiola and not Solskjaer, maybe he wouldn’t be like this, maybe now he would be flourishing.

Unfortunately, we’ll never know. But an indication of Maguire’s underrated abilities can be found in his performances for England.

Always a reliable defender for his country, he was a trusted part of Gareth Southgate’s backline even while playing for Manchester United.

But his outstanding performances in the country’s run to the 2021 European Championship final are quickly being forgotten or described as an anomaly.

Could it not have been an indication of the way in which United were in chaos that was causing his poor performances rather than the other way around?

If he makes the move, Maguire will have the opportunity to provide some answers to the question.

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