The cult of Harry Maguire: England’s new Terry Butcher

Our expert writer John Brewin looks at what Leicester’s Harry Maguire has brought to the England set-up at this World Cup…

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Russia 2018 reminds that a World Cup is where heroes are made and not pre-determined, despite the best efforts of sponsors and those unfortunate enough to be asked to write tournament previews.

While Lionel Messi suns himself in a holiday bolthole and Cristiano Ronaldo readies himself for a possible move to Juventus, lesser beings have grabbed the limelight, from Marouane Fellaini, destroyer of Brazil, to Benjamin Pavard, rookie France full-back, to Danijel Subasic, Croatian goalkeeper and penalty shootout hero.

English heroes are often yet more random.

Geoff Hurst began the 1966 World Cup as third-choice striker, David Platt was an eleventh hour call-up for 1990’s finals and in 2002, Trevor Sinclair had already jetted home from England’s training camp, only to find himself on the next flight back to Japan before then carrying out a serviceable job on the left side of midfield.

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Before flying out to Russia, Gareth Southgate’s 23-man selection teemed with inexperienced players with question marks laid against them.

Harry Kane was perhaps the only gold-plated star hailed in those ill-fated preview pieces, and while the captain has risen to the challenge to become the tournament’s top scorer, he is no way able to claim all the plaudits for himself.

Competing for cult hero status with Jordan Pickford, he of the “This Is England” suedehead and the goalkeeping acrobatics, is Harry Maguire, who has become the everyman figure that beer-chucking, bus-shelter climbing English football lads can relate to, and not just because of the internet meme of him acting all coy as he chats to girlfriend Fern Hawkins or the crashing header he scored against Sweden in Saturday’s quarter-final.

Two years ago at Euro 2016, he was actually one of those football lads, on the lash with family and friends in Saint-Etienne to watch England draw 0-0 with Slovakia.

Back then, he was a Hull City player, and had made just three Premier League substitute appearances for the Tigers, having had a slow start in making the jump at being a regular for hometown club Sheffield United to Premier League football.

After City beat Blades in the semi-final of the FA Cup in April 2014, Hull manager Steve Bruce decided to sign a player he said last week had “strode around” Wembley, and if there is a centre-half that Maguire resembles most it may well be Bruce, who in his days at Norwich, Manchester United and Birmingham, was one of those players, like Tony Adams, Terry Butcher and even Jack Charlton back in 1966, whose bulk and physical prowess masked that he could play a bit.

Like Bruce, Maguire, or “Slabhead”, as fellow Sheffield lad Jamie Vardy called him during a news conference, looks like he might be no stranger to a few pints of bitter and a suet pudding, but marries the classic qualities of English centre halves with those of a more considered, continental player.

If John Stones is more elegant on the ball, Maguire is not much less composed, his incursions up field serving to give England an extra man in midfield while his heading qualities are supreme.

Amid Leicester City’s indifferent, disappointing season, Maguire, whose England debut did not come until August 2017 against Lithuania after last summer’s £17m move to the East Midlands, was a beacon of consistency and promise.

At 25, he is by no means the finished article, and is not a stranger to mistakes, but an ability to play off the left of a trio convinced Southgate that he had his man to fill that role.

It was not long ago that the death of English central defender was being mourned but Maguire, selected ahead of the experience of Gary Cahill and Phil Jones, with Chris Smalling idling back home, has proved that such reports were greatly exaggerated.

He and Stones, with Kyle Walker, yet another Sheffield native, playing alongside them as an ersatz right-sided centre-back, are a progressive trio.

And equally, being uncomplicated, unpretentious and thus far with not too much of an ego exposed, Maguire appears anathema to the star system that raddled England’s tournament performances for so long.

The days when separate tables of Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea players snarled at each other across the dining room are now gone, thanks to Southgate recognising the problems such factions caused during his time playing for the national team.

Turning to easy-going “good tourists” like Maguire and Pickford has helped negotiate dark corners and make their way, already, into footballing history as only the second England team to reach a major tournament’s semi-finals without playing all their games at Wembley.

Whatever happens now, and that may yet include tears after a penalty shootout miss, Maguire’s mark is made.

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