Man Utd's Harry Maguire wasn't the Player of the Month - this is why he still deserves the award
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Three Premier League games, three wins, three clean sheets – November was a perfect month for Manchester United, provided you squint at the fixture list a bit so that the results in all the other competitions are a little bit blurry. Hold that squint as you focus on the fine detail and you’ll see it was a particularly good time to be Harry Maguire, now the official Player of the Month for November.
Maguire’s win is both a testament to his character and his performances and a tribute to the absurdity of deciding such awards by a public vote. Because with the best will in the world, Maguire was not the best player in the top flight last month, any more than Mohamed Salah scored the best goal of 2018 when he won the Puskas Award with the worst strike in the competition. The result isn’t as egregious as that, granted, but was still largely a function of the fact that Manchester United can mobilise far more fans than most teams can when a popularity contest comes around.
But then again, those fans are doing the right thing in voting for their man en masse – not just because he was very good over the course of those three games, but also because most of them owe him a damned apology. The Venn diagram of people who have spent the last couple of years slaughtering Maguire in the comments and those who are justly praising his resurgence features no small amount of overlap.
It’s only a couple of months since Maguire was an outcast at Manchester United, his first starts of the league season begrudgingly handed to him because everyone else ahead of him in the pecking order (which was everyone) was injured. Just about nobody trusted him at that point – not the fans, certainly, and probably not Erik ten Hag either. And yet he slowly grew back into his old role, and while it might be a stretch to say he’s been a titanic performer during United’s run of improved league form, he now looks much more like the bullish, confident centre-back of old, dealing with direct balls into the box and getting between forwards and the ball with a renewed poise and certainty.
Maguire was rock solid across the three games he played in November – the 1-0 wins over Fulham and Luton Town, and the frankly flattering 3-0 victory over Everton at Goodison Park. Granted that these are not the three trickiest fixtures in the calendar, and it’s reasonable to note that Maguire was testing him against three of the weakest attacks in the division, but nevertheless he came through without the slightest blot on his copybook. And that, in its own right, is brilliant after such a long and tough spell for a man who has copped far more flack than anyone deserves for playing sport.
Those three games for United weren’t necessarily amazing (he didn’t make a single successful tackle in any of the games, and registered just one interception) but for Maguire just being good represents a gigantic middle finger to the people who have hurled excessive abuse at him for an extended period, and a big raspberry blown at all the fans who pilloried him at Hampden Park back in September.
What was impressive, certainly more so than his tackling stats or his pass completion rate or any other such analytical ephemera, was the calmness with which he navigated those games. For a guy who has had the weight of the world piled across his shoulders for some time now, he seemed assured and unflappable. That in its own right is a major victory for Maguire, who in his increasingly rare club appearances over the last year or so had often looked unsure and indecisive. His Player of the Month award is a win not just over Fulham, Luton and Everton but also over every ‘supporter’ who has spent the past couple of years deriding him, to the extent that even his mother had to step in to tell the world how damaging an experience his time in the wilderness has been.
It’s hard to know how many of the United fans who voted for Maguire to win the Premier League’s colourful cylinder of success last week did so by way of conscious apology for the brickbats they’d beaten Maguire with, and how many did so blithely oblivious to their own contributions to his troubles – not that there won’t have been plenty of people who didn't give him pointless stick in the first place, and were simply casting their votes as a genuine assessment of the best candidate for the award. It doesn’t seem likely to have been a large majority, though.
So no, Maguire wasn’t the best player in the Premier League in November – but he was perhaps the most deserving, and was certainly proof that even the toughest times don’t last forever and that resilience and self-belief can push through a lot of seemingly immovable boundaries. Let’s hope that the applause he gets for his rejuvenation rings as loud as the insults did when they rained down all around him.