Harry Maguire frames it differently and it is some difference. His England teammates, when questioned in Qatar, have mostly said they can win the World Cup. It is the objective. They have not shied away from saying so. For Maguire, though, it goes beyond that. It is not only a target. As he prepares for Saturday night’s quarter-final against France, it is an obligation.
“That’s the one thing I’d say is a lot different from the 2018 squad,” Maguire says. “I played when we got to the semi-final and a lot of the lads were happy. You know that whatever happened in that semi-final [when they lost to Croatia], you’d go home and be classed as a hero; you’d get a good reception, everyone would be patting you on the back. Now there’s a belief that we’ve got to win this tournament.
“Of course, we know how tough it is going to be. There are probably five or six teams with the same belief. But in 2018, we probably weren’t one of those teams. Now there’s five or six who have that belief and we’re one of them.”
When considering Maguire or talking to him, it is impossible not to fixate on his mentality. Or, to put it another way, wonder how he copes with it all because, over the past year and a bit, Maguire has become a virtual by-word for calamity. That has to do something to a player, even one as long-in-the-tooth as him.
It was a horrible season for him last time out. Manchester United were surely the worst version of themselves since the late 1980s and Maguire was a big part of that, making grisly errors. He looked leaden-footed, his confidence on the floor. But as the captain, he almost became the face of the listing ship.
Maguire’s substitution against Atlético Madrid in the Champions League was cheered by a section of the Old Trafford crowd. For England, meanwhile, he was jeered at Wembley during the friendly against the Ivory Coast. Sticks and stones, perhaps. But then came the bomb threat to his family home, which was beyond the pale.
This season, the abuse has not been as bad and maybe it is because he has not been seen as often. Dropped after the first two games by the new United manager, Erik ten Hag, Maguire has started only three times since – all at Old Trafford; Real Sociedad (Europa League defeat), West Ham (Premier League win), Aston Villa (Carabao Cup win).
Maguire was in at the outset for England in late September against Italy and Germany – he was poor in the second tie – and after that was unavailable for three weeks or so because of a thigh injury. When he departed for the World Cup, he was United’s fourth-choice centre-half and there were plenty of people who did not want him in the line-up when England got underway against Iran. So how does he cope?
“First and foremost, I listen to people around me like my family and friends, my teammates, the staff here,” Maguire says. “I know how valued I am, I feel it within the camp. That gives me great belief. I also go back to my past memories and performances at tournaments. In the summer of last year, I was in the Euros team of the tournament. I know what I’m capable of.”
It has to be hard to blot out all of the noise. Maguire cannot live under a rock. Last week, he was even ridiculed in the Ghanaian parliament when an MP denigrated the vice-president as the “economic Maguire”, accusing him of being a liability.
“You pick up bits and bobs and maybe my family read things more than me,” Maguire says. “I tell them to stay off social media – maybe they don’t because it’s a habit for most people these days. But I’m 29 years old, I’m the captain of Man United and I’ve made 52 appearances for my country. I’m doing everything I always wanted to do.
“During a career, there’s only probably Lionel Messi and Cristiano [Ronaldo] who’ve not had a dip. There’s no way, especially with all the scrutiny that is on defences these days, you’re not going to have dips. It’s how you bounce back from them.”
Maguire has had a good World Cup so far, starting all four of England’s ties, although he did have shaky moments during the early stages of the last-16 win against Senegal. He has felt the support not only of Southgate but the travelling fans, making light of his lack of regular football much as he did going into the last Euros; back then, he was out for six weeks with an ankle problem. He has also received a couple of “well done” messages from Ten Hag.
“As a player, you want to play and this is the first season I’ve really sat on a bench in a few games,” Maguire says. “But I’ll fight to get my place back [at United]. I did manage to play the 90 minutes against West Ham and Villa after my thigh injury and I felt like I was coming into a little bit of form. You want to play in your rhythm and I’m glad I got the first few World Cup games out of the way. I’m in a rhythm of playing now. I’m in a good place.”
This is not a redemption story. Not yet, anyway. The fear continues to lurk that Maguire could be exposed against France, particularly by the pace of Kylian Mbappé. But just imagine if Maguire could summon a command performance in victory. This is his life – ever on the end of a precipice. How does he cope? All told, pretty remarkably.