The burden of captaining Manchester United through such turbulent times is weighing heavily on Harry Maguire and partly explains the defender’s dramatic loss of form, sources have told Metro.co.uk.
Maguire has struggled since his return from injury last month and looks a shadow of the centre-back that United made the most expensive of all-time in 2019 following an £80million move from Leicester City.
The 28-year-old was way off the pace in the recent heavy defeat against his old club and was run ragged during by Mohamed Salah during Liverpool’s record breaking 5-0 win at Old Trafford.
Maguire was again culpable for Atalanta’s second goal in a 2-2 draw in Italy on Tuesday night, playing Duvan Zapata onside before making a reckless and unsuccessful lunge at the Colombian, before he fired past David De Gea.
Many have questioned whether fitness issues have hampered Maguire’s performances this term, particularly as the defender missed the end of last season and rushed back to feature for England at the European Championships.
However, sources have told Metro.co.uk that Maguire is not troubled by any lingering injury, nor is he playing through the pain barrier at a time when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer desperately needs results. The defender has continued to train as usual and hasn’t required a tailored programme.
Instead, there is a feeling within parts of Carrington that Maguire is struggling with the pressure of being club captain and feels a weight of responsibility for the side’s poor start to the season.
Maguire was appointed skipper following Ashley Young’s departure in January 2020 and the decision came less than six months after the defender completed his transfer to United.
The move was met with raised eyebrows by some sections of the United dressing room given Maguire hadn’t even completed his debut season at the Theatre of Dreams and was chosen ahead of more experienced members of the squad.
Maguire has taken well to the captaincy and is a largely respected figure, but the focus on his position has increased in recent weeks following his poor performances and the club’s demoralising results.
The defender has therefore struggled to convince the entire dressing room of his suitability for the role and there is a sense that his job has been made even harder by the arrivals of serial winners Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphael Varane.
Maguire opted for United over Manchester City in 2019, admitting that he was attracted to the idea of returning the Red Devils to their former glories. But the squad he is part of today is unrecognisable from the one that Maguire joined just over two years ago, with Solskjaer loading his squad with top talent.
It means there’s an even greater pressure on Maguire to lead a side with so many big personalities and Roy Keane criticised the defender for his ‘robotic’ response to the 5-0 humiliation to Liverpool last month.
‘I heard Maguire talking during the week, he was like a robot. He was like [adopts English accent]: “Oh, er, apologies to the fans.” There’s no emotion behind it.’
Maguire’s struggles have come against the backdrop of a hangover from the European Championships where the usually commanding centre-half was one of England’s best performers as Gareth Southgate’s side finished runners-up.
The former Hull City defender missed the Europa League final at the end of last season and only returned to fitness for the Three Lions’ final group stage match.
Indeed, there were just 33 days between Maguire playing 120 minutes in the penalty shootout defeat to Italy at Wembley and the 5-1 victory against Leeds on the opening weekend of the Premier League season.
United have conceded 15 times in ten league matches this term and Maguire hasn’t been helped by the absence of a consistent centre-back partner, nor by Solskjaer’s failure to find a balance in the rest of the side.
With Varane set for another stint on the sidelines and Victor Lindelof struggling for fitness, Maguire is likely to be paired with Eric Bailly for Saturday’s Manchester derby.
Solskjaer has been reluctant to take his captain out of his starting XI in recent weeks, believing Maguire can play through his bad form. There is little evidence to suggest that’s the case so far but he’ll be hoping he can start against City this weekend.
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