Harry Maguire says England will have failed if they do not win Euro 2024. The Manchester United captain, who played the 90 minutes of Thursday’s 2-1 win over Italy in Naples that got the qualifying campaign off to a flying start, feels the team is in a good place and has an ideal blend of youth and experience.
Maguire made headlines at the World Cup in Qatar last December when he said before the quarter-final against France that there was a belief in the squad that they had to win the tournament. It was not so much an objective as an obligation. They lost that game 2-1, although Maguire saw nothing from France to suggest they were wildly superior.
The 30-year-old has now upped the ante in a bold mission statement. England face Ukraine at Wembley on Sunday in their next qualifier when they will seek to build on the Italy result – their first away win against Italy since 1961.
“I’m with a mindset of: ‘If we don’t win the tournament it’s been a failure’,” Maguire said. “We’ve got to qualify first and it’s a tough group. But that’s my mindset. I’ve been at three major tournaments and I’ve come so close. I believe that we have the players to win it.
“We played really well in the World Cup and we got knocked out to a good French team. A French team that we believe we can take on and, if we play them 10 times, we would give them a good game 10 times and probably win more than we lose. However, they’ve proven over the years that they manage to get the job done better than England do.”
Gareth Southgate has stood by Maguire despite the defender’s well-documented difficulties at United – terrible last season; out of the first-choice line-up this time. Maguire has started only five Premier League games during the current campaign, two of which were back in August – the losses to Brighton and Brentford.
It has come to feel as though Maguire faces a never-ending battle to justify himself and it was a prominent theme of his interview after the Italy game. He pointed out that it was his fourth start of the month – after those for United in the FA Cup against West Ham and Fulham and the Europa League against Real Betis – which was “as many as a lot of the lads in the dressingroom, if not more”. He wanted to push a couple of other statistics.
“In my last nine starts for United, we have won,” he said. “I can’t remember losing a game for United [the last loss in a game he featured in was at home to Real Sociedad in the Europa League on September 8th]. So my influence is still there.”
Maguire was asked whether he felt properly appreciated. “For England, yes, I do,” he said. “Last season was difficult for the club but I’ve proven myself to Gareth. I’ve made over 50 caps. I’m England’s top-scoring defender [with seven]. I’ve played nearly 200 times for United. I’ve captained the club for three years.
“I do also understand that when you are the captain of United you do come under the most amount of scrutiny. Last season at club level my performances weren’t good enough, alongside everybody else at club level.”
Maguire was at fault for Italy’s goal on Thursday, scored by Mateo Retegui; he gave away possession and rushed forward to make a challenge, which he missed. Italy quickly worked themselves through the space that Maguire had vacated. That made it 2-1 and set up a nervy second half for England, in which Luke Shaw was sent off in the 80th minute.
Southgate switched to a 5-3-1 formation, substituting the substitute Phil Foden; Kieran Trippier came on to stiffen the defence at left wing-back. With Shaw suspended for the Ukraine game, Trippier will hope to start ahead of Ben Chilwell. “He [Foden] came up to me and said ‘I know, I get it’ – he knew exactly what we needed to do,” Southgate said.
It has been noted that Marcus Rashford’s decision to post photographs of himself on a break to New York on Thursday was probably not the best look. The United forward had pulled out of the squad with an injury; the fifth time he has done so since September 2020.
What was more encouraging for Southgate was the fluency of the performance in the first half on Thursday and the way that England defended their penalty box after the interval, especially with 10 men. Italy had precious few clear chances.
“The defence did the job but on the ball [in the second half], we need to be more brave,” Maguire said. “We need to give more options and play with more composure if we want to be a big team.”