Sunday 18 August 2019

Paul McGrath: 'Harry Maguire has one big weakness - I'd have preferred Man United buy a different defender'

Paul McGrath thinks that Man United should have signed Kalidou Koulibaly (inset) instead of Harry Maguire.
Paul McGrath thinks that Man United should have signed Kalidou Koulibaly (inset) instead of Harry Maguire.

Paul McGrath

So Harry Maguire is now £12million a better player than Virgil van Dijk?

I wish Harry all the best in proving that true, but it just shows you the money Manchester United had to spend to land the Leicester City and England centre-half, a long-time target for whom they would not pay £14m two years ago.

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My old club spent that massive money for three reasons. Firstly, at 26, Harry can offer the promise of seven or eight of the best years of his career. Secondly, he’s English, always an issue with UEFA’s eligibility rules. But thirdly, and most importantly, Manchester United had to get a leader at the back, a man who would call the shots.

After a couple of seasons of centre-half by committee, with Victor Lindelof, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Eric Bailly and Marcus Rojo all playing there, United have forked out for the rock upon whom they can build.

They will pick a partner for him, the Swede Lindelof would be my choice. And United will go to war with Maguire leading the way.

If rumours of a Paul Pogba move come to pass, the 26-year-old may even take the captain’s armband for next Sunday’s Premier League opener.

I’d have preferred United to make a Red Devil out of Kalidou Koulibaly, the Napoli defender, ahead of Maguire.

But I understand why the club went Maguire’s way instead. He’s two years younger and Koulibaly is Senegalese, which would have forced United to buy an English player in another position where they might want to import a player.

I would also trust that United will put in a system at the back to cover Maguire’s big weakness – one that will be exploited by the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool, and also Europe’s elite strikers whenever Manchester United return to the Champions League.

Harry likes to carry the ball out – something all the top clubs out to encourage. But when the tactic goes wrong, as it occasionally must, he doesn’t have the blinding pace of Van Dijk or Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane to get back and tidy up.

So there will have to be a bit of coaching work done at Carrington over the next few weeks, so that United’s other defenders in any game realise that they must not get caught going up the pitch alongside Maguire – someone must always be ‘minding the house’.

The fee is astonishing, but that’s just the price that has to be paid now for a very good player in the modern mad, mad world of football.

We wondered about the wisdom of Liverpool paying that sum for van Dijk. No one can argue now that the Dutch stopper was bad value. Liverpool are European champions and van Dijk was one of the main players behind that win.

For Maguire to justify the faith – and the money – he must help United to win a Premier League over the course of the next three years.

He can do it, but not alone, United will need more than just one good centre-half to get back to the summit.

Read Paul McGrath every week in The Sunday World.

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