It is not yet clear who will take over from Craig Shakespeare at Leicester but the new man in charge will inherit one of England’s most promising centre-backs. Here, Nick Wright charts the rise of Harry Maguire with help from one of the coaches who knows him best.
With a bin bag full of kit in one hand and a suitcase in the other, Harry Maguire walks tentatively into the reception area at St George’s Park. It is late August and the towering defender is reporting for international duty following his first England call-up. When a member of staff steps forward to greet him, there is an awkward handshake and nervous laughter.
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October 29, 2017, 3:30pm
Maguire is a £17m centre-back who will make his England debut just a few weeks later, but on this occasion, as one Twitter user points out, he looks more like a wide-eyed teenager arriving at university halls during freshers’ week. The scene, captured on video and gleefully shared on social media, portrayed a humble character still getting used to life at the top.
Maguire could be forgiven for feeling a little overawed. He had not represented England at any level since a solitary U21 appearance in 2012, and it was only 11 months since he made his first Premier League start for lowly Hull City. When he was included in Gareth Southgate’s squad to face Malta and Slovakia, he had made just four appearances for Leicester.
It all happened quickly but it was not the first time he has jumped several rungs of the ladder. Maguire is 24 now but he had only just turned 18 when he was thrown into Sheffield United’s first team in the midst of Championship relegation battle in 2011. When he joined up with England’s U21s 18 months after that, he was the only player in the squad from League One.
Maguire made his next big jump when he joined Hull City in 2014. The youngster was well established at Sheffield United having missed just nine games out of 169 since their relegation to the third tier three years earlier, but the move to the KC Stadium took him to unchartered territory. Hull were a Premier League side who had just reached the FA Cup final.
“When he first came to Hull it was a huge step for him,” Mike Phelan tells Sky Sports. Phelan was assistant manager to Steve Bruce at the time and went on to step into the hot seat himself in 2016. “Harry was Sheffield United born and bred and probably their star player, but at Hull it was a case of is he ready to play?”
Maguire was given early opportunities in Europa League qualifying and the Capital One Cup, but when Hull crashed out of those competitions he found himself on the fringes. “At times Harry was frustrated because he felt he had a bit to offer,” says Phelan. “He wanted minutes but he had to play a waiting game.”
Maguire played regularly during a loan spell at Wigan in the second half of that season, but his frustrations continued when he returned to Hull in the summer. Bruce’s side had been relegated to the Championship during Maguire’s time away, but even in the second tier he struggled to hold down a place in central defence.
Many young players would have grown impatient and pushed for a transfer, but Maguire resolved to work on his weaknesses instead. “He has always been a kid who has worked at his game,” says Phelan. “He always believed in his ability but he also wanted to know more about the game. All those ingredients help when it comes to making a player.”
Maguire focused on developing the physical and technical attributes which are now so important to his game. “You look at Harry, he’s a big structure,” says Phelan. “At times he looks a little bit disproportionate, a little bit bottom heavy. He was not the in best in terms of using his body.
“He had to work on footwork, technique and the physicality of the game at that level. Carrying a big frame around with you for 90-odd minutes isn’t easy. He had to train hard and work at things like nutrition and diet. Once he felt able to manage all those things, his ability began to come through. Being a Premier League footballer is about educating yourself and making sacrifices.”
Maguire’s hard work paid off when Phelan threw him into the team following Hull’s promotion back to the Premier League in 2016/17, but his first start ended in a horrible 6-1 defeat to Bournemouth in October. It was enough to test any player’s self-belief and it required a determined response.
“It’s not the nicest experience you want as a player, but what it does do is it makes you realise there’s a lot more to this game than just being out there on the pitch,” says Phelan. “Harry had to confront his weaknesses, but it was a character-building experience which helped him go on to bigger and better things.”
For the rest of the season, Maguire shone in adversity, scoring three goals in 36 appearances in total and impressing with his measured distribution from deep and his marauding runs forward. Hull were relegated with a bitterly disappointing 4-0 loss to Crystal Palace in their penultimate game of the campaign, but Maguire had gone from strength to strength under Marco Silva.
When Leicester signed him for £17m in June, it was seen as a coup. He has been a rare bright spot in their difficult start to the season. That combination of imposing physicality and ball-playing ability is proving valuable. “He’s a defender that’s very comfortable with the ball and that’s the profile of international football,” said Southgate back in August.
Increasingly, it is the profile of Premier League football, too. “The modern game seems to be all about having football players at the back,” says Phelan. “We can’t forget the defensive element of the role but it seems you need to be comfortable on the ball in that continental style, like Harry.”
The awkward handshake and nervous laughter back at St George’s Park show a player still coming to terms with his rise, but it feels as though there is more to come. “Harry still has a bit to work on but he knows his strengths and weaknesses,” says Phelan. “You learn through experience and through making mistakes. Harry has done that. I’m sure he will keep getting better.”
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