Gareth Southgate and England thrive on trust and confidence in Qatar | World Cup 2022

In a parallel universe – say at Wembley or Molineux – Harry Maguire rumbles forward and keeps on going to the fringes of the penalty area. It is 0-0, half an hour gone and England are labouring.

Maguire does not give the impression that he has the ball entirely under his spell. Or that he knows what he is going to do next. It is chaotically off the cuff. He simply puts his head down and shoots. It zings out for a throw-in on the far side.

Cue the derision? Because that is what Maguire tends to inspire in big crowds back in England. Not here. Not at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium on Tuesday night in the final World Cup group game against Wales. Within seconds, the England fans behind the other goal have begun to sing Maguire’s song, the one about his alcohol preferences and massive head.

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Qatar: beyond the football


This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

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Spool forward to the interval. The game remains goalless, England error-strewn and predictable. Cue the boos? Because that is what tends to happen. England were jeered by the Wembley crowd at half-time in their opening Euro 2020 matches against Croatia and Scotland with the score at 0-0 and everyone remembers the vitriol at Molineux in June during the Nations League game against Hungary. That night, England were 1-0 down at the break. It would get much worse.

At the Ahmad bin Ali, there were no boos when the half-time whistle blew, no spontaneous outpouring of frustration. It seemed to reinforce a couple of developing themes for Gareth Southgate and his squad as they attempt to win the World Cup – next stop Senegal in the last 16 on Sunday night – with trust and patience central to them.

Playing at home can be a blessing and a curse for a national team, especially at a tournament. Remember Brazil at the 2014 World Cup? With 200 million deeply passionate people willing them on, the side were a sea of nerves and anxiety, riding the wave as far as the semi-final before they crashed against Germany.

Harry Maguire in action for England against Wales
Harry Maguire has thrived on his popularity among England fans having had a difficult domestic season. Photograph: Jean Catuffe/Getty Images

Southgate has previously said there could be no greater pressure for his players than to have what was effectively a home tournament at the Euros, with all but one of their games at Wembley. The desperation of the supporters for glory can magnify the highs and drive a wild kind of momentum. It can accentuate the lows.

It is different in Qatar, more balanced. The profile of the travelling England fan feels different. Perhaps the alcohol situation is also a factor. No one seems to be fired-up drunk inside the stadiums. There were boos at the end of the 0-0 draw against the USA in the second group game but that was after the full-time whistle. It did not affect the performance. A half-time booing is harsher. It is a prejudgment.

Maguire is feeding off the support. He positively bounded over to the England fans before kick-off against Wales, applauding them and getting plenty back. It is not to say that Maguire is not cheered at home or does not hear his song. Just that the bad stuff can overtake it there on a bad day. Over here, the supporters have embraced Maguire’s cult-hero qualities. His size and physical toughness; the fun of him in full flight. He has had a good tournament so far.

Harry Maguire profile

As England eased to a 3-0 win over Wales in the second half, there was the chant to the tune of Jingle Bells about it being fun to see them win away. Christmas ditties during a World Cup? It is an unusual experience in so many ways.

“We had fantastic support in the stadium,” Southgate said. “It reminded me of tournaments I played in where you’ve got that bank of fans and it’s a very special feeling to run out and hear that.”

Wednesday brought a day off for the England players, a time to reflect, and Southgate is happy at how phase one of the assignment has been completed. Nine goals, and they have been shared around; two clean sheets; group winners with seven points. The team spirit is excellent and Southgate’s options run deep, especially for his front line.

Against Wales, he was able to get minutes into Kyle Walker and Kalvin Phillips – as they work their way back after major operations – and control those of Luke Shaw, Declan Rice and Harry Kane, withdrawing them around the hour mark.

Man-management is everything. Southgate has had to show compassion for Shaw, whose grandmother died before the opening game against Iran after a long time with cancer. “She was a really important part of my childhood – I spent a lot of time with her,” Shaw said. “You could say she is part of my motivation.”

Southgate’s selection decisions have been difficult and they will only get more so. How to strike the right tone with those he omits? It was certainly a big call to leave out Raheem Sterling against Wales. Southgate has always started the Chelsea winger in tournaments – except the dead-rubber final group game against Belgium at the 2018 World Cup.

Raheem Sterling congratulates Jude Bellingham
Raheem Sterling, who was left out against Wales, congratulates Jude Bellingham. Photograph: Paul Childs/Reuters

“Raheem’s had two starts here and he’s played at big clubs where you don’t necessarily start every game,” Southgate said. “The players understand that. Of course they are disappointed not to start but we’ve got an incredible spirit among the group. They take that as well as you can expect. They’ve got to be ready for when their moment comes.”

The memory of England’s first-half performance against Wales remains jarring; exhibit B for why they will not win the World Cup. Exhibit A had come from much of the 90 minutes against the USA. Southgate and some of the players pushed the idea that the largely sterile domination against Wales before the interval had served to wear their opponents out, setting up the second-half knockout blows. Maguire made a more irrefutable point. “If you watch a lot of the games here, they’ve had really tense first halves,” he said.

The England players can feel the excitement building, particularly when they see videos of the celebrations from home. “It’s hard sometimes to stay calm,” Phillips said. “But we have a good group and a good coaching staff who will always keep us grounded – especially Steve Holland.”

That got a laugh. Southgate’s assistant is surely more bad cop than the manager. But for a symbol of England’s quiet assurance, look no further than Southgate’s in-game demeanour. The manager has barely come out of his dugout, preferring to leave the players to it, to empower them.

“I got into a habit during Covid of standing on the touchline because you felt they needed more encouragement without the fans,” Southgate said. “But I’m happier biding my time and taking my moments. We’ve also got the monitor where we can watch everything with a slight delay if things happen when you’ve got to make tactical decisions. I don’t need to be playing every ball with the players. I trust them.”

Familiar faces and vibes: tournament life is a better fit for Harry Maguire | World Cup 2022

Harry Maguire was just finishing a training session this year when he received an anonymous email, sent via his agent. The email explained that three bombs had been planted at his house in Wilmslow and that he was being given 72 hours to leave Manchester United before they would be detonated.

Naturally the police were called immediately, a sniffer dog was dispatched to conduct a thorough search of Maguire’s house and garden, and no explosives were found. Maguire rushed home from Carrington to be with his family, and while his fiancée and children were moved to a safehouse, Maguire moved in with a teammate for a few days. Nobody was arrested.

There is, of course, plenty to be said here about the increasingly sinister tone of online discourse, football’s relationship with fame, perhaps even the role of the media in anointing heroes and villains. But I’m more interested in examining how an experience such as that might shape Maguire himself. How do you deal with the brief and distressing possibility that your football career – the very thing upon which you have built your life and livelihood, your identity and your joy – could ultimately culminate in your whole family being murdered? What does that do to you? How does it affect your relationship to football?

Quick Guide

Qatar: beyond the football


This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

Guardian reporting goes far beyond what happens on the pitch. Support our investigative journalism today.

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In many ways, the bomb threat was perhaps the logical culmination of what we might describe as English football’s Maguire-industrial complex: an industry that grew up around his towering performances in the 2018 World Cup before juddering violently in the other direction. Just as Maguire became the face and the forehead of a new, humbler and more relatable England side, so he would become the face and flailing limbs of their regression, the emblem of a United team struggling to define their identity under four successive managers.

Why Maguire? There were other flatlining players around him, and yet nobody – as far as we know – ever sent a bomb threat to Paul Pogba or threatened to kill the family of John Stones. Perhaps, on some level, the same qualities that fleetingly made Maguire a cult hero also made him a target: his visibility and thinly veiled eagerness, his willingness to put himself out there, to keep trying things, to keep volunteering for post-match interview duties. If you’re angry enough to swing a punch, you’re probably just going to punch the first face you see.

The point here is not to launch an impassioned defence of Maguire’s football ability, a topic upon which you will almost certainly have made up your mind already. But there is an unsolved mystery here. At United Maguire is now the fourth-choice centre-half under Erik ten Hag, having made just one league start in three months. With England he remains as vital as ever: player of the tournament at Euro 2020 and a certainty to start his third successive game, against Wales on Tuesday night. What might explain the disparity? A glance at Maguire’s data for club and country offers a little illumination. At Leicester City in 2017-18, perhaps his last season of relative anonymity, he completed 51 successful dribbles and made 115 progressive passes (defined as moving the ball forward at least 10 yards).

Harry Maguire during England training at the Al Wakrah Sports Complex.
Harry Maguire’s progressive passing and dribbling statistics are much improved when playing for England. Photograph: Dave Shopland/Shutterstock

This was the classic early Maguire: enterprising on the ball, a springboard for attack, a defender of pure vibes. Gradually, those numbers have gone into decline. So far this season at United he has made four progressive passes. Most tellingly of all, he is yet to complete a dribble.

You might be tempted to conclude, then, that Maguire has become a more limited, less ambitious player over time. And yet in England colours, the very opposite process seems to have occurred. If you take his three tournaments (with the caveat that he has played only two games here), his dribbling and progressive passes have increased from 2018 to 2022.

Against the USA he provided perhaps the game’s finest piece of skill, an outrageous slalom near the left byline that very nearly produced a shot on goal.

So what’s happening here? Well, let’s say you’ve received an anonymous email threatening to blow up your family. In the short term, you beef up your home security systems, hold your loved ones tight, turn your world inwards. Perhaps you even become a little colder, a little less available, a little more suspicious. But ultimately, this is not who you are. This is not the guy who travelled to Euro 2016 as a paying spectator and was playing for them a year later.

And so it is not possible that over time you begin to mourn that simpler version of life? A time before you were an £85m defender being dissected and menaced every weekend. A time when you could make a mistake and receive a valuable lesson instead of a death threat. A time when you still had room to grow and improve, to find the size and shape of your game.

United can never offer that to him, which is probably why he should leave as soon as is feasible. But on some level, England still can. On England duty he is no longer a world-record signing, no longer the public face of a listing hulk. He has a manager who trusts and values him, a system he knows and recognises, more time on the ball and more licence to use it. The fans, for all their occasional foibles, are usually more generous. There are familiar faces, happy memories, good vibes.

Perhaps, temperamentally, tournament life seems to suit Maguire. Watch him on the pitch and what you see above all is a search for hard feelings: the crunch of a well-timed defensive header, the thrill of a surging dribble, the goal that will change everything. None of this is really a predictor of success or failure. But it may just explain why he seems happier here than anywhere else.

Southgate is taking his biggest England gamble with loyalty to Harry Maguire | England

Of all the issues facing England before they open their World Cup campaign by facing Iran on Monday afternoon, nothing feels more pressing than the question of whether Gareth Southgate will end up regretting his decision to stick by Harry Maguire.

The potential for everything to go wrong because of a stumble from a centre-back fortunate even to be in the squad is obvious. This, more than anything, is the call that has to come off for Southgate. This a manager derided for his caution opening himself up to derision by playing with fire, albeit with an act of recklessness that feels pragmatic and limiting: a tactical choice that somehow manages to come across both as a risk and an example of the safety-first approach that threatens to hold England back.

The contradiction is striking. On the one hand we have Southgate risking it all on one faltering defender; on the other it is possible to view the Maguiredependencia as the conservative move. It is a show of strength from a manager refusing to bow to public consensus and an admission of weakness for England, who would no doubt find it easier to move on from Maguire if they had defenders queuing up to take his place.

Either way, Southgate is aware of the likely reaction if a Maguire error ends up costing his side. “Whatever reputation I have, I’m putting it on there,” England’s head coach said when asked about his trust in the Manchester United player in September. “You always have to back your judgment and we feel he is an important player.”

Quick Guide

Qatar: beyond the football


This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

Guardian reporting goes far beyond what happens on the pitch. Support our investigative journalism today.

Thank you for your feedback.

It is not a widely shared view. There will be grumbles if, as expected, Maguire starts against Iran. Southgate will be accused of favouritism and it is hard not to worry for Maguire, who must ensure that the sceptics do not affect his focus when he steps out at the Khalifa International Stadium.

The pressure will be intense. Comb through Southgate’s time in charge of England and it is impossible to find a bigger gamble than his loyalty to Maguire. He has made bold decisions – leaving Joe Hart and Jack Wilshere out of the squad for the 2018 World Cup, ending Wayne Rooney’s international career, making Jordan Pickford his No 1 – but those calls were rooted in ruthless logic. With Maguire, the impression is that Southgate has developed a blind spot.

How far does loyalty inspired by past performances go? Maguire’s crisis of confidence has gone on for a long time. He has started one Premier League game since August and appears to have no long-term future at United. They have improved as a defensive unit since dropping Maguire, who has made only nine appearances this season, and Erik ten Hag will not stop him leaving next summer.

Harry Maguire

Of course the difference for Ten Hag is that United’s centre-back options are not limited to a small pool of English players. Ultimately, while there have been complaints that Southgate has acted unfairly by picking Maguire on reputation rather than form, it is true that England do not have many alternatives.

As Southgate pointed out when he named his squad for Qatar, the young duo of Marc Guéhi and Fikayo Tomori are not quite ready yet. Tyrone Mings is out of the picture. If England play a back three there is no obvious replacement for Maguire as the left-sided centre-back. What would Southgate do if the 29-year-old gets injured before, say, a quarter-final against France? Move John Stones to the left, put Eric Dier in the middle and have Kyle Walker on the right? It would hardly be a tried and trusted set-up.

That is why England are still leaning on Maguire and hoping that he can recapture the form that earned him a place in the team of the tournament at Euro 2020. At his best he is a powerful, imposing defender. He is decent on the ball and is perfectly capable of flourishing in a compact, deep defence, which is why he has been such a strong performer for Southgate’s England.

At his worst, though, Maguire is a lumbering, accident-prone presence. He is not quick, so it is hard for England to push up the pitch and play a high line. He is fallible in one-on-one situations, so Southgate tends to shed an attacker and play a back three against top opposition. It is not ideal and, for all that Southgate has continued to publicly and privately support Maguire, there is no escaping the fact that the former Leicester defender was at fault for at least one goal when England drew 3-3 with Germany in September.

The memory of Maguire losing possession, fouling Jamal Musiala and giving away the penalty from which Ilkay Gündogan put Germany ahead lingers. It will remain present against Iran, regardless of whether Maguire plays with Stones in a back four or, with Walker injured, Dier comes into a three. But Southgate has not been swayed. He will back Maguire to shine against Iran, who have dangerous forwards, and to handle the speed of England’s other opponents in Group B, Wales and the USA.

The risks are plain. Southgate knows the first hint of defensive vulnerability will leave him exposed. He is gambling everything on Maguire. Will it be worth the hassle?

Ten Hag aiming to sell Maguire next summer in Manchester United rebuild | Manchester United

Manchester United will consider offers for Harry Maguire next summer, with Erik ten Hag intent on selling his captain to help fund a continuing overhaul of the squad. Maguire cost £80m but the club realise they may have to accept a considerable loss to sell him.

The news comes days before England’s World Cup 2022 campaign begins in Qatar, where Maguire is expected to be a first choice for Gareth Southgate. However, the 29-year-old’s stock has fallen considerably at United.

Having been made captain under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, who signed him from Leicester in August 2019, he has started only one Premier League match under Ten Hag since being in the XI for the 2-1 loss to Brighton and 4-0 defeat at Brentford in the opening two matches, and is now in effect fourth-choice centre-back.

Ten Hag’s No 1 pairing is Raphaël Varane and Lisandro Martínez, and Victor Lindelöf was preferred to Maguire to partner Martínez in Sunday’s 3-1 Premier League reverse at Aston Villa in the absence of the injured Varane.

Maguire signed a six-year contract that has an option to extend to 2026. The length of his deal, his salary of about £190,000 a week and his dramatic loss of form mean he may be hard to move on for a price anywhere near £80m.

Ten Hag admires the player’s professionalism but views Maguire’s sluggish pace as a problem and wants to sell him to add true competition for Varane and Martínez and enhance the quality of the defence.

The manager is also preparing to release Fred when the midfielder’s contract expires in June. United have an option to extend his deal for another 12 months but this is not expected to be taken.

Ten Hag has been impressed with Fred’s application and team ethic but is keen to overhaul a midfield in which only Casemiro has proven to be a consistent top-class performer.

Fred was signed by José Mourinho in 2018 for £52m and the 29-year-oldhas been named in Brazil’s World Cup squad.

Harry Maguire returns and could get World Cup boost from Varane injury | Manchester United

Harry Maguire is back in contention for Manchester United after injury and may get the game time to be match fit for the World Cup because of Raphaël Varane’s hamstring problem.

Varane will be out until the mid-November start of the tournament at least, leaving Maguire to compete with Victor Lindelöf for a place alongside Lisandro Martínez in central defence. Maguire has not played since sustaining a thigh injury in England’s draw with Germany in September and had previously lost his United place, with Erik ten Hag preferring to pair Varane with Martínez.

Maguire is back in full training and available for Thursday’s penultimate Europa League group game against Sheriff at Old Trafford. United need to avoid defeat to qualify for the next phase.

Ten Hag said: “He always has an important role. He was injured and is happy he is back and now he has to get back into games. It’s always about performance. Regarding his qualities – no problem. He is great player and has great capabilities to do a job for us.”

The manager was asked whether Maguire’s need for matches before the World Cup in Qatar would influence his thinking. “I understand the interest but we especially look at Manchester United – we have to get the right results and performances; that’s the main objective I have to look at,” the manager said.

Varane may recover to be available for France’s defence of the World Cup. “I think so but the prognosis: we have to wait and see how it develops, how his rehab develops,” said Ten Hag. “He will certainly be out until the World Cup.”

Cristiano Ronaldo is back in the squad after a one-game suspension for refusing to come on during last week’s win over Tottenham and exiting down the Old Trafford tunnel before the end. “Yes,” Ten Hag confirmed. “But I think we said everything and we answered all the questions.” With Anthony Martial still injured, Ronaldo may start.

Ten Hag was asked whether he had money to strengthen in January. “In the background we always continue a process, and you see and examine how you can improve and that’s what we will do,” he said.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Donny van de Beek have also returned to full training after injury.