Erik ten Hag believes Harry Maguire has become a stronger captain despite his limited game-time at Manchester United and the uncertainty over his future.
Maguire has been included in Gareth Southgate’s England squad even though he is no longer a regular starter in the heart of the United defense with Ten Hag preferring the Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez partnership.
But rather than sulk Maguire has, according to Ten Hag, responded to his ‘demotion’ in a professional manner and has become an even more vocal presence in the dressing room and on the training ground.
After making only his 11th start of the season in the Europa League win over Real Betis on Thursday that secured United a quarter-final tie with Betis’ neighbors Sevilla, Maguire insisted he believes he still has “an important role” to play – on and off the pitch – 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 instilled at Old Trafford since taking over as manager last summer.
Asked if he encourages Maguire to have his say even if he is not playing, Ten Hag said: “Definitely. I’m really happy with the progress that Harry is making at this moment.
“He is more dominant and dictating, showing more initiative in the training space and also in the games – we saw it against Betis on Thursday. He showed leadership, especially in aspects of initiative and dictation of the game.”
Maguire’s conduct has been in stark contrast to the histrionics of Cristiano Ronaldo, who could not accept his decline as a player or being benched and left the club under a controversial cloud in November.
He has bought into the discipline Ten Hag demands. “It is a process and you have to set a culture. It is all about standards, values, rules. I always think that partnerships bring people together,” said the United boss.
After the game in Seville, Maguire remarked: “I have an important role on and off the field at this club and every day I try and make this club succeed whether I’m playing or not.
“Obviously I want to play and start more games, but I’m playing my part 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 part for myself and for the group.”
But the former Sheffield United, Hull and Leicester player’s future remains uncertain. He is in no rush to leave and has shown that he is prepared to fight for his place.
At the age of 30 however he doesn’t want to become a squad man for the rest of his career and although 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 person and doesn’t want him to leave, particularly as Varane picks up his fair share of injuries. But the United boss is on record that he will not stand in his way if he wants to go – and the club can recoup a sizeable chunk of the £80 million they paid Leicester for his services in 2019.
Meanwhile Ten Hag insists he had not lost faith in Anthony Martial despite the striker being absent for much of the season through injury.
Martial has appeared in only 14 out of United’s 45 games so far this season but is finally fit again to return to the squad for Sunday’s FA Cup quarter-final home tie against Fulham and will increase Ten Hag’s attacking options at the business end of a marathon season when his team could play 65 games – if they go all the way in the Cup and Europa League.
Asked if Martial’s United future rests on him staying fit for the rest of the season, Ten Hag said: “I don’t think this is the right moment to say whether that would be the case. I believe in him. Every time he is available, he really gives good contribution to the team performance, the level of the team. He is training at the moment, and he is available.”
There have been suggestions that Martial is something of a ‘sick note’ who is not prepared to play through the pain barrier, unlike Marcus Rashford.
Ten Hag added: “Every person is different. You have to treat every person differently. This process you have to take really carefully. I do everything to get him available.”
Ten Hag has to decide between Marcel Sabitzer or Scott McTominay to replace Casemiro who starts a four-game domestic ban following his second red card of the season against Southampton last Sunday.