LONDON: Harry Maguire insists he never feared for his England career after a turbulent year on and off the pitch that will see him aim to make amends against Denmark in the semi-finals of Euro 2020 tonight. Just 11 months ago, the Manchester United captain found himself locked up in a Greek jail for two days after a post-season holiday went wrong.
Maguire, 28, was given a suspended 21-month sentence after being found guilty of assaulting a police officer, swearing, resisting arrest and bribery during an incident in Mykonos. He always protested his innocence and launched an appeal which nullifies the verdict and means he has no criminal record ahead of a full retrial.
The incident just days after the end of the delayed 2019/20 season had consequences that rolled into the new season. He was dropped for England’s Nations League ties with Iceland and Denmark in September and looked like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders even when he did return from club and country.
United conceded 12 goals in their opening three Premier League games, while his England return in October saw him sent off for two yellow cards after just 31 minutes as Denmark went onto win 1-0 at Wembley thanks to a Christian Eriksen penalty. The two sides meet again in very different circumstances tonight. Denmark are riding an emotional wave after the shock of seeing Eriksen suffer a cardiac arrest in their opening game. But in stark contrast to their last encounter behind closed doors, England will have 60,000 fans on their side and one of their key players back to his best.
Maguire scored with a bullet header as England stormed into the last four with a 4-0 win over Ukraine in Rome on Saturday, registering a seventh consecutive clean sheet in the process to set a national record. “I never felt for my international career. I always felt I had something to bring and offer,” said Maguire on Monday. “Without getting into too much detail of what went off in the summer I knew where I stood on behalf of that. I always knew what went off. I’m totally over it, it was a tough time, for sure, but I’ve moved on.”
Southgate’s ‘trust’ repaid
As Maguire’s form improved, so did United’s as they briefly threatened a title challenge early in 2021 before falling back to finish comfortably second in the Premier League to Manchester City. However, it was in his absence for the final weeks of the season that his importance was fully appreciated. Ankle ligament damage suffered in May meant Maguire missed the Europa League final, which United lost to Villarreal on a penalty shootout. He was also a major doubt for the European Championship, but Gareth Southgate waited on him even though the former Leicester defender was not fit until the third group game.
“He picked me to make my debut and then I think ever since I’ve been available I’ve pretty much played in every game possible,” added Maguire on Southgate’s backing over the past year. “That gives me great confidence and belief and trust going into the game to enable me to perform to my best. Every time I step onto the pitch I’m trying to repay the faith and the trust, because every time I go onto the pitch I want to do my best for the country.”
Maguire followed England as a fan to Euro 2016 where their run ended in an embarrassing defeat to Iceland. Two years later he was one of the stars of the World Cup as England surpassed expectations to make the semi-final. Twelve months on, he became the world’s most expensive defender when United paid £80 million ($111 million) to the Foxes.
And he believes his greater experience at the highest level is reflected throughout a squad filled with Champions League and Premier League winners, who are better equipped to deal with the weight of expectation in the latter stages of a major tournament. “I think we are in a much better place than we were (in 2018). We have had a lot of big games in that period to improve on, a lot of time spent together on the training pitch and friendlies and qualifiers. Every game we play together we feel we are going to improve.” – AFP