Erik ten Hag believes Harry Maguire has become a stronger captain despite his limited playing time at Manchester United and the uncertainty surrounding his future.
Maguire has been included in Gareth Southgate’s England squad, although he is no longer a regular starter at the heart of United’s defense as Ten Hag prefers the partnership between Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez.
But instead of sulking, Maguire has responded to his “demotion” in a professional manner, according to Ten Hag, and has become even more vocal in the dressing room and on the training ground.
After Maguire made just his 11th Europa League start of the season in a win over Real Betis on Thursday that secured United a quarter-final game against Betis’ neighbors Sevilla, Maguire insisted he believes he still has ‘an important role’ has to play – on and off the field – in United’s bid for a trophy treble and a top four place.
And Ten Hag has been delighted with the leadership he has shown and the example he has set in the new culture he has introduced at Old Trafford since taking over as manager last summer.
When asked if he encourages Maguire to speak out even when he’s not playing, Ten Hag said: “Definitely. I am very happy with the progress Harry is making at this moment.
“He’s more dominant and dictates, shows more initiative in training and also in matches – we saw it against Betis on Thursday. He has shown leadership qualities, particularly in initiative and dictation aspects of the game.”
Maguire’s behavior was in stark contrast to the theatrics of Cristiano Ronaldo, who was unable to accept his decline as a player or on the bench and left the club under a cloud of controversy in November.
He bought into the discipline Ten Hag demands. “It’s a process and you have to establish a culture. It’s all about standards, values, rules. I always think the partnerships bring people together,” said the United boss.
After the Sevilla game, Maguire remarked: “I play an important role at this club on and off the pitch and every day I try to make this club succeed whether I’m playing or not.
“Of course I want to play and start more games, but I play my role on and off the field. It was nice to get out there and lead the team and get the win, which is the most important thing for me and for the group.”
However, the future of the former Sheffield United, Hull and Leicester player remains uncertain. He’s in no rush to leave and has shown he’s ready to fight for his place.
However, at the age of 30 he does not wish to be a squad player for the rest of his career and while Southgate has remained loyal to a player who performed well at the World Cup in Qatar, that loyalty cannot last forever.
Ten Hag clearly respects Maguire as a player and as a person and doesn’t want him to leave, especially as Varane is picking up his fair share of injuries. But the United boss is on record that he won’t stand in his way if he wants to leave – and the club can recover a sizeable chunk of the £80m he paid Leicester for his services in 2019.
Meanwhile, Ten Hag insists he hasn’t lost faith in Anthony Martial despite the striker being absent for much of the season through injury.
Martial has only played 14 of United’s 45 games so far this season but is finally fit to return to the squad for Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final home game against Fulham and will give Ten Hag attacking options at the business end of one Marathons increase season in which his team could play 65 games – if it goes to the end in the cup and in the Europa League.
Asked if Martial’s United future depends on him staying fit for the rest of the season, Ten Hag said: “I don’t think this is the right moment to say if that would be the case. i believe in him Every time he’s available, he really makes a good contribution to the team performance, the level of the team. He’s training at the moment and he’s available.”
There have been hints that unlike Marcus Rashford, Martial is something of a “sick note” unwilling to break the pain barrier.
Ten Hag added: “Every person is different. You have to treat every person differently. You have to do this process very carefully. I do everything to make it available.”
Ten Hag must choose between Marcel Sabitzer or Scott McTominay to replace Casemiro, who begins a four-game domestic suspension following his second red card of the season against Southampton last Sunday.