Gareth Southgate says he’s ready to stake his ‘reputation’ on Harry Maguire, offering Manchester United’s struggling centre-half his full backing as he describes him as one of the ‘best’ and ‘most important’ players from England, who can do things in the team that the others cannot. The international manager went so far as to describe Maguire and John Stones ‘as good as any football in the world’ progressing down the pitch with the ball.
The 29-year-old’s position in the England squad is such that Southgate has said he doesn’t feel the need for further talks with him, despite his withdrawal from the United squad. The feeling around the England camp was that Maguire would start the game against Italy at the San Siro on Friday night, and he clearly remains one of Southgate’s first-choice centre-halves. That was made pretty clear in his pre-match comments, as the England manager stressed he would be willing to stake his ‘reputation’ on such moves.
“Whatever reputation I put on it,” Southgate said. “I think, look, you always have to back up your judgment and we think he’s an important player.”
“Obviously this is not an ideal situation,” Southgate added. “You want your best players to play regularly so that they are physically in the right place and mentally in the right place. But he is an important player for us. I think it’s important to support our best players.
“I didn’t feel the need to speak to him differently from the other players. I’m trying to get back together individually with all of them, it was a little more complicated this time because there are 28 of us so I’m getting there! Listen, he understands that he’s at a big club and he’s got a big transfer fee and he’s captain of the club so I think that’s why the spotlight is on him more but he has to do it and focus on training well every day and getting back into the team.”
There was a hint of a wider issue in Southgate’s responses, as he acknowledged England currently do not have a centre-half of sufficient quality to step in directly.
“If we thought there were experienced players ready to step in and play at a higher level than him, there would be a different consideration and in certain positions there would be a different level of competition that way.
“He’s our most dominant aerial centre-back. He and John are really amazing with the ball – the pressure they’ve put on the team in the tournaments we’ve played because we don’t always have that pivot of the midfielder who can take the game forward. This means there is enormously more pressure on our centre-backs to use the ball well and these two are as good as any football in the world for the TO DO.
Southgate also admitted that the situation could change if a number of players continue to get limited Premier League minutes during the time remaining until the World Cup.
“The squad that we picked, there’s a fair number of players that you could say we could have left out at this stage, but I think we wanted to keep that group together and keep them involved, get them together. to feel part of it but also they know that for some of them they need to play more regularly because now we are only a few weeks away from pre-season so physically if they have had some 90 minutes it is fine. Another seven to eight weeks, it starts to get more complicated.
Southgate meanwhile revealed he was influenced by reading Eddie Jones’ book, ‘Leadership: Lessons from my Life in Rugby’. The England rugby coach explained how he continued to choose Saracen players despite their relegation because of their importance to the team.
“I just read Eddie Jones’ book and he had a similar situation with the Saracens players and even on reflection he felt they were his best players and even though they weren’t cooked enough they were always going to be better than players who weren’t up to par.
“They weren’t playing at the level. Because physically, rugby, if you talk to them, it’s different from football in the sense that the physical level in the league is lower than the international level and then if you go down to the league, it is not really a test for your best players, so our players will work physically every day with the best players and they have also played European football.