Maybe Man Utd’s Harry Maguire shouldn’t play for England - but the abuse is unacceptable
Gareth Southgate has spoken out against the social media abuse of Harry Maguire - and regardless of his performances, we should treat him with basic respect.
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"I’ve never known a player treated the way he is," was the way Gareth Southgate put it. "He’s been an absolute stalwart for us in the second most successful England team for decades. He’s been an absolutely key part of that.”
The stalwart in question is, of course, Harry Maguire, the subject of yet another social media battering after scoring an own goal against Scotland which gave the home side a brief glimmer of hope in an otherwise one-sided game against England.
"Every time he goes on the field, the resilience he shows is absolutely incredible,” Southgate continued. “He’s a top player and we’re all with him and our fans were brilliant with him.”
The fans in Hampden Park, perhaps, but those who took to X or Facebook to offer their opinions were not so forgiving. Any search of Maguire’s name will reveal reams of abuse ranging from mocking witticisms to outright insults of the most derogatory kind.
And he must indeed have remarkable resilience. For the last two seasons, Maguire has been pilloried, mocked, dropped from the Manchester United team and then stripped of the club captaincy. It is hard to find a gentle word said about him, and his continued selection in the England squad has been a source of constant criticism. Somehow, he persists, and for the most part continues to play perfectly well for England. He has been forced to develop some extraordinarily thick skin.
But should he have had to? Sure, his domestic form has been in a downward spiral for some time now, and he has been guilty of many mistakes in a red shirt. Few would argue that his performances have merited continued starts at Old Trafford or the armband. He is a good player who is, for whatever reason, playing badly. He has been for some time.
And it’s not remotely unreasonable to take that information and conclude that he should not be a part of Southgate’s plans any more. Maguire has almost always been at least solid and often exceptional for England, and his manager was not exaggerating when he talked about how important he has been to the side that has reached World Cup semi-finals and was a penalty shootout away from becoming European Champions – nevertheless, there’s nothing wrong with suggesting that a player whose form is so desperate for club should not play for country any more.
The point isn’t that Maguire shouldn’t be criticised, or that his place in the team for either club or country should be beyond question. It’s that there is a big difference between rational critique and virulent abuse, and the overwhelming majority of what’s out there right now trends towards the latter. Maguire is a human being and must, every day, be exposed to hundreds or even thousands of comments slating him, belittling him and even demonising him. Many people would suffer appalling consequences from being asked to endure that kind of pain.
It is, of course, just a few weeks since Dele Alli’s revelatory interview, during which he discussed his own mental health crises stemming from a range of issues which included his upbringing but also involved the brickbats he was subjected to by fans after his own form started suffering at Tottenham Hotspur. The lesson then should have been about the desperate need for kindness and basic human decency towards people in the public eye – instead many people who expressed sympathy for Dele’s plight have thrown their empathy into the bin and turned their vitriol on Maguire for the crime of scoring an ultimately irrelevant own goal.
Was it really even Maguire’s fault? Perhaps Aaron Ramsdale gave him a shout and he missed it. Maybe an expert defensive coach would conclude he should have been positioned a yard or so closer to the goal, such that he had a better angle to deal with the cross. But in truth, he was left in a position where years of instinct determined that he had to try and intervene, and the ball skewed off his foot in exactly the wrong direction. It could have happened to anyone. Of course it would happen to the guy who would be worst affected by it. Football is a remarkably cruel game.
Even if it had demonstrably been his fault, that would still be a poor excuse for a mudslinging match. It’s possible to discuss Maguire’s technical failings, poor form or in-game mistakes without being as cruel as the sport itself. It’s possible to disagree with Southgate’s continued faith in him without calling him “f**king useless” as multiple tweets would have it. It’s possible to criticise Maguire or his performances in a respectful manner. It would ne nice if anybody could be bothered.
Outwardly, Maguire appears to have handled the constant abuse remarkably well. Inwardly, we have no idea what effect it may have had. Continued poor form has been a symptom of mental health problems in players before – and while that may well not be the case with Maguire at all, if what we know from situations like the intense difficulty endured by Dele isn’t enough to make us act with basic kindness as a people, then it is an astonishingly grim indictment on football fans. Or perhaps just on society as a whole.
So sure, we can tweet that Maguire shouldn’t be in the England squad any more. It’s a valid opinion, shared by many. But we can also express that in a fair and decent way that remembers there’s a living, breathing, feeling person on the other end of it. We can vent our opinions without malice or insult. And if we got into that habit, perhaps we’d end up with fewer people struggling with mental health issues, and fewer people kicked even harder when they’re down. And whatever we feel about Maguire or his performances, we can at least try to respect an honest professional who has always given his best in an England shirt, and who has been a cornerstone of a successful and skilful side.