Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 October 2019

How a phone call from Sir Alex Ferguson set up Harry Maguire's journey to joining Manchester United

The former manager's caring gesture eight years after the England player had been hurt in the FA Youth Cup final had never been forgotten

Manchester United fans arriving in the rain at Oslo’s Ulleval Stadium on Tuesday ahead of the friendly Kristiansund all had the same question.

“Any news on Harry Maguire?"

Fans were keen for the Leicester City defender, 26, to sign and end the months of speculation. The answer was simple: “Manchester United wants him and he wants to join United.”

Stopping that magnetism was Leicester City, the club who held Maguire’s contract and who were holding out for a world record transfer fee for a defender. The situation is not unlike the one in reverse with Paul Pogba at United and Real Madrid.

Sir Alex Ferguson's phone call to check on Harry Maguire's health in 2011 left an impact on the England defender. Reuters
Sir Alex Ferguson's phone call to check on Harry Maguire's health in 2011 left an impact on the England defender. Reuters

On Friday it was confirmed that United will pay a reported £80 million (Dh356m), plus variables, making Maguire the most expensive defender in football history.

It is as ridiculous a fee as the £2.3m record fee they paid Middlesbrough for defender Gary Pallister 30 years ago.

But though the fee was mocked at the time, Pallister did well at Old Trafford and played a huge part of the initial success achieved under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Maguire has the talent to achieve the same. Besides, the market has long been overly inflated with leading clubs under little pressure to sell their best talents.

United went in with a low bid of £40m, just as they did last summer for Maguire.

Leicester had no need to sell one of the best players a year ago and they did not again this time. But they knew they had a player who was keen to leave and negotiations continued until Thursday.

Sheffield born and Derbyshire bred, with three of his four clubs were to the east of the Pennine hills, Maguire has never been a Manchester United fan, but an incident happened eight years ago which made him want to play for the club.

Aged 17 and playing in the 2011 FA Youth Cup final for Sheffield United against a side including Pogba at Old Trafford, he became concussed and had to stay in a Manchester hospital overnight as his team lost the second leg 4-1.

United sent him a signed shirt as a get well soon present.

A few days later, Maguire received a call from a withheld number. It was Ferguson calling to check that he was OK.

The United manager at the time told him that if he kept his head down and worked hard then he would play at the top level.

Maguire needed that boost. An outwardly tough character, he was lacking in confidence at the time and was unsure whether he would make it as a first team professional.

He placed great value on that call and considered it a turning point in his career. Not only that, he vowed to play for Manchester United one day.

He can do that now. Jose Mourinho wanted to sign him last summer but it did not happen.

Besides, United needed to sell some of their six existing central defenders, players for which there were few suitors.

United hope to offset the Maguire fee with defensive sales, but just getting some of the high earners off the books maybe a more realistic goal.

United need Maguire. They used 16 different defensive combinations in the first half of last season alone.

The unsettled and unpredictable line up a contributory reason why they conceded more goals then 13th-placed Newcastle United.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer started looking at the players he wanted to bring in for 2019/20 in January.

Early on, having worked with his coaches and analysts, he identified Dan James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Maguire, as three players he thought would have the right talent, style, age and, importantly, attitude to play for United.

Having Maguire and Wan-Bissaka in the same backline is a major boost and should tighten things up significantly.

United have fallen so much that Leicester are now a genuine rival in the league for a top-six place – an opponent who will be weaker without their best defender.

Solskjaer has gone for a proven Premier League performer since their most recent central defensive recruits have not gone to plan.

Victor Lindelof had a poor first season in England before coming good, Eric Bailly is sadly injury prone, Marcos Rojo too.

Phil Jones and Chris Smalling have seldom been able to get the long run of games together which forges great partnerships like Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand in the past.

Axel Tuanzebe remains a fine prospect and he has impressed in pre-season, particularly against Inter Milan.

Maguire brings more than power and technical ability: United’s dressing room has been lacking characters in recent years.

Solskjaer's assistant manager Mike Phelan worked with Maguire when he was at Hull City and it was he who made him a regular in the first team.

Phelan sees him as a player with a character big enough to succeed.

England international Maguire is also big game player, one of the few defenders to have the measure of the man mountain that is Zlatan Ibrahimovic when he was in England with United.

With the big fee comes the big expectation that he can perform to that high level every week out and help United close the gap on champions Manchester City and European champions Liverpool.

But eight years on from the phone call from Ferguson, Maguire now has the chance to live up to his ambition of playing for the home side at Old Trafford and making an impact.

Updated: August 4, 2019 10:58 AM

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