Ashley Young’s 30-minute cross was destined for the head of Harry Maguire. The Yorkshireman’s first international goal set England on their way to a World Cup semi-final ending a 28-year wait. The centre-back had already gained recognition for his impressive performances throughout the tournament with his strength in the air and surprisingly nimble feet particularly notable. Maguire’s ability to bring the ball out of defence and calmly pick out a pass epitomises the character of the team Gareth Southgate has built.
While Maguire is perhaps one of the unlikely stars of this year’s World Cup but his success came as no surprise to me. Having watched him battle for, and eventually, cement a regular place at the heart of Hull City’s defence in the 2016/2017 season, his potential to go on to bigger and better things was there for everyone to see. Known as ‘Wreck-it-Ralph’ in the Hull City changing room, a nickname given to him presumably due to his stocky build and rather large head, Maguire fits the bill of a classic no-nonsense English centre-half. However, despite appearances, the centre-back also possess tremendous agility and his composure and intelligence on the ball could go as far as to earn him the title of the English Franz Beckenbauer.
I’ve been fighting Maguire’s corner for a while now, regularly having to convince friends that he deserved a place in England’s starting XI at the World Cup, never mind the 23-man squad. It’s refreshing to see people giving him the credit he deserves and realising what I and all other Hull City fans have known for over a year. While not called up to the England squad during his time in black and amber, Southgate was rumoured to have rung manager Marco Silva, asking him to explain the situation to the defender. The Tigers were in a close relegation battle, and Maguire had been playing through a slight injury for a couple of months. The England manager said he did not want him to risk making his injury worse as he was an essential part of the Hull squad but was very much in his plans. Southgate’s gesture was admirable yet sadly futile as the Tigers were relegated at the end of the season. A £17 million move to Leicester City, a fee which now looks like a steal, followed and Maguire eventually earned his first senior international cap last August.
With only 5 England appearances before this tournament, Maguire’s confidence is remarkable and something he attributes to Southgate’s man-management. The Sheffield-born defender has not lost sight of where he came from with many of his friends and family supporting him out in Russia. He was sat in the stands with the same group of friends as England crashed out of the European Championships in France. What a difference two years can make.
When I saw a 21-year-old Harry Maguire being dragged around TopShop in Princes Quay shopping centre by his girlfriend, now fiancée, it didn’t occur to me that in four years’ time that twinkle-toed Wreck-it-Ralph would be one game away from playing in a World Cup final. I should have got a picture.