Since moving to Old Trafford in the summer from Leicester City, Harry Maguire has assumed the leadership role at the club. The world record fee for a defender of £80m, paid to secure his services, is looking money well spent by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the club. ‘Slabhead’ is looking like a pivotal character in that Old Trafford dressing room; both on and off the field.
Following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson back in 2013, after securing our last Premier League title, there has been a huge void at the club in terms of leadership at all levels. During the Summer of 2014, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Ryan Giggs all left.
Effectively a whole defence left Old Trafford that Summer. The experience, leadership, know-how and ability lost by the departures of the trio was always going to be hard to replace. Couple this with the retirement of Gary Neville back in 2011 and the exits of solid pros in Wes Brown and John O’Shea, the leadership vacuum at the back was apparent.
With Giggsy taking up his role on van Gaal’s staff in the Summer of 2014, the responsibility of leading the dressing room effectively fell to Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick and Ashley Young, who were in the twilight of their careers. There was the likes David De Gea, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones but the rest of the squad was made up mainly of inexperienced younger players and some expensive mistakes, such as Angel Di Maria and Falcao.
This theme has continued throughout the post-Ferguson era, culminating in the debacle of Goodison Park towards the end of last season. Sure, some real experienced players were brought in by various managers such as Juan Mata, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Nemanja Matic and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but it has never really seemed a fully coherent dressing room, instead more a collection of individuals. This is something Ferguson never entertained, fully believing the collective, cohesive unit will always reign supreme.
The philosophy of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is to build a vibrant United side, with individual brilliance whilst having a real team ethic at the heart of the squad. The acquisition of Maguire was key to this. He has led by example on the pitch. The man affectionately known as ‘Slab Head’ to his teammates is constantly talking and organising on the pitch and his influence in the Dressing Room has seen him become club captain during his first season at Old Trafford.
The World Cup in Russia saw Maguire really come to the fore. He was a key component of the team that unexpectantly reached the semi-finals, scoring against both Panama and Sweden. He was a target for Jose Mourinho that summer, but for whatever reason, the deal couldn’t be done. The club and Solskjaer would not make that mistake again.
Whilst United are not the finished article at this stage, as Ole openly admits the rebuild will take time, the defence already looks far stronger. The qualities Maguire has shown around his teammates, both on and off the pitch, have had a huge impact on the fortunes of the side. Others such as Scott McTominay, Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes have already shown they are all in this together.
Before there was an enforced break announced due to the coronavirus pandemic, we were (and still are) well placed to secure a Champions League spot through the league, on course to reach the Europa League quarter-finals and have an FA Cup quarter-final at Norwich to look forward to. Not bad for a side written off by many. The plan that Solskjaer has to rebuild the side is starting to bear fruit, with Maguire at the heart.
The way ‘Slab Head’ has handled the players’ wage deferral debate has also been first class. He was one of the first Premier League players to come out and show his support for our superb NHS and suggest the whole squad do their part to help. This shows great strength, leadership and touch with the common supporter. This is something that has been sorely missed at Old Trafford for so many years.
This is the kind of solidarity with which both Manchester and Manchester United Football Club were founded upon and pride themselves upon. By having the club captain galvanising the squad and supporters both on and off the pitch in testing times this will stand the club in good stead and provide the platform for success. With Captain Harry and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the future of Manchester United is bright once again.