I remember it vividly. It was the May 21, 2008, when Chelsea captain John Terry slipped and missed what would have been the winning penalty, I screamed out in joy as I watched his dejected face walk back to his teammates. In sudden death, Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Sar, dived to the right side and saved the penalty which won Manchester United their third European title.
It was a moment of jubilation and excitement.
I fell in love with the beautiful game watching the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney ply their craft in the Premier League. They and other world-class players in Manchester United made me a fan.
United was a formidable force under the helm of a manager regarded to be one of the greatest to ever grace the game, Sir Alex Ferguson.
Since the departure of Sir Alex in 2013, the team has finished outside the coveted top-4, a number of four times. The team has undergone a change in the managerial position a number of three times since then and winning just three major titles (no league titles). In 2018, the club employed ex-United forward Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as manager and although he had his doubters, he is proving them wrong this season with United playing with an attacking flair and attractive football.
During Sir Alex’s reign, I watched one of the best defensive partnerships to ever grace the Premier League in Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. They played 187 games together, winning 123 of them. According to Rio, “Our styles complement each other, he attacks the ball and I clean up around him. It’s a blend of two styles. We pushed each other on. He wanted to be a top player, so did I, we both strived to be the best.” Their understanding and ability to work together and compliment each other turned them into one of the greatest defensive duos in the history of the sport.
One of the main reasons for the steep decline in recent years has been due to the poor defensive performances of the team.
In 2019, the club signed Harry Maguire from Leicester City for a reported fee of around £80mil, making him the most expensive defender in the world. The club showed intent in getting results, which ultimately came to fruition as they ended the 2019-20 campaign in 3rd place.
While I am yet to be convinced of Maguire’s potential, I wish to be proven wrong.
After watching the likes of Rio and Vidic in action, I do admit that I have been overly critical of Maguire and his partner Victor Lindelof.
Maguire’s lack of pace is his greatest weakness and it has been evident in many of his games. In my opinion, United overpaid for Maguire.
But am I wrong to assume this?
So I checked the stats.
The statistics of the 2019-20 season portray a totally different story as it shows what an important figure he has been to the team.
The Premier League was halted in March of 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic and resumed only on June 17. In a season full of uncertainties and mishaps, there was one constant: Harry Maguire playing for Manchester United.
According to the CIES Football Observatory, the United captain has been the most used footballer on the planet in 2020. This is a surprising statistic considering the fact that he endured a very ‘interesting’ summer where he was arrested in Greece due to a drunken brawl with the police.
Against all odds, as of December 17 Maguire has managed to play a record 4,745 minutes, managing to surpass goalkeepers in the league. His importance cannot be overstated as he played every minute of the 38-game 2019-20 campaign, also becoming the first outfield player to do so for the club since 1995.
On January 13 in a win against Burnley, Harry Maguire produced one of his best performances. According to football analyst Statman Dave, Harry Maguire won 100% of his tackles, won 80% of aerial duels, had a 75% pass accuracy, recovered the ball 6 times, blocked one shot on goal and managed to keep a clean sheet. This is also partly due to his recently formed partnership with fellow defender Eric Bailly.
Bailly adds a certain level of solidity to the defense coupled with an explosive burst of pace which the United defense desperately needed. This newly formed defensive partnership between Maguire and Bailly could be the start of an interesting and scintillating run of performances if they are consistent.
And in a rather dull draw against our greatest rivals Liverpool, Maguire put on another impressive display by the defender where he blocked 5 shots and made four headed clearances, more than any other player on the pitch. The defence never looked so solid. The lethal Liverpool trio of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firminio and Mohamed Salah has scored just three goals against United in a number of 13 appearances. Maguire’s performance against Fulham in the last game of the first half of the season was another solid one.
Maguire has been regarded as the Premier League’s best aerial defender. His aerial prowess is definitely every rival manager’s first observation. He has won 56 aerial duels out of 70, with a success rate of 80%.
Playing for a club like Manchester United will undoubtedly have its expectations. Liverpool defender Virgil Van Dijk said this of Maguire surpassing his £75mil price tag, “I can’t say anything about that because there was always going to be a time when it was going to change. That’s the market. He doesn’t have any influence on that but I wish him well. The price comes with pressure but it doesn’t change too much because you always have pressure at big clubs like Man United. But I wish him well.”
Harry Maguire through his stats has started to silence his doubters, including me. He is proving to be an influential and important cog in a well-oiled machine.
Whether he lives up to the expectations that comes with the price-tag and being Manchester United captain, only time will tell.
Author: Neil Wallang
Neil Wallang is a staff writer. He has a B.A (Honours) in English from Delhi University. An avid Manchester United fan, he loves technology, cars, and books.