Gareth Southgate says Harry Maguire’s lack of playing time is “not an ideal situation”, but the under-fire Manchester United captain retains the England manager’s support and belief.
The world’s most expensive defender currently finds himself out of favor at Old Trafford, with Erik ten Hag dropping him to the bench after losing the opening two games of the season.
Maguire’s only start since then came in the Europa League loss to Real Sociedad and last Thursday he made an 89th-minute appearance against Sheriff Tiraspol in the competition.
Southgate included the 29-year-old in his England squad earlier today despite his lack of action – one of several similar issues he faces, which he likened to a situation handled by the English rugby coach Eddie Jones.
Reigning Gallagher Premiership champions Saracens were relegated at the end of the 2019-20 season following salary cap breaches, meaning a number of key international players had to ply their trades at the second level.
“I just read Eddie Jones’ book and he had a similar situation with Saracens players,” Southgate said.
“Even on reflection he felt they were his best players and even if they weren’t cooked enough they were still going to be better than the players who weren’t on the level.
“So I don’t think there are many players who aren’t here now who are still at the level to come in and play.
“Look, clearly, this is not an ideal situation. You want your best players to play regularly so that they are physically in the right place and mentally in the right place.
“But he’s an important player for us. I think it’s important to support our best players.
“The team that we chose, there are a fair number of players that you could say we could have left out at this stage, but I think we wanted to keep this group together and keep them involved, that they feel involved.
“But they also know that for some of them they need to play more regularly because now we’re only a few weeks away from pre-season, so physically if they’ve had a couple of 90 minutes then that’s fine.
“Another seven, eight weeks and then it starts to get more complicated.”
When asked if he had spoken to Maguire about his current situation, Southgate said: “I didn’t feel the need to speak to him any differently than the rest of the players.
“I’m trying to get back together individually with all of them, it’s a little more complicated this time because there are 28 of us so I’m getting there!
“Look, he understands he’s at a big club, with a big transfer fee and captaining the club, so I think that’s why the spotlight has been on him more.
“But he is focused on training well every day and getting back into the team.”
All of Maguire’s 46 caps have come under Southgate, for whom he performed superbly in England’s run to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals and last year’s European Championship final.
“I think, listen, you always have to back up your judgment and we think he’s an important player,” Southgate said ahead of Friday’s Nations League game against Euro 2020 foes Italy.
“If we thought there were experienced players ready to step in and play at a higher level than him, there would be a different consideration and in certain positions there would be a different level of competition that way.
“He is our most dominant aerial centre-back. He and John (Stones) are really amazing on the ball – the pressure they’ve put on the team in the tournaments we’ve played because we don’t always have that midfield pivot that can move the match.
“That means there’s a lot more pressure on our centre-backs to use the ball well and those two are as good as any football in the world at doing that.”