By Ollie Blackwell
Last Updated: 5th August 2019
From Charlie Chaplin to John Wayne and beyond, Hollywood can be fertile ground for the typecast. First impressions, as they say, go a long way, and the very existence of the typecast suggests that at some point the particular impression made on the viewer by such a performer was so strong as to render the terms of that arrangement too good not to be continued.
The term now takes on a broader lens and is more often than not used in a derogatory sense, a perceived marriage of convenience between viewer and performer. But therefore within the typecast lies the easy capacity to shock, for better or otherwise, purely by doing something outside the narrow role we have helped place them in: Adam Sandler pausing his goofing act for the film Punch Drunk Love, Theresa May ‘doing the Maybot’ and now 2018 World Cup’s unlikely lad Harry Maguire joining Manchester United this week from Leicester City to become the most expensive defender of all time.
Maguire yet to shake off outsider perception
Because yes, Harry Maguire now really is the 80 Million Pound Man. And perhaps the powerful impression of Maguire lodged so firmly in the nation’s collective memory following the World Cup in Russia helps explain the general air of bemusement that has greeted his transfer fee.
It is often said that footballers are defined by the era they play in. To the wider footballing world Maguire has, up till now, been defined by the retrospective view of a month where he trundled into the public eye to play an unexpected lead in England’s World Cup run. Less Clint Eastwood’s well-worn Dirty Harry, more Billy Crystal’s Harry Burns in When Harry Met Sally; someone both coming to terms with the significance of what’s in front of them and simultaneously all too aware of the unusual dynamics at play.
During a giddy, sun scorched and ale sodden World Cup summer, the idea that Maguire could be a world beater appealed to a swaying nation swept up in the silver-platter escapism provided by Gareth Southgate’s team. In the time since however, the hangover has set in, Maguire’s improbable prowess on the biggest stage deemed as merely that; a time fondly remembered but unlikely to be repeated. A return to the law and order of the established Premier League top 6 has been duly accepted, the harsh realities of Maguire’s outsider status underlined in bold.
Market factors will not diminish expectation
Which in the light of his record transfer have been viewed as stark reading. Maguire has spent more seasons of his career in the Championship and League One than in the top tier. His individual stats are not dissimilar to Shkodran Mustafi’s. He is indeed costing United at least £5 million more than Liverpool spent on Virgil Van Dijk, last season’s PFA Player of the Year, and a reported £10 million more than Juventus paid this summer for arguably the most promising defender in Europe, Matthijs de Ligt; 7 years Maguire’s junior. You could buyout Bury 20 times over for that sort of money. Each Maguirebite offered a desperate attempt at relativism so as to haul the unfathomable distribution of resources within the game back to a firmer ground of mutual understanding.
Mitigating market forces have been offered up to explain his fee: Maguire is home-grown, de Ligt wouldn’t join United anyway and there are a chronic lack of proven centre-backs available elsewhere. All of which might be legitimate, but these factors are not necessarily ‘priced in’ to the thick fog of expectation that awaits Maguire when he steps into the defensive breach at Old Trafford.
Costly mistakes still leave United adrift
What isn’t in doubt is that Maguire also faces a greater challenge than that of Van Dijk or de Ligt. Both players joined elite teams in positions of power with a clear planning structure. Maguire on the other hand joins a club whose developed fiscal muscle regularly manifests itself as a weakness rather than a strength.
Pricey trinkets have been collected and tacked onto the Old Trafford fridge with no real understanding as to how that’ll help bring back former glories. An Alexis Sanchez here, an Angel Di Maria there, recklessness in the market has repeated itself, a corollary of lessons unlearned. A new official mattress and pillow partner to recoup overspend – repeat. The lasting damage is such that Maguire joins a United side bent badly out of shape, one that shipped more goals last season than in any of its previous Premier League campaigns – 6 more than Newcastle – and are a lofty 33/1 to win the league this time out.
Consistent underestimation of abilities
Not that Maguire is the papier-mâché headed imposter many have consigned to failure in Manchester. He has 20 England caps during a promising period for the national team. He has patiently risen to every step up in level required of him to date. For Leicester, Maguire retained his calmness and tiptoed intrigue on the ball amongst the general trend of pressing forwards and the often suffocating denial of space. In some ways Maguire’s cult status has camouflaged the inherent composure and skill he possesses. Even his widely used nickname ‘Slabhead’ feels more like a direct challenge to those who seek to overlook the basic perceptive biases that exist both in sport and in life; the Moneyball smearers, the flat-Earthers, the Maguire deniers.
It would not be the first time a critical underestimate of his abilities has unspooled. On his departure in 2013 Sir Alex Ferguson recommended a young defender plying his trade at Sheffield United as someone who had the potential to become a world class centre-back, available for just £4 million. The opportunity was passed up on by the club’s hierarchy and Harry Maguire, the player in question, ended up joining Hull City.
Since then United have spent over £100 million on a reel of centre-backs – Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof, Marcos Rojo – to no real great end or silverware. With Maguire now belatedly in the ranks, a return to the top 4 for United at Evens surely at least represents better value than their aggregate spend in this area.
Sizeable task awaits
In a significant nod to Mancunian folklore that fits well with the increasing pebble-kicking wistfulness with which the management stroll the floors at Old Trafford, Maguire has stated that his reason for leaving Leicester to join United is to emulate the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic; to start the rest of his career as soon as possible, if you like. Needless to say this will be a sizeable task, not least given the differing role and stage Maguire now finds himself occupying.
For no matter how much finance the United board thrust on the hands of time, Harry Maguire is not yet Rio Ferdinand, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer cannot be Sir Alex Ferguson, the class of Phil Jones is definitely not the class of 92. However, the potential transfiguration of Maguire from cult figure to Old Trafford hero would unquestionably cap a fitting story to accompany the lasting goodwill that has followed him ever since that heightened summer of 2018.