Gareth Southgate says Harry Maguire’s lack of playing time is “not an ideal situation”, but the Manchester United captain maintains the England manager’s support and belief.
The world’s most expensive defender is currently at a disadvantage at Old Trafford, with Erik ten Hag leaving him on the bench after missing the first two games of the season.
Maguire’s only start since then came in the Europa League defeat to Real Sociedad and last Thursday he made an 89th-minute appearance against Sheriff Tiraspol in the competition.
Southgate included the 29-year-old in his England squad earlier that day despite his lack of action – one of several similar issues he’s been dealing with, which he likened to a situation that England’s rugby coach, Eddie Jones, managed.
The reigning Gallagher Premiership champions, the Saracens, were relegated at the end of the 2019-20 season after salary cap breaks, meaning a number of key international players had to play in the second tier.
“I just read Eddie Jones’ book and he had a similar situation with the Saracens’ players,” said Southgate.
“Even on reflection, he felt they were his best players and even though they were poorly prepared, they would still be better than players who weren’t at the level.
“So I don’t think there are a lot of players that aren’t here right now that are still at the level to come in and play.
“Look, clearly, it’s not an ideal situation. You want your best players to play regularly so they are physically in a good place and mentally in a good place.
“But he is an important player for us. I think it’s important to support our best players.
“The squad that we chose, there are a good number of players that you could argue that we could have left out at this point, but I think we wanted to keep that group together and keep them involved, keep them feeling a part of it.
“But they also know that for some of them they need to play more regularly because now we’re just a few weeks into pre-season, so physically if they’ve had a couple of 90 minutes that’s fine.
“Seven, eight more weeks, then it starts to get more complicated.”
Asked if he spoke to Maguire about his current situation, Southgate said: “I didn’t feel the need to speak to him any differently than the rest of the players.
“I try to get individually with all of them, this time it was a little more complicated because we have 28, so I’m getting there!
“Look, he understands he’s at a big club, big transfer fee and club captain so I think that’s why the spotlight is more on him.
“But he is focused on training well every day and getting back on the team.”
All 46 of Maguire’s caps have been under Southgate, for whom he performed excellently during England’s run to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals and last year’s Euro Cup final.
“I think you always have to support his judgment and we feel he is an important player,” Southgate said ahead of Friday’s Nations League match against Euro 2020 rivals Italy.
“If we thought that there were experienced players ready to come in and play at a level above him, there would be a different consideration and in some positions there would be a different level of competition that way.
“He is our most dominant midfielder. He and John (Stones) are really amazing with the ball – the amount of pressure they’ve brought to the team in tournaments we’ve played because we don’t always have that midfield pivot that can progress through the game.
“That means there’s a lot more pressure on our defenders to use the ball well and these two are as good as anyone in world football at doing that.”