Wayne Rooney once warned Sir Alex Ferguson if he dropped him on the Saturday he would be hopeless on the Tuesday. He started against Middlesbrough and three days later collaborated with Cristiano Ronaldo for that breakneck breakaway at Arsenal.
Rooney always left a trail of rust after a lengthy lay-off. In the 2006 and 2010 World Cups, he was undercooked after significant injuries in United’s run-ins and he missed the first two matches of the European Championship in 2012 due to a red card in qualifying against Montenegro, contributing to evenings of toil against Ukraine and Italy, even if he pounced for the winner in the former and converted his spotkick in the latter.
Harry Maguire is Rooney’s stablemate at the Triple S agency and would have had an expert to consult on his own physical ailment prior to a tournament. Maguire was nursing an ankle injury during England’s first two fixtures at these Euros and had not played in 45 days when he strode out of the Wembley tunnel against the Czech Republic.
Maguire was impressive at both ends, blocking Tomas Kalas’ goalbound snap-shot and pinging six passes into the final third. It was not a coincidence England were at their most ebullient at the Championship with a renowned distributor in Maguire surveying a fluid attack refreshed by Jack Grealish and Bukayo Saka.
Hearing Maguire’s voice echo around Wembley would have been enormously reassuring to his teammates. England’s back four is split between the Manchester red of Maguire and Luke Shaw on the left and blue of Kyle Walker and John Stones.
Shaw and Stones were voted in the Premier League team of the year and Walker is England’s most dependable right-back. Captaining United inexplicably failed to earn Steve Bruce international recognition but Gareth Southgate has noticed a development in Maguire with the armband strapped to his bicep.
Maguire played more forward passes than Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips combined against the Czechs and no teammate completed more final third passes than the centre half. In a condemnation of the Rice-Phillips axis, Maguire found his namesake Kane from the centre circle for the striker’s standout chance. That was one of three successful ‘key passes’ from England all night yet Maguire’s positional average was still the deepest of England’s outfield players.
During his six-week recovery, Maguire became a world-class centre-back. United shipped eight goals in their last four Premier League games and their centre halves performed awkwardly in the Europa League final against Villarreal.
England did not concede a goal in their four games as Maguire sat in the stands but football was never coming home with Tyrone Mings next to Stones. Trippier’s inclusion against Croatia at left-back was possibly enforced by Maguire’s absence.
There was a time when England fans used internationals to come together to biliously chant about United yet Maguire is still serenaded by them following his transfer from Leicester. In a squad where indecision was rife in the Championship’s first matchweeks, Maguire’s return has coincided with a more settled side.
Southgate’s XI against the Czechs could feasibly be retained against Germany. All three of England’s possible opponents in Group F are underpinned by defensive linchpins – Antonio Rudiger and Raphael Varane have Champions League winner’s medals and Ruben Dias was arguably a more transformative central defensive signing than Virgil van Dijk.
Maguire is yet to attain world-class status. It does not help he has no medals worth putting in a safety deposit box but City have little cause to lament missing out on him two years ago and Dias was £15m cheaper. United’s defence regressed in Maguire’s second season, infamous for their porousness at set-pieces.
‘World-class’ is an abstract phrase but Dias, Varane, Van Dijk, and Marquinhos are just that. Matthijs de Ligt and Milan Skriniar are title winners in Italy, Stones and Aymeric Laporte in England. Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci are the high priests of catenaccio.
Maguire’s stock rocketed on the back of a World Cup and another knockout run to the latter stages would elevate him in the top tier of centre-backs.
United are overdue one. The last, Nemanja Vidic, accepted the captaincy and, buoyed by a new contract, led United to their 19th title. Which was secured by a Rooney penalty.