You’re a Meme, Harry!

Harry Maguire is now a meme. He is a joke told in many languages by many people. The most expensive defender in the world looks likely to be heading for the exit at Old Trafford and while he has had some high points, the perception of his time in Manchester will be one of failure. However, is our perception of Maguire one of the reasons for his plummeting form?

The 22/23 season has been a waking nightmare for a man whose United career, depending on who you take your advice from, was always destined to be a disaster. Manchester United fans talk about him with a mixture of rage and gallows humour. But it wasn’t always so. His arrival at Old Trafford was greeted mostly with optimism. Pep Guardiola had wanted Maguire at Manchester City in 2018 to replace Vincent Kompany. He was eventually signed to play for Manchester United in 2019 and later became club captain. His second season, playing under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was so impressive that he helped the club to a Europa League final and a second place finish in the Premier League. 

In fact, when Manchester United reached the Europa League final in 2021, their captain was conspicuous by his absence. Fans of the red devils lamented his absence. His untimely ankle injury caused monstrous concern to the fans prior to playing Villareal.


A host of Old Trafford heroes missed finals in their quarter century of dominance under the great Sir Alex Ferguson. Andy Cole and Eric Cantona missed the 1995 cup final defeat to Everton for quite different reasons. Suspensions to Roy Keane and Paul Scholes meant United started the pinnacle of their treble winning season with Nicky Butt partnering an out of position David Beckham in central midfield. Talk to some Manchester United fans and they will tell you that the absence of Darren Fletcher in their engine room was what ultimately stopped them from defeating Pep Guardiola’s generational Barcelona team in 2009. For a brief time Harry Maguire was held in such company as Cole, Cantona, Keane, Scholes and Fletcher.

So why has Maguire fallen so quickly from grace. How did his star fall so quickly? 

Has our perception of the hapless Harry been influenced by how we consume our football? To describe our interaction with football as “consumption” might be a clue. There is so much access to viewing football now. For those of us with a decent internet connection, we can watch football 24/7. With this there is the need for commentary and content. The quality of this commentary varies more wildly than Maguire’s performances. While the number of ex pros on our screens has risen, it feels like they rarely are expected to offer more than a provocative soundbite. It’s Lazy. Our perception of Maguire can be hugely influenced by who is telling us about this. As the excellent Ken Early said, “our eyes and ears can be lied to, especially if it’s someone like Paul Merson talking into them.” He is not wrong. What might seem like a casual, throwaway comment by these “experts” is cut up, edited onto a video and replayed a million times. 

Who we take our information from is important. In the 90s and 00s we used to have to wait for Andy Gray to give us the lowdown on a player but now, a 14 year old can make a viral reel of Maguire falling over and there it is – Maguire becomes a meme. 

What the 5 second clip or compilation of mistakes doesn’t show us, is that Maguire is a wonderful defender when defending his box. He is a strong and confident leader when playing in a team that must defend their box. At the moment, he’s playing in a system that requires a higher press and for its defenders to be comfortable on the ball and break the lines. He can’t do that. 

Former Manchester City and QPR defender Nedum Onuoho, whose podcast sadly is no longer, talked brilliantly about this. He said that the average punter will miss most of the incredible contributions a top class centre half will make during the course of a game. Onuoho talks calmly, professionally and with incredible insight into the game. If you listen to him, you’ll understand more about the beautiful game. Unfortunately he doesn’t make catchy tiktoks. 

Nobody should put Harry Maguire in the same exalted company as genuinely World class former Manchester United defenders like Jaap Stam, Rio Ferdinand or Nemanja Vidic. Equally nobody could suggest that paying €87 million for him was a bargain. (not many United signings have proved to be bargains in recent years) 

He is, however, definitely not as bad a footballer as tiktok or instagram reels tell us. He’s a footballer desperately low on confidence, playing in a system he is desperately unsuited to. He may never recover his form of his first two years as a Manchester United player but when he does eventually move on to pastures new, he could easily perform at a very high level in a system that he is better suited to. For his sake, I hope that happens soon. 

May 2023